On Oct. 2, the Ottawa Art Gallery celebrated the premier of The Life and Art of Alma Duncan. The exhibit is the first-ever retrospective of the Canadian artist’s body of work, with more than 80 pieces spanning over 55 years of her life.
Alma Duncan was born in Paris in 1917, but came to Canada when she was 18, living in Montreal. She moved to Ottawa in 1943, where she accepted a position at the National Film Board. In the decades that followed, Duncan went on to explore a variety of styles from portraiture to pen and ink, from army sketches to abstract paintings, from screen to stamps. Duncan passed away in 2004, but curator Jaclyn Meloche wants to make sure her legacy lives on.
“She wasn’t just a painter. She wasn’t just a filmmaker. She wasn’t just a landscape pen and ink drawer,” said Meloche. “She was a woman who was uninhibited and brave and strong and curious and never let anything stop her.”
“I want people to take away her name and to want to see more of Alma. I hope this is the beginning of how we can remember and recover her,” she said.
Members of the Ottawa arts community, students and passersby came to the opening to find out more about Alma Duncan, having never heard the name before.
Anna Eyler, student at the University of Ottawa, said, “I wasn’t familiar with her work before today. It’s really interesting. She seems like she was really ground breaking.”
“Maybe I’m proud that she’s a Canadian woman,” said local artist Adrian Gollner. “I may be disappointed in myself or even our culture that this is the first time I’ve found out about her.”
Meloche first found out about Duncan in 2001 as a graduate student at Carleton University. Thirteen years later, Meloche has become a “poster child for promoting Alma Duncan.”
Meloche, a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa, and Catherine Sinclair, OAG senior curator, partnered in 2011 to make the exhibit possible.
“I feel like it’s Christmas,” said Meloche – her face flushed and her eyes watering. “Three years in the making and I could never have fathomed anything this big.”
The OAG is only the first home for this “provincial labour of love,” said Meloche. The exhibit will tour for the next two years, making stops in Markham, Sarnia and Windsor.