JOHNSON-DEAN, Christina B. (1944- )

Author Tags: 1800-1850, 1850-1900, Art, Local History, Women

Christina Johnson-Dean is the author The Life and Art of Ina D.D. Uhthoff (Mother Tongue 2012) with an Introduction by Pat Martin Bates. It's the fifth book in publisher Mona Fertig's the Unheralded Artists of BC series.

Promotional material states: "Of all the artists (including well-known painter Emily Carr) who showed their work in the controversial Modern Room of the 1932 Island Arts and Crafts Annual Exhibition, only one also exhibited in the traditional section. That singular artist was Ina D.D. Uhthoff (1889-1971) (BCSA, FCA, FRSA) the versatile, respected professional who was able to straddle contrasting viewpoints with aplomb. Founder and principal of the Victoria School of Art, a key figure in the establishment of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, an esteemed columnist for the Victoria Daily Colonist, a teacher of children and adults using various media, she was first and foremost a continually evolving artist. In this fifth book in the Unheralded Artists of B.C. series, the life and art of Ina D.D. Uhthoff, called the “doyen of Victoria painters,” is revealed. It is the story of an influential twentieth-century artist and hard-working teacher, who sustained a successful career while rearing two children single-handedly. Though Emily Carr is renowned, Ina Uhthoff, a colleague who was equally supportive of modern trends and a force in her community, has receded from prominence. It is time to balance our view of the history of art in British Columbia’s capital city and add to the wider picture of the development of the arts in Canada.

"Born in Scotland and trained in painting and drawing at the Glasgow School of Art, Ina first came to Canada in 1913 to visit friends in the Kootenays. After certifying as a teacher in Scotland during World War I, she married Edward Joseph Uhthoff, with whom she had a son and daughter. They lived in the Kootenays, but by 1925, Ina had established the Victoria School of Art, where she was the principal and main teacher. She also taught at the Summer School for Teachers, St. Margaret’s and Glenlyon Schools, took over the Kingston Street School of Pottery and worked for the provincial government Secondary School Correspondence program. She studied with Mark Tobey in his master class in Emily Carr’s studio and hosted him in her own studio. Ina exhibited with the traditional Island Arts and Crafts Society in Victoria, as well as with the B.C. Society of Fine Arts, B.C. Artists and at the Canadian National Exhibition in Vancouver, alongside major artists of her era. She became a member of the B.C. Society of Fine Arts and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (London). Her work is in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, B.C. Archives, the Glenbow Museum, the University of Victoria Legacy Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery."

Johnston-Dean also wrote the sixth book in the Unheralded Artists of BC series, The Life and Art of Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher (Mother Tongue 2013). According to Dennis Reid, a Professor, History of Art, at University of Toronto, and author of A Concise History of Canadian Painting (3rd edition 2012): "Until now, Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher has been known in the broader Canadian art world only as the author of two wonderful books on Emily Carr, essential volumes in the field for their many insights into Carr's life and art. With this publication, however, we discover a Hembroff who was deeply involved in many aspects of the art scene in British Columbia over a long period of time, both as an organizer and a practicing artist. This involvement was intermittent, to a degree, as she struggled to maintain a level of focus on her art through chronic illness, the Depression, World War II, earning a living, a number of relocations, several marriages and changing attitudes to women and the arts. Those periods when she was passionately engaged in her painting resulted, however, in work that merits the study this book brings to it. Yet another significant aspect of the history of Canadian art has been revealed by Mother Tongue's Unheralded Artists of BC series."

According to Mother Tongue Press: "Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Christina Johnson-Dean graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a BA (History, Art) before earning a Professional Teacher’s Certificate at San Jose State University and teaching in public schools. After travelling around the world, teaching ESL in Thailand and elementary school in New Zealand, she returned to live near her sister and family in Canada. At the University of Victoria, she completed an MA (History in Art), worked as a teaching assistant for the department and created courses on local art history for Continuing Studies. Her publications include The Crease Family: A Record of Settlement and Service in British Columbia (1981, B.C. Archives) and “B.C. Women Artists 1885-1920” in British Columbia Women Artists (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1985). She teaches in the Greater Victoria School District. She and her husband, Robert Dean, raised their two daughters, Heather and Susan."

Johnston-Dean also wrote the ninth book in the Unheralded series, The Life and Art of Mary Filer (Mother Tongue 2016) with an introduction by Robert Held. [See press release below]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Life and Art of Mary Filer & The Life and Art of Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Life and Art of Ina D.D. Uhthoff


The Crease Family Archives A Record of Settlement and Service in British Columbia (Victoria: Provincial Archives of British Columbia, 1982)

The Life and Art of Ina D.D. Uhthoff (Mother Tongue 2012)

The Life and Art of Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher (Mother Tongue 2013) by Christina Johnson-Dean; Introduction by Kerry Mason.
#6 in the Unheralded Artists of BC series. 978-1-896949-27-7; $34.95

The Life and Art of Mary Filer (Mother Tongue 2016) with Robert Held. $35.95 978-1-896949-55-0

[BCBW 2016]

The Life and Art of Edythe Hembrof-Schleicher (Mother Tongue Publishing $36.95)
Review (2013)

from Joan Givner

A project often undertaken by biographers is to write on subjects who were overshadowed by more illustrious partners or family members. The challenge is to prevent the major figure from dominating the biography as she or he did in life.

