A brief history: In the early days of 1920, in the town of Sudbury, with a population of 8,800 a small art group began meeting in their homes. The Sudbury Woman’s Art Association was organized, eventually fading away, and in May of 1945 another group formed calling itself the Sudbury Arts and Crafts Club because there was a need for an organization for people who had some painting experience. One of the founders was Nellie Keillor Lowe.
Bruno Cavallo recalls Keillor Lowe as the most accomplished of the local artists. “She was painting a lot of watercolour while others were painting in oils.”
The following is a feature on Nellie Keillor Lowe from the Spring 2014 issue of Sudbury Living
Nellie Keillor Lowe captured the hard beauty of Sudbury’s landscape
BY KYLE W. DOUCETTE
The late painter and art teacher Nellie Keillor Lowe captured Sudbury’s heritage, much of it lost long ago to a wrecking ball.
Her contemporaries speak of her fondly, stating that Keillor Lowe was light-hearted, dedicated and creative. The impact she left on the Sudbury art scene is considerable, setting a positive example for many generations to come. She was an early president of the Sudbury Art Club.
The Art Gallery of Sudbury has several pieces of her distinctive work. Her watercolours are also in the collections of many Sudbury arts patrons.
Artist Oryst Sawchuk admired her work and has a painting of “The Woods” by Keillor Lowe’s hanging in his bedroom.
“She always loved the Sudbury landscape,” he said.
Keillor Lowe’s was born in Baggot, Man., during the Great War. The Keillor family was tragically left a victim of this war when her father, John Keillor, died overseas. After his passing, the family moved to Ontario and settled in Mitchell, near Stratford, hoping for a fresh start.
Keiller Lowe majored in history and earned an arts degree at Western University in 1934. Later she attended the Toronto College of Education. After graduating from teacher’s college, she taught in Leamington and Quebec. Starting in 1943, she taught art at Sudbury’s Sheridan Technical School. The school would remain a fixture in her life until she departed for Lockerby Composite in 1962. At Lockerby she was head of the art department.
Most mark her arrival in Sudbury as the beginning of her formal art career. She became captivated by Sudbury’s rugged hard beauty. She took it upon herself to ensure old Sudbury would be documented for future generations. Nature was her focus at this time leading her to paint Birch Trees, Wahnapitae, Near Coniston and others between 1946 and 1947.
It was after this creative detour that she started immortalizing enduring landmarks on canvas such as the House Behind Flour Mill. Another building that was captured by her brush strokes was the old Sudbury High School, which was demolished in 1960. Other lost landmarks were captured in her paintings including Snow White Laundry and the old Sudbury Star building, which was located on Elm St. She painted the Pearl St. watertower and the Flour Mill silos long before anyone thought of them as landmarks.
Keillor Lowe experienced another tragedy in May 1949 when her brother, Hubert George Keillor, died in an RCAF training accident. He had flown combat missions in the Second World War only to die unexpectedly in peacetime.
It’s said to have been a loss that the artist never fully recovered from. In several paintings completed after her brother’s death, there is a pall of sadness.
Despite this, her future was bright. She became the first president of the Northern Ontario Art Association. Her star rose higher in March 1950 when one of her watercolour paintings was accepted by the 67th Annual Exhibit of Canadian Art. She had other solo exhibits including a public showing that was sponsored by the Sudbury Arts and Crafts Club in October 1956.
In 1955 she married Kenneth Lowe. In a nod to an admirable stubbornness, she changed her name to Nellie Keillor Lowe.
As the years past, her influence in the community grew. She was crucial in bringing art shows to the Sudbury area, took it upon herself to organize art courses and fundraise for youth educational scholarships. She organized an arts summer school in Colbalt for many years.
Keillor Lowe became ill with cancer and died May 18, 1967. She was 50. The artist is buried in a Perth Country cemetery. There is a palette and a paintbrush engraved on her gravestone.
In the 1963 Keillor Lowe is quoted in the Lockerby yearbook to have said, “It is through art and art only that we can realize perfection.”
Sudbury Star, March 11, 1950, p.3, Sudbury Artist in Spring Show.
Sudbury Star, Oct. 15, 1956, p.11, Sudbury Artist To Have Show next Saturday.”
1963 Lockerby Composite School Year Book staff quotes section p. 6.
Sudbury Star, May 19, 1967. p.3, Nellie Keillor Lowe dies in city hospital.
Sudbury Star, Nov. 6, 1967.p. 3, Teachers donate painting.