poet-painter of light
From painting, to printmaking and calligraphy, the world-renowned artist masters all
By Patricia Dumais
Westmount is home to a good number of talented artists, including some of international acclaim. Painter and printmaker Tobie Steinhouse is one of them, and I had the pleasure of meeting with her at her lovely residence overlooking King George Park. She enthusiastically shared with me the story of how she evolved artistically over the years, from painting to print making and then Japanese calligraphy in her later years.
It is hard to believe that Tobie is 92 years old. She gives the impression of being years younger as she vividly recounts the events of her fascinating life and talks about soon travelling to London to join one of her sons. “Being busy and active keeps you young,” she says.
From the Mile-End to New York
Growing up during the Depression in the Mile-End district of Montreal, Tobie Steinhouse developed an interest in painting and fine arts at an early age. She attended Baron-Byng High School, where she studied art under the noted painter Anne Savage. She recounts, “Anne Savage gently guided us into the world of art, a world completely unknown to us. She was very supportive and we remained friends through the years – I chose her to be god-mother to my son.”
Anne Savage gently guided us into the world of art, a world completely unknown to us.
Steinhouse then went on to acquire a diploma from Sir George-Williams University (now Concordia) in Engineering Drawing. As it was wartime, she was subsequently hired as a draughtswoman, designing Anson warplanes until 1945. “I did not want to be a stenographer or a teacher, I wanted to do something somehow connected to art,” she explains.
As soon as the war ended she was off to New York City with a scholarship to study at the renowned Art Student’s League. On her way, she crossed paths with her future husband, journalist Herb Steinhouse. “It was really a chance encounter as we were both one day late travelling to our destination, but it was love at first sight and we were married a few months later,” she recalls.
The young couple eventually moved to Paris in 1947. There, Tobie studied briefly at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris, at La Grande Chaumière, and with the abstract painter Arpad Szenes. Tobie’s art was soon featured in numerous recognized French art galleries such as the Salon de l’Art Libre, the Salon de la Jeune Peinture, and the Salon d’Automne. In 1957 she had her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Lara Vincy.
Steinhouse went on to study etching and engraving with Stanley Hayter, one of the most significant printmakers of the 20th century, at his Atelier 17. She recounts, “It was an exciting time. I remember working alongside Joan Miró. Studying with Hayter we never produced finished work, we constantly experimented with the many printmaking techniques. Giving life to a simple sheet of metal, accepting the challenge to confer to it a certain meaning and an individual atmosphere through the colour, the form and the content… the process fascinated me.” She adds, “And we had to work fast – as it was a very busy studio, we each were allowed only two hours of press time!”
‘It was an exciting time. I remember working alongside Joan Miró. Studying with Hayter we never produced finished work, we constantly experimented with the many printmaking techniques.’
Her creations of the time were “intricate abstractions gleaming through effects of prism-coloured glass, fishnets or cobwebs, reflecting the soft haze of Paris and revealing her continuing search for light”¹. According to her artist statement, “Poetry is a vital source of inspiration for me, a way of communicating inner visions and feelings, creating a world of serenity, leaving my reveries free to roam while safeguarding my thoughts.” So much so that Tobie would be hailed as the “Poet-painter of light”.
Return to Montreal
The couple returned to Montreal in 1957, where Steinhouse co-founded with Richard Lacroix, whom she had met at Atelier 17, both La Guilde Graphique and L’Atelier Libre de Recherches Graphiques. Her works at the time would reflect more Canadian motifs such as snowstorms and frosted glass. One never-ending source of inspiration was the windows of her studio giving onto King George Park.
Tobie Steinhouse became a member of the Canadian Group of Painters and was president when the group dissolved in 1967. She was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1972.
She later took up the art of Japanese calligraphy and exhibited with the school of Suiha Hiroko Okata. The hills around the town of Sutton, Quebec would also provide inspiration for a more recent series of watercolours.
Tobie Steinhouse has had numerous solo exhibitions in Canada and abroad and has participated in international Print Biennials in England, Chile, Scotland, Venezuela, France, Italy, Switzerland and the USA.
Her work is on display in many public and private collections including the National Gallery of Ottawa, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, le Musée de Québec, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Rio Tinto Alcan and Air Canada.
She won numerous honours throughout her career, among which, the Jessie Dow Prize for Graphic Art, the Sterling Trust Award of the Society of Canadian Painters, Etchers and Engravers, the Centennial Medal of Canada and the Purchase Award from the Thomas Moore Institute. During the latter part of her career she continued to receive awards at the International Exhibition of Japanese Calligraphy competition, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
In 2012, Steinhouse had a major retrospective at Stewart Hall in Pointe-Claire, and in 2015, the Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron held an exhibition of her work.
Tobie’s work will be part of the At Home: The Interior in Canadian Art exhibition that will take place at the The Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s in Kingston, from August 26 to December 23, 2017.
For more information about this exhibition visit agnes.queensu.ca/exhibition
As well, the Stewart Hall Gallery in Pointe-Claire will be hosting in honour of Canada’s 150th Anniversary, a collection of the works of past exhibitors, from October 28 to December 3.
For more information about the exhibition visit pointe-claire.ca/en/art-gallery
To see more of Tobie Steinhouse’s art visit Galerie Donohue at galeriedonohue.com/artists/tobie-steinhouse/
Tobie is also represented by Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron at galeriejeanclaudebergeron.ca/en
1. Canadian EncyclopaediaFeature image: Rêveries – Montparnasse by Tobie Steinhouse
Patricia Dumais is co-editor and artistic director of WestmountMag.ca, and occasionally contributes articles. She began her career as a graphic designer and assistant artistic director on several Canadian feature films and documentaries. Patricia then worked in the field of communication and, in 1988, she co-founded Visionnaires branding design. firstname.lastname@example.org