In The Life and Art of Edythe Hembrof-Schleicher, biographer Christina Johnson-Dean sets out to present her subject not merely as an expert on Emily Carr, but as a talented artist in her own right.

Born in Moose Jaw in 1906, Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher grew up in Victoria, and emerged from five years of gynaecological problems and excruciatingly painful treatments, determined to become a serious artist. Her family’s affluence allowed her to study art for three years in California, and then for two years in Paris at a time when it was said artists outnumbered the working population.
She was twenty-two when she and her American friend Marian Allardt moved to Paris. This was not la vie boheme, but neither was it a dilettante’s holiday. The two were hardworking students who used their extensive tour throughout Europe to amass portfolios of sketches. In Paris, they studied with Andre Lhote, a distinguised teacher as well as an artist; they supplemented the lessons by setting up a studio and hiring their own models.

Edythe claimed to be unimpressed by the modern art she saw exhibited: “Don’t talk to me about Picasso and Matisse and less about Matisse than Picasso. At least Picasso can draw if he wants to.”
When she returned to the family home in Victoria (“the most sleepily behind spot on earth for art”), her activities were featured in the society pages, along with a glamorous photograph. The coverage had one significant result—a phone call from Emily Carr inviting her to a garden tea party. Edythe went along reluctantly and found conversation with her host difficult, not only because of the other guests, but because of Emily’s menagerie—a white rat, a Persian cat, two dogs, and the obstreperous monkey, Woo.

Their second meeting, at which the women smoked and drank hot chocolate, was more successful. In spite of a 35-year age gap, they became close companions, working side by side, and taking picnics and sketching trips together. It was Edythe who, in 1933, raised the money to establish the Emily Carr Collection of the Province of B.C., now at the Royal BC Museum. She also raised the money for Emily to purchase “the elephant,” the caravan in which she made painting trips around B.C.

In the early days, Emily championed Edythe’s work, especially when it was compared with that of Max Maynard or Jack Shad-bolt, whom Emily called “conceited young puppies.” She persuaded Edythe to submit her “Quatre Nus” to the annual Island Arts and Crafts Society exhibition. It was a painting guaranteed to shock not only because of the nudes but also because it was cubistic. (In spite of her dismissive comments, she was not impervious to modern influences). The mischievous Emily stood near the canvas to get the full benefit of the indignant response, and chuckled all the way home.

Edythe was interested in art history, which Emily Carr considered “footle”; she liked working in her studio while Emily preferred the outdoors; she painted figures, while Emily tried to convert her to painting trees. Edythe concluded later that Emily had done harm by trivializing her subject matter. After getting Edythe to paint a tree, she was highly critical of the result:
“It’s only the portrait of that one tree. It does not express any

universal feeling for all trees. It does not live among the other trees. It must breathe, have spirit!...You will learn more when we go into the woods together. There you will see trees, think only trees and feel only trees.”
The account of her time with Emily Carr is the liveliest part of Edythe’s story, partly because Emily’s unconventional habits always make good copy, but mainly because the relationship is so richly documented.

When Edythe married and left Victoria for Vancouver after four years, the two corresponded regularly until Emily’s death. During the last part of her life, Edythe returned from nineteen years in Ottawa to Victoria, where she devoted herself to bolstering Emily’s legacy. She became the recognized authority, and was awarded sizable grants by the B.C. government and the Canada Council to act as “Special Consultant on Emily Carr,” and to continue her research. In 1969, she published a memoir M.E. A Portrayal of Emily Carr, and in 1978, Emily Carr: The Untold Story.

Johnson-Dean succeeds in maintaining a steady focus throughout on Edythe’s work. Illustrations of work appear on almost every page, supplementing the text, and telling their own story. These include photographs of Edythe at various stages of her life—with family and her two husbands—as well as sketches and etchings. The fine full-page colour reproductions of her paintings reveal her as an artist of remarkable talent. These were selected from the more than a hundred donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria after Edythe’s death.
[Note: In general I dislike the habit of referring to women artists by their given names, while male artists are referred to by their surnames. However, the unwieldy repetition of a double-barrelled surname within the confines of a short review makes the choice of the first name expedient.]


Joan Givner writes regularly on biographies and autobiographies.
She lives in Mill Bay.

The Mary Filer story
Press Release (2016)

After two years of intensive work and research, The Life and Art of Mary Filer by Christina Johnson-Dean 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.

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 ?rst Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1950.

A master’s degree under renowned art educator Viktor Lowenfeld at Pennsylvania State ampli?ed 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 ?rst 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 signi?cantly her leadership in the development of the glass art movement, an integral and often neglected part of our contemporary Canadian art history.

The Life and Art of Mary Filer
Review (2016)


The Life and Art of Mary Filer

Salt Spring Island: Mother Tongue Publishers, 2016. $35.95. 9781896949550

by Christina Johnson-Dean; introduction by Robert Held.

