Mary Pratt's 'Jelly Shelf', 1999. Oil on canvas, 55.9 x 71.1. cm. Collection of Equinox Gallery. Photo: Ned Pratt/CBC

Mary Pratt remembered in St. John’s

Mary Pratt died on August 14th, at the age of 83. She was in her home in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, where she’d been receiving palliative care.

“I wouldn’t do it if I hadn’t loved the subject”

The CBC’s John Gushue described her as an artist, “who turned the ordinary objects of her kitchen, garden and daily life into extraordinary works of beauty and colour”.

Jelly Shelf, the 1999 oil painting, from a photograph by Ned Pratt, is one of her masterpieces that thrill many of those who most appreciate her work.

“I wouldn’t do it if I hadn’t loved the subject,” Pratt told CBC News in 2013, when more than 60 of her works were gathered in a career retrospective  St. John’s.

In 2015, she was featured in a retrospective at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa.

Mary Pratt (left) with former governor general Adrienne Clarkson laughing in front of the official portrait of herself, which Pratt painted, at the unveiling ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in February 2007. The two were close friends. (Fred Chartrand/CP)

It was everyday life that fascinated Mary Pratt. And her four children grew up appreciating their mother’s talent.

The day after her death, John, Anne, Barbara and Ned, shared this statement, describing her as “a master of light and colour” who taught them to find art around them.

“We sat at her supper table, we filleted and ate the rich Atlantic salmon that our father caught from the river outside our door, savoured the warm brown loaves of bread, and lusted after the swirling cream topped trifles,” they wrote.

“When we were no longer sharing her home, we understood her life through her work … She painted what she saw, as she so often explained, and what she saw were not mere surfaces, but images with meaning that ran fathoms deep.”

Mary Pratt was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 1935, where her father, William J. West, was a provincial cabinet minister.

She went to Mount Allison University, in Sackville, New Brunswick, where she studied art and met fellow artist Christopher Pratt who was from Newfoundland. The two married in 1957 and she graduated in 1961.

“She painted life,” John Leroux, the manager of collections and exhibitions at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, told the CBC’s John Gushue.

The Beaverbrook is organizing a memorial wall in honour of one of Fredericton’s best-known artists.

“It’s quite a poignant thing, to think about it. This woman, who spent her whole life in Atlantic Canada, had such an influence on the artistic landscape and cultural landscape of Canada.” Leroux said.

“She empowered a lot of women to enter into the art field [and] become professional artists,” he said. 

 A memorial gathering on August 25th, at The Rooms, in St. John’s was a fitting tribute, since she played an important role in getting the cultural and community space built in the capital city of the province.

Mireille Eagan, curator of contemporary art at the The Rooms, had once asked Mary Pratt what she thought her legacy might be, and at the time Pratt responded, “Well, I suppose I’ll just be shuffled off with people who painted.”

In a later interview Mary Pratt had a different perspective:

“As you get older, you don’t see this long extension of your life, but you can see an extension of your art”, she said in an interview with the CBC. “So gradually I’m beginning to think that art is more important to me than life.”

(With files from CBC)

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