BIO OF DONALD GORDON FRASER
A Canadian from rural Northern Ontario, Donald Fraser spent his
working years in Toronto and later years in rural eastern Ontario.
He was a professional artist trained at the Ontario College of Art,
who by day painted scenic backdrops at the CBC TV Studios and by
night taught Life-drawing at Northern Secondary School.
a wayfarer drawn to the back alleys of River Street and Regent Park
and the gloomy pubs of mid-century Toronto (the Paramount, the Waverly)
he captured the decrepit faces of the habituès in his walnut-husk
ink drawings. But he was also an outdoorsman who plied Toronto's
Don Valley with fellow painters Jo Manning, Al Colton and Albert
Chiarandini; then roamed further afield to the Georgian Bay inlets
and the Laurentian Shield with friends Ross Robertshaw, Bill Hopkinson
& Ron Leonard, stopping to paint as they went. His later years
were spent with his wife Catherine in a farmhouse near Madoc, Ontario,
amid the rocks and swamps and old stumps, which he loved.
Donald was born on a farm in Charlton, near Kirkland Lake in 1921,
the son of Dora Watson and prospector Roderick Dhu Fraser. In 1925
Fraser's parents moved the growing family by train to a small farmstead
in the warmth of Hudson, Florida to seek relief from the bitter
winters of Northern Ontario. By the time Don was 12 years old the
bleak economic conditions brought on by the Stock Market Crash of
1929 forced the family back to Canada, to the Muskoka District.
He spent his high school years in Bracebridge. In 1940, when Don
won a tuition scholarship to study at the Ontario College of Art,
the whole family moved to a 13 room house at 370 Huron Street in
Toronto, where his mother could take in roomers to augment the family
At the OCA Don Fraser excelled, winning tuition scholarships every
year. This enabled him to study under Franklin Carmichael, John
Alfsen, Yvonne Mckague-Housser, George Pepper, Rowley Murphy, Manly
MacDonald, and Eric Aldwinkle. He graduated in 1944 with the Governor
General's Award of Excellence.
Fraser's career as an artist was eclectic. He worked as Drawing
and Painting Instructor and as Scenic Artist. He did free-lance
commercial display work, accepted portrait commissions and in his
early working years, found employment painting floral designs on
metal trays and wastepaper baskets for a company called Artline.
And he was a constant drawer and painter of all images that caught
his eye, indoors and out.
Following his graduation from the Ontario College of Art (now known
as Ontario College of Art and Design), Donald joined the faculty,
teaching there for five years and in addition he was on the faculty
of the Artists' Workshop. He then graduated from the Ontario College
of Education and had a two-year stint as a full-time high school
art teacher in Toronto. In 1955 he became an employed as a Scenic
Artist by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Sumach Street
in Toronto, where he was adept at painting large and loose with
the long-handled brushes used to paint on the backdrop flats for
televised plays. As well, many of the sketches he left behind record
the faces of fellow CBC workers on their lunch breaks. Throughout
the 30 years he worked at CBC, Donald also taught the popular night-classes
in Life-Drawing at Northern Secondary School, the Portraiture classes
at Danforth Technical School and during his summer vacations he
taught Landscape painting at the Schneider School of Fine Art in
passion was painting. From his childhood years he was absorbed by
a compulsion to draw and paint in whatever medium was at hand. His
subjects ranged from animals to Toronto backstreets, elderly streetcar
passengers and the faces of native Canadians to the rocky bush and
crumbling barns of the Laurentian Shield. Although he first exhibited
in 1944 with the Ontario Society of Artists, his overwhelming focus
was to draw and paint. He relinquished few pieces until he moved
to Madoc after retirement from the CBC. It was only then that he
was persuaded to give serious attention to selling, when Studio
737 Art Gallery began showing his work.
In the early 90's, Thierry Lefrançois, a historian and curator
of The Museum of the New World in the city of La Rochelle, France,
happened to see one of Fraser's large oils, Cranberry Marsh. Fraser's
depictions of the exposed granite ridges and forlorn beaver marshes
reminded him of the 17th century French explorers' accounts of the
rugged terrain they had traversed in Canada. As a result, Mr. Lefrançois
arranged a four month exhibition of 70 of Fraser's paintings at
La Musée du Nouveau Monde in 1995.
Donald Gordon Fraser died at age 82 in 2003 in Madoc after a lifelong
struggle with the effects of juvenile diabetes. Throughout his life,
Don was his own person, uninterested in following the trends of
the art world, but deeply engaged by the human dynamic of daily
life in the city and by the drama of the natural world.
on Canadian Heritage graphic to open Artists in Canada -
Reference Library: Donald Gordon Fraser
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