Where in Canada: The Girls with Stone Faces

September 8, 2017

The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa was the inspirational site where author Arleen Paré first began thinking about Florence Wyle and Frances Loring, the two women who later became the centre of The Girls with Stone Faces (Brick Books).

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It was their art that first caught my eye, smooth, elegant sculptures in marble and granite. And then, discovering that it was the art of two women—that also caught my attention. Neo-classical sculpture by early twentieth century women was rare, and these particular pieces were incredibly gorgeous, sensuous. They were arranged in Room 105 in the Canadian Rooms at the National Art Gallery. I was making my regular pilgrimage to Ottawa to visit my sister—and to visit the Art Gallery. I love visiting the National Gallery and it’s possible that admission to the Gallery was still free to the public that year. That long ago. And suddenly, there they were: The Torso, The Inuit Mother With Child, The Sun Worshipper, Grief, all in one room. I don’t believe that I’d ever seen these sculptures before. And the names on the wall: Florence and Frances. They seemed paired. And when I arrived home in Victoria, my partner, Chris, had their first biography by Rebecca Sisler sitting on her library shelf. Fortuitous for me.

Indeed, Florence and Frances were a couple, having met at the Art Institute of Chicago, and having lived together for six decades, making their considerable art side-by-side in the deconsecrated church/studio in Toronto that was also their home. They were well-established artists. They held salons to which they invited members of the Group of Seven; they founded major Canadian art organizations; they mentored young artists, particularly women. But astoundingly, though their art is displayed in public art institutions, in private collections, on Parliament Hill, and on public buildings in Toronto, they are now almost completely unknown. I wanted to memorialize them, to praise their art.


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A master of the mixed-genre book, Arleen Paré is both a novelist and a poet. Her work has won the Victoria Butler Book Prize, the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, and a CBC Bookie Prize, and was nominated for a Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and a Victoria Butler Book Prize. Paré holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry from the University of Victoria. She lives in Victoria, BC with her partner of thirty-seven years.


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Thanks to Arleen for sharing this story with us, and to Kitty at Brick Books for making the connection! To explore more of Canada through literature,  click here.


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