Pegi Nicol MacLeod, Canadian War Artist
Distinguished Canadian artist Pegi Nicol MacLeod devoted her short life to creating brilliant oil and watercolour paintings filled with vibrancy and verve.
A fine art painter in oils and watercolours, Pegi Nicol MacLeod’s canvasses “seem to literally pulsate and throb with life,” said Stuart Allen Smith in 1981, in the Artist Profile of Gallery 78. Smith noted that Pegi’s paintings transmitted a “tremendous vitality. This linearity and vivacity become increasingly important elements in her oeuvre.”
Pegi Nicol MacLeod’s Distinctive Style Emerged
On January 17, 1904, Margaret Kathleen Nicol was born in Listowel, Ontario, and gained the
nickname Pegi. The family moved to Ottawa, where Pegi immersed herself in art, training first for three years at the Ottawa Art Association under Franklin Brownell. She then spent a year in Montreal’s L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1922 – Pegi was still only 18. Her skill and talent earned her five medals for paintings. It seems that art was part of every breath that Pegi took, every beat of her heart. Art was her life.
MacLeod Toured with Group of Seven
Landscape scenes in her local area of Ottawa and nearby Quebec filled Pegi’s canvases, then, taking a working trip to British Columbia, she captured the lives of natives and their lands in brushstrokes. Her initial work had a resemblance to the pieces produced by another famous section of Canadian artists, the Group of Seven. Touring solo and “alongside A.Y. Jackson and the rest of the Group of Seven,” Pegi exhibited her impressive artwork across Canada, according to a 2005 Canadian Medical Association Journal review of an Ottawa exhibit. An exception to the rule, Pegi was successful in the male dominated world of art in the mid-1900s.
The Willingdon Prize in 1931
A painting of the Gatineau River called “The Long Run” earned Pegi the Willingdon Arts Prize in 1931. The piece diverted from her early style, infused with a new verve and impact. “Her canvases seem to literally pulsate and throb with life,” said Smith. (The Willingdon Prize was given out for only a few years, instituted by Ontario’s Governor General and Lady Willingdon as an award in music, painting, sculpture and literature. It was presented from 1929 to 1931 by the National Gallery of Canada, and ended when the Willingdons moved away from Canada.)
Putting her artistic talents to diverse use, Pegi was a window dresser at the T. Eaton Company store in Toronto in 1934. The next year, she began submitting illustrations and writing for the Canadian Forum, and she briefly became the magazine’s arts editor. She later became a member of the Canadian Group of Painters and the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour.
Canadian Artist Moved to New York
Marrying Norman MacLeod in 1937, Pegi and her new husband packed up and moved to New York City. Their daughter was born in New York and she became part of Pegi’s painting muses along with the throbbing life of the big city. Since her husband was from Fredericton, New Brunswick, the MacLeods made yearly trips back to Canada. Pegi established a summer art school at the University of New Brunswick in which she taught, sharing her arts passion with aspiring new artists from 1940 to 1948.
Legacy of 1000 Paintings
In 1944, Pegi was commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada to portray the activities of the
WW2 Canadian women’s division of the military in paint for posterity. Now part of the Gallery’s War Collection, Pegi painted 110 captivating canvasses of the women at work.
Suffering with disease for eight months, Pegi Nicol MacLeod died of cancer in 1949. Her death in New York City cut short a life permeated with paints, canvases and art. More than a thousand works of art are her legacy, a reminder of Pegi’s life-long deep love of painting and the subjects she chose to render.
Pegi Nicol MacLeod; a life in art, Alive in Art, Canadian Medical Association Journal, March 29, 2005.
Pegi Nicol MacLeod, by Stuart Allen Smith, Gallery 78 Fine Art, Fredericton, New Brunswick 1981.
CyberMuse: Art Page: Pegi Nicol MacLeod, CyberMuse Gallery, by the National Gallery of Ontario.
“Pegi Nichol MacLeod,” National Gallery of Canada.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in June 2010. (C) Susanna McLeod