“At that time, Sybil never dictated; she suggested. And I always thought that was the beauty of her teaching. In later years when I went to arts school in London, England and did my B.A. in Fine Arts, it was a different method of teaching… we were very, very lucky to have a teacher who basically allowed us to express ourselves, at the same time, being aware of the laws of technique or subject matter. Sybil had a wonderful way of making us aware of composition, colour pattern, light – the necessary ingredients that we needed to produce a successful piece of art.” – Gary Ratushniak
“It was hanging out with her that you got a sense about art becoming so much more a part of your life, an integral part of your life. No matter what you do, you think of it more in terms of art. See, I had never met anybody before in my life like a real artist, a professional artist, and to hear someone talk about art like she did, it was like a mirror to me – this is what I’ve been looking for all my life.” – Richard Calver
These are just a couple of the memories shared by former students of the late painter and printmaker Sybil Andrews in the film “Remembering Sybil Andrews”.
Andrews may be known internationally as one of the leading figures of English Futurism and linocuts, but, especially in Campbell River, she is also well-known as a teacher and mentor, one who let her students discover their passion for art and the artist inside of them.
Andrews was born in England but spent the last 45 years of her life in Campbell River, teaching art and recorder lessons while continuing to make the linocuts she has become known for.
The recent publication of a complete catalogue of Andrews’ linocuts is shining a spotlight on her work once more and drawing attention to her Campbell River years.
Dr. Hana Leaper, who is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London, is the author of “Sybil Andrews Linocuts: A Complete Catalogue”. She was first introduced to Andrews’ work while visiting family on Quadra Island. There, she met Richard Calver, a former student of Andrews’, and she spent an afternoon seeing his work and listening to him tell her about his training with her.
“I was immediately drawn to both her aesthetic and her personality,” she said in an email from London. “Her grit and determination instantly gained my respect, and her talent, my admiration.”
Leaper says that in England, although Andrews’ prints are now “tremendously popular” and command high prices, her work is only recently becoming acknowledged by art historians.
“Andrews is an incredibly important figure in twentieth century art,” she added. “Her work is dynamic and exciting and not nearly well known enough. Conversely, although her prints now sell very well, she created them for a domestic audience – for everyday people to decorate their houses. The book is a way to return them to the kind of audience she was originally creating them for.”
During the course of working on this book, Leaper learned that living in Campbell River had a big influence on Andrews as an artist and as a teacher.
“In Campbell River, Andrews found new expressions for her creativity, observing the local landscape and culture – whilst remaining fiercely loyal to her Suffolk origins,” she said. “One of my favourite works is ‘Coffee Bar’ (1952), based on working men dressed in caps and plaid shirts in Campbell River. She began to teach and wrote her fiercely impassioned manual “Artists Kitchen” based on these experiences and observations.
Ken Blackburn, executive director of the Campbell River Arts Council, is very excited that this new book has been published.
“Now with something like this book coming out, all of her linocuts are in one place,” he said. “Campbell River was a huge part of her story. Europe doesn’t know that story and it’s great to see us featured in her story somewhat. … I think it’s significant for Sybil’s story and to see everything in one book, to see the scope of her work, just the breadth of what she did. This is really as good as it gets. It’s top-quality professional art. It’s significant in and of itself, certainly for researchers – this makes it a hell of a lot easier. It represents probably what will become the central Sybil book now – the essential Sybil book.”
Who was Sybil Andrews?
Sybil Andrews was born April 19, 1898, in Suffolk, England. During World War I, Andrews worked as a torch welder for airplanes. While working, she found time to study art with John Hassall’s home correspondence course.
After World War I, Andrews continued to pursue her passion for art, moving to London to attend Heatherley’s School of Fine Art. During this time, she met artist Cyril Power, who became a mentor.
In 1925, Andrews joined the Grosvenor School of Modern Arts, which was known for its advancement of English Futurism. There, she learned the art of linocut printing from Claude Flight.
“Futurism was in the air, and Futurism had come out of Italy at the turn of the century or 1910 or so as a kind of an artist movement that loved everything modern,” said Blackburn. “It loved speed and it loved mechanical things and motion, and the future was going to be based on this new kind of machine age and the embracing of it.”
During World War II, Andrews worked as a welder again. She met and married Walter Morgan, a co-worker in the London shipyards, who had lost his left arm during World War I.
After the war, the couple immigrated to Canada in 1947 and settled in Campbell River, purchasing the one-room oceanside home in Willow Point that is now a heritage property known as The Sybil Andrews Cottage.
