100 years of BC books

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Mary Filer gets her due

September 23rd, 2016

The Unheralded Artists of BC is a series of books illustrating and illuminating the lives and art of previously undocumented important artists of the 1900s–1960s in British Columbia. The ninth book in the series highlights Mary Filer.

After two years of work and research, page The Life and Art of Mary Filer by Christina Johnson-Dean, with an introduction by Robert Held, will be launched Sunday, October 2nd, 3 pm at the Petley Jones Gallery, 1554 W. 6th Ave., Vancouver.

The author will speak about Mary Filer, an important Vancouver artist and an extraordinary pioneer in glass sculpture who passed away earlier this year.

Books will be available for sale.

[B&W image shows Mary Filer at Dawson College, Quebec, 1946]

Mary Filer (1920-2016), nurse, artist and art teacher, began her creative life in the prairie towns of Edmonton and Regina where she studied art at Balfour Technical School and nursing at Regina General Hospital, winning the gold medal in 1944. After post-graduate work at the Montreal Neurological Institute, she studied and taught at McGill University under Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer and painter John Lyman, graduating with its first Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1950.


Mary Filer

A master’s degree under renowned art educator Viktor Lowenfeld at Pennsylvania State amplified her skills as an educator and muralist, resulting in the 142-square-foot mural The Advance of Neurology at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

Following professorships in art education at McGill University, Pennsylvania State and New York University, Filer lived in the U.K. from 1956 to 1969 where she thrived as a full-time artist and created commissioned murals, which heralded the start of her pioneer work in laminated glass art.

After returning to Canada in the late 60s, she moved to British Columbia with McGill University professor of architecture Harold Spence-Sales (founder of Canada’s first programme of urban planning). They lived in Victoria then Vancouver where Filer forged an unparalleled path in “cold” glass sculpture, ranging from stunning heroic-sized layered murals for new architect-designed buildings to dazzling tabletop-sized modernist forms.

Filer was recognised with an honourary doctorate from Simon Fraser University, an Allied Arts Silver Medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and election to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2005. During her lifetime, she had more than 160 exhibitions. Her work is in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Toronto Art Gallery, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Burnaby Art Gallery, Confederation Art Centre and Simon Fraser University.

Her story brings to light the extraordinary life and art of an important woman modernist, and most significantly her leadership in the development of the glass art movement, an integral and often neglected part of our contemporary Canadian art history.

Watch the Shaw TV video on Mary


This event is Co-sponsored by The Writers’ Union of Canada and The Canada Council. Admission Free.

filer-mary-promo-triadChristina Johnson-Dean graduated from the University of California (B.A. in History, Art) and trained as a teacher. After teaching and travelling around the world, she settled in Victoria, B.C. to be near family. At the University of Victoria, she completed an MA (History in Art), serving as a teaching assistant and creating courses in local art history for Continuing Studies. Her publications include The Crease Family: A Record of Settlement and Service in British Columbia (B.C. Archives, 1981), “B.C. Women Artists 1885-1920” in British Columbia Women Artists (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1985), and The Life and Art of Ina D.D. Uhtho and The Life and Art of Edythe Hembro-Schleicher (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012, 2013). She and her husband have two daughters and two grandchildren.

Robert Held, MA in Fine Arts (University of Southern California), became head of ceramics at Sheridan College in Ontario. He discovered glassblowing at the Penland School of Crafts and launched Canada’s first college-level hot glass program in 1969. Sheridan’s program produced many skilled Canadian artists and crowned Held as the pioneer of “hot” art glass in Canada. In 1978 he opened Skookum Art Glass studio in Calgary, and in 1987 the Robert Held Art Glass studio in Vancouver — now in Parksville, B.C. His award-winning work is held in major collections worldwide.


Mary Filer at work.

Art History/Biography

Mother Tongue Publishing * September 2016

5.5 x 9, 156 pages, 130 colour photos

ISBN 978-1-896949-55-0 * paperback * $35.95

Author’s home: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


October 2, VANCOUVER, Petley Jones Gallery-1554 W. 6th, 3 pm

October 16, VICTORIA, Martin Batchelor Gallery-712 Cormorant St, 3 pm

November 16, Vancouver, Sculpture Society of BC


“Mary Filer was a 20th century prairie-born Canadian who became recognized as a professional artist both abroad and at home. Initially trained as a painter, Filer took aspects of painting, such as the layering of colour and the effect of light, and applied them three-dimensionally through the construction and lamination of various patterned and tinted shapes of cold glass. Her lifelong association with architecture and its structural influence is evident in her beautifully designed sculptural works. Painter and sculptor have merged, transforming Mary Filer into one of most innovative artists of her time.” — Richard Marcus, President of the Sculptors’ Society of British Columbia

“The essential purity and honest abstraction of Mary Filer’s glass sculpture developed from her early European-style training as a visual artist, and her exuberant use of colour and work with light reflect the Montreal influence of non-representational painterly experimentation and invention.  Her importance in the Canadian and international glass art movement is monumental.” — Sylvia Tait, Canadian artist

Other Books in the Series

#1 – The Life and Art of David Marshall by Monika Ullmann

#2 – The Life and Art of Frank Molnar, Jack Hardman, LeRoy Jensen by Eve Lazarus, Claudia Cornwall, Wendy Newbold Patterson

#3 – The Life and Art of George Fertig by Mona Fertig

#4 – The Life and Art of Mildred Valley Thornton by Sheryl Salloum

#5 – The Life and Art of Ina D.D. Uhthoff- Christina Johnson-Dean

#6 – The Life and Art of Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher by Christina Johnson-Dean,

#7 – The Life and Art of Harry and Jessie Webb by Adrienne Brown

#8 – The Life and Art of Jack Akroyd by Peter Busby

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