Reviewed by Janet Mary Nicol

The Life and Art of Mary Filer follows the career of the glass sculptor Mary Filer. Trained as a painter, Filer joined the glass art movement in the 1960s and became its greatest practitioner on the west coast in the following decades. Reviewer Janet Nicol assesses the notable career and long life of this exceptional artist in glass.

A pioneer in glass art, Mary Filer was born in Edmonton in 1920 and passed away earlier this year in Vancouver, aged 95. The subject of the ninth book in Mother Tongue’s invaluable “Unheralded Artists of British Columbia” series, Christina Johnson-Dean reveals Filer as a remarkable Canadian artist whose glass sculptures were original, bold, and inspirational.

Johnson-Dean was given full access to Filer’s personal papers by the artist’s nephew, providing a crucial source for this rich visual and biographical account.

Interested in art from an early age, Filer trained to be a nurse in Regina, followed by post-graduate work in Montreal. “What have I done?” she reflected on her training. “I was horrified. It had gone against all my desires, all my talents, but there I was, stuck for three years.”

Deciding to return to her artistic urgings, Filer enrolled in fine arts at McGill University and then did graduate work in Pennsylvania.

She would acknowledge later in life that she had no regrets, and she went on to use her nursing experience in her art, including her large-scale public murals, “The Life of a Nurse” (1953), and “The Advance of Neurology” (1954), now at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill.

She went on to teach art in post-secondary institutions in both Canada and the US, but in 1956 moved to England to escape an abusive marriage and live with her brother and his family while pursuing her artistic interests, including glasswork.

Filer was forty-nine when she settled in Victoria in 1969 with Harold Spence-Sales, a retired professor of architecture from McGill University whom she later married. By this time, influenced by the glass art movement of the 1960s, she was creating laminated glass art in the form of ambitious sculptures and layered murals.

Filer’s Victoria studio was filled with “acrylics, gold leaf, foils, clear and coloured glass and especially her dazzling sculptures,” according to Johnson-Dean, who notes that her work with glass “emphasized her attachment to the sea, particularly the Pacific Ocean, but her attention to light was constant.”

Filer’s glasswork was modernistic, employing geometric designs and vivid colours inspired by the natural beauty around Victoria. “I love the moods of seasons,” she wrote, “the drama of high slip-stream winds, great land promontories, and the ocean. Colours are iridescent -- sometimes subtle, sometimes vulgar as moisture diffuses the brilliant light.”

Commissions for church windows and glass sculpture installations continued after she and her husband moved to Vancouver in 1977. She and Spence-Sales renovated a 6,000 square foot box-shaped Purdy’s chocolate factory situated on the Fairview Slopes into a charming home and studio. Likeminded friends, artists and architects, enjoyed cocktails, conversation, and an expansive view of the city from their “salon.”

It was a creative time for Harold Spence-Sales, too, who designed the adjacent “Choklit Park,” a small public square with a view of the city skyline and North Shore Mountains.

In 1982, Filer exhibited “Circumferential Geometries” along with nineteen other glass artists. Her series of glass sculptures containing circles and semi-circles deals with ideas about the cycle of life and death. “My concern with sculpture is spatial,” Filer said in a talk. “I’m not blowing glass, I’m building with glass.”

Filer was among the vanguard of glass artists to work collaboratively with architects, and international commissions and educational travel kept the couple moving through the 1980s. In 1990, her work found a permanent home in Vancouver at the concourse entrance to SFU’s downtown campus. Johnson-Dean notes that this stunning work, an untitled glass sculpture composed of three colourful panels, provides a “visual allegory about the energy and influences of the university upon the city’s centre, with mountains in the background.”

Place image 4 here.

The strength of The Life and Art of Mary Filer lies in Johnson-Dean’s detailed account of Filer’s courageous ascendency in to the twentieth century art world. She explores Filer’s thoughts and emotions as she navigated parental pressures, gender stereotypes, and a debilitating first marriage.

Filer’s internal journey is less well documented for her personal life while living in England. I was left wondering what sustained her before returning to Canada, where she would enjoy wedded bliss with her husband up to his death in 2004? To what extent were her internal struggles reflected in her art?

Filer received several honours from Canadian universities and art institutes in her later years and her work is in the permanent collections of several galleries. Thankfully, to many she is a “heralded” artist, perhaps not fully fitting the theme of the publishers’ series.

Most importantly, The Life and Art of Mary Filer documents and portrays Filer’s extensive contributions and allows the reader to follow and appreciate the challenging and ultimately joyful artistic path she journeyed.


Janet Mary Nicol is a secondary school history teacher in Vancouver and a freelance writer. She has written local histories about Vancouver and its people for BC History, Canada’s History, Labour/Le Travail. Her latest article, “Bob Bouchette: Everyman Scribe,” was published in The Ormsby Review 30 (October 21, 2016). She also volunteers with the BC Labour Heritage Centre. Her writing blog is at


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[BCBW 2016]