After some of Andrews’ work was lost in a fire in an art gallery in Ottawa, Morgan used the insurance money they received to build his wife a studio, and she continued to work here in Campbell River and also started teaching.
“That’s really the main thrust of her story, that she taught in this house for 40 years and had a very strong group of dedicated artists,” said Blackburn.
While living here, Andrews also published the book “Artists Kitchen” in 1982.
Andrews died Dec. 21, 1992, and her home sat empty for a couple of years, the property deteriorating as time went on. The City of Campbell River purchased the cottage in 1994, and it soon became the home of the Campbell River Arts Council.
In 2004, the cottage was slated for demolition, but thanks to the efforts of the Sybil Andrews Heritage Society, the Campbell River Arts Council and the City of Campbell River, the property was saved. The cottage became the first property listed on the Campbell River Heritage Registry in 2009, and the house was restored in 2011.
The cottage was quite a hub of cultural activity when Andrews and Morgan were alive – Morgan used to bring in National Film Board films and they would show them at the cottage. Blackburn says once they moved in, the Campbell River Arts Council wanted to maintain that focus on education, as well as the community feel.
“For a lot of people, this was kind of the first arts centre in Campbell River,” he said. “We wanted to keep that spirit alive as a community gathering place.”
These days, the Campbell River Arts Council has its office in the Sybil Andrews Cottage, and it manages rentals and events in the cottage. The cottage is rented out more than 300 times a year by all kinds of community groups, according to Blackburn.
“As the story becomes more well-known and the quality more understood, it raises the dialogue of community; it can’t help but benefit the community when someone of that stature called Campbell River home,” said Blackburn. “She did end up calling Campbell River home. I think she was very close and passionate about her students. It’s infectious, just the energy that creates. It’s in this house. It’s such a great place to work in and to create with the spirit created by Sybil and her life and her work and teaching and probably more than anything, her passion for art.”
“Sybil’s legacy continues and it’s actually growing,” he added. “Her auction prices for her work continue to rise. I think the stature of the Grosvenor School and Futurists and linocuts is just growing among art historians and collectors.”
Keeping Andrews’ legacy alive
The Sybil Andrews Heritage Society played a major role in preserving the Sybil Andrews Cottage and adjacent Walter Morgan Studio.
Fern Seaboyer has been president of the society since it was incorporated in December 2004. The society began Oct. 17, 2004, when nine people met at the cottage to discuss ways to save the building.
Seaboyer remembers that she got involved in the starting the society because she had enjoyed using the building. She had just retired from teaching and had become involved in the Driftwood Club, which made driftwood sculptures and used to meet at the Sybil Andrews Cottage.
“We heard the City might take the cottage down, so we formed a society, wrote letters, cleaned up the outside, painted the inside ourselves and talked to neighbours and asked for support,” she recalled. “The City went ahead and decided it should be a heritage property and it became Campbell River’s very first heritage property – we’re very pleased with that.” Seaboyer says the society is very appreciative of the City’s involvement in the Sybil Andrews/Walter Morgan property, helping to restore it and make it more usable for the community.
“I’m really happy the City has come on board as much as they have,” she said. “In all the meetings they had, they included us. They didn’t do much without asking us if we agreed or if there was something different. They were all very pleasant to work with.”
This year, the Sybil Andrews Heritage Society has received funding from the City of Campbell River to rehabilitate the Walter Morgan Studio. “Walter Morgan himself was very talented and he used that shop out there for building boats and rebuilding engines,” said Seaboyer.
“In the war, he had lost his arm up to below his elbow and he made his own prosthesis. He also played trumpet in the first Campbell River Community Band. I thought once we got the cottage restored, we can’t let his studio just sit there and deteriorate. It can be put to much better use than just sitting there.”
The year 2015 was a good year for drawing attention to Sybil Andrews. The Bank of England put out a new currency and decided it wanted to feature a visual artist on the 20-pound note. Jane Basham, vice-chair of South Suffolk Labour Party in England, wanted to see more women on England’s money, and she nominated Sybil Andrews. Her name went in as one of 600 recommendations to be on the 20-pound note. Seaboyer says the Bank of England apparently made its decision in December and will be letting people know this spring.
As well, Seaboyer says they are building a big new school for 1,400 students in Andrews’ hometown of Bury St. Edmunds and it will be named the Sybil Andrews Academy. Seaboyer has been to Bury St. Edmunds, and she was surprised that few people knew about Andrews.
The Sybil Andrews Heritage Society paid for a plaque to go on the building that Andrews grew up in so that people would know that this was where she was born.