Artist at Work: Cora Macaulay, Inspired by Art

by Laureen on January 18, 2012

The artists who exhibit with Grasslands Gallery are some of the most talented and inspiring people I know. This occasional series introduces them and their work.


Cora Macaulay, “Grasslands Palette”, o/c, 9″ x 12″

When I first met Cora Macaulay I didn’t think of her as an artist. I thought of her as my best friend’s mom. But the friend I’m talking about is the internationally-exhibited watercolour painter Catherine Macaulay, also a Grasslands Gallery artist. So maybe Cora’s step toward the easel wasn’t such a big one at all.

Cora Macaulay has been painting a long time, but she didn’t start at an especially young age.  Cora began at age 65, nearly 30 years ago. I still remember sitting in a restaurant in Saskatoon one evening in the fall of 2003 when Cora announced, in her low-key, the-opposite-of-self-aggrandizing way, that she had taken up the activity. Catherine and I turned to her, almost open-mouthed. In my memory, she smiles and says that she bought her paints with her first old-age pension cheque. She says she’s quite enjoying herself.

In Cora’s words, “At one time I was coordinator for community college classes. A request was made for a class in oil painting. When the class was set up, there was room for me to become a member of it. That was the start. I liked it, and decided this could be a good hobby.”  Asked what kept her going, she has no uncertainty: “My growing interest in what that “hobby” had to offer. And an invitation from the newly formed 55 Plus Art Club was accepted without hesitation. With Catherine by then seriously involved in the art world, to learn something about it myself seemed a good idea. What wide horizons it opened up for me!”

When Cora first began painting, she and her husband James still lived on the farm, in the small two-bedroom house they’d been in for most of their lives together and where they raised their family. By that time the house had an addition, a bright wood-panelled back porch. Here Cora set up her materials and began to work. She took classes, met with her Art Club friends to paint and critique each other and find places to show, and she produced lots and lots of art. While Cora found most of her subjects close to home in the sweeping land forms and wide skies of her native Saskatchewan, she also travelled and painted from what she discovered in other spaces.

As Cora says, she painted, “Landscapes and skyscapes. Early in my painting days an adjudicator told us to paint what we know. I’m a realist, but appreciate the originality and use of colour in all types of work. I like the variation of light and shadow and how they affect colour.”

Cora painted for the next two decades. Her artwork was exhibited regularly in her city and regional environs, and in the 1990s a solo exhibition toured to 24 communities in the province of Saskatchewan with the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils‘ Art on the Move program. In 2004, her Art Club visited Grasslands National Park, and a tour given them by Lise Perrault, local rancher, artist and early staunch Park supporter, resulted in Cora’s Grasslands series.

Time and change chase all of us. By 2009 when I opened Grasslands Gallery, Cora’s artistic output had slowed almost to a stop. At age 91 she found prolonged periods of physical concentration difficult and getting out to paint almost impossible. But she had one painting left from the Grasslands series, #4, and she gave it to me to hang.

It sold almost immediately. So did the next piece she let me have, another older work. And the one after that did the same thing. But this third one was freshly-made for the occasion. Inspired by her new audience, and willing to paint when she can and in small sessions, Cora Macaulay is back with us. She’s making gorgeous painterly depictions of this amazing Grasslands landscape, some of her best work yet, and while her production is slower now than it was a few years ago, her lovely small oil paintings never last in the gallery very long before they are purchased. Cora again: “My picture content is simple, little need for interpretation. I hope anyone who has one has it hung visibly with their eyes straying to it often.”

At 93 years of age, Cora Macaulay makes one painting at a time. Sometimes she doesn’t know if she will make another one. But who can say anything else? And if Cora Macaulay can decide to follow her dream as far as it leads, can’t we all?


Alison Gresik January 19, 2012 at 9:11 am

This is so inspiring. Who says that one’s ten-thousand-hour practice can’t come in the second half of life?

Laureen January 19, 2012 at 9:14 am

And a good thing too! Some of us started earlier and then keep starting over 🙂

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