Lake Country Museum given Mary Bull painting
by David Madison
Vernon artist Bob Kingsmill made a purchase at a recent auction of some local paintings. One of the works proved to be an original, by the late Kelowna artist Mary Bull, of the cabin in which Father Pandosy had lived. Kingsmill donated the painting to the Lake Country Museum to be enjoyed by all who visit there.
The painting is on display at the Museum and is considered by other artists to be one of Mary Bull’s finest works. Bull represents a unique part of the Okanagan’s history. She was born in Scotland in 1919 but moved to the Okanagan Mission area when she was four months old. Mary’s father had inherited land in the area from his brother who had died in the Great War. Mary’s father had lost an arm in the same conflict and was released from the service but still was known by his rank (Captain) as was common at the time. Mary lost her mother at age 4 and was under the care of a nanny for her early years. She attended a private girls school in Vernon for several years and traveled between Vernon and Kelowna by train during holiday periods. Her father returned to Scotland for a short while and came home with a new wife with whom he had a son, Tony. Capt. Bull had sufficient financial resources to provide Mary with the opportunity to refine her artistic talent. She attended the Vancouver School of Art in the late 1930s and then went east to The Ontario College of Art in the early 1940s.
Her artistic pursuit was interrupted by World War 2 when Mary enlisted in the RCAF as a practical nurse. After the war she studied at the Heartherley School of Art in London, England. She returned to Canada and traveled to Mexico in the 1950s where she lived in an artist community and developed a style known for “expressionistic brushwork” and vibrant colors. Some of her work in the Kelowna Art Gallery has a distinct “modern” look with bold lines and playful distortions of her subjects. The “Pandosy Cabin” is more traditional as it captures the rustic and Spartan existence of the early settlers of the valley.
Mary was a director of the Okanagan Historical Society for about eight years. She gained a reputation of having a sharp mind and some would also say a sharp tongue. She lived her life in the Mission area near Kelowna and painted many portraits of friends. She loved art and painted more for the joy of painting than any financial reward. Many of her works were kept at her family home which became a casualty of the Okanagan Mountain Fire in 2003. The paintings were lost to the flames. Mary died in October, 2010.
Mary might be said to have been out of step with her contemporaries. Her art was bold and assertive. She herself displayed those qualities. Mary did not marry but had an extensive family of nieces and nephews. The Kelowna Archives has some papers and materials that belonged to Mary and they suggest she had a strong interest in feminist concerns and would have been quite comfortable in today’s world. The Lake Country Museum invites all to stop in and see this original painting providing a small window into the Okanagan’s past.