BACK ROOM: Sybil Andrews
(1898 – 1992)
By Portia Priegert
"Bringing in the Boat"
Sybil Andrews, "Bringing in the Boat," 1933, linocut, 13” x 10.5”.
With its strong diagonal composition and stylized geometry, Bringing in the Boat is a modernist gem, uniting themes of sport and male bonding in a visual language steeped in its era. That the artist was a woman might seem surprising, but then Sybil Andrews seems anything but ordinary. Her family owned a hardware store and couldn’t afford to send her to art school, so she apprenticed as a welder and worked at a British airplane factory during the First World War, studying art by correspondence.
Eventually, she obtained formal training and became affiliated with the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London, an influential centre for modernist printmaking. Bringing in the Boat traces to this early period of her career before she came to Canada in 1947 with her husband, Walter Morgan, to settle in Campbell River on Vancouver Island.
Sport was an important theme at Grosvenor and hence more typical in Andrews’ early period. Pastoral subjects were common in her later work, more readily available in the Canadian resale market, making this linocut from a private British collection a choice find. “We chased it and were able to get it,” says Peter Ohler, a partner at Masters Gallery in Vancouver. The work , which has already been sold, is one of three trial proofs outside of Andrews’ usual edition of 60 prints, which means it is even rarer.
American print expert Thomas Rassieur has observed that the rowers look almost robotic, an effect heightened by eliminating their individual features and remaking their hands as clamps and hooks. “The spirit of unified teamwork expressed in the print echoes the mass demonstrations of synchronized athletic prowess that we now associate with propaganda films of the interwar period,” Rassieur, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, wrote in 2008 in Rhythms of Modern Life: British Prints, 1914-1939.
Andrews had a major exhibition at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum in 1982, and donated 575 works to the museum in 1991 along with the bequest of another 960 pieces the following year, making the institution a major centre for research into her life. Her cottage in Campbell River, where she gave art lessons after fleeing Britain’s post-war economic doldrums, has been preserved and is now used for community arts activities.