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An art career spanning seven decades

(photo: Susan Horan)

Women of Anita Shapiro’s generation were either teachers, nurses, or secretaries. Anything outside of that wasn’t really accepted. “My mother and father would have liked me to go to McGill,” Shapiro says. “You would go to McGill for an arts degree and do teaching after, which most of my friends did.” Those were the 1930s.

Going against tradition, she chose a different profession. Growing up in Westmount she was exposed to a close community. Her neighbour’s father was also her doctor and she learned that they had relatives in Boston. Her friend went to Boston to study, got an arts degree and came back. “She was a few years older than me and she got a job at Eaton’s and that’s where I got the idea,” says Shapiro with a sparkle in her eyes.

She took art classes at Sir George Williams University in the 1930s and followed up by studying life drawing and landscapes with Herman Heimlich. They would go out on location, practice and learn everything about drawing. In those days there weren’t many books available, as they all came from Europe and had to be translated.

After that she got a job in the advertising department of Morgan’s doing illustrations of merchandise. “We would be given an empty page and we would have to plan it,” she recalls fondly. She worked there during the war years and had to be very creative with resources. “You get your merchandise and you invent the figure, or else somebody tries something on and you do a life drawing. It was really a fun job.” She worked there from 1940-1946, leaving to get married and raise three sons. Taking care of family and working as an artist proved to be a challenge. “It was hard to do freelancing because it was only on the weekends,” she says. “Whenever I had a call to do some work, it was just the time that I had other plans.”

Once her children were grown, Anita was back into her professional career full swing. She belonged to Powerhouse, which later became known as Le Centrale. “I wanted to meet other artists,” she remembers. “This was in the 1970s and I met some very nice people who I’m still in touch with.”

Over the years she’s perfected many styles of artwork including abstract, still life, figures, and cubism, in various media including charcoal and acrylic. She was influenced by the impressionists and loves colour. Her latest paintings explode with colour and shapes, a stark contrast to these dark fall days.

Going against the norm proved the right decision in the long run for Anita Shapiro, who sums up art’s lifelong appeal in noting there’s little that could keep her from it: “These are such fun to do!”

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