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In love with the art before the man

June, 2010

When Joan Roberts turned 80, she started to think about publishing her memoir. “I said to myself that if I don’t do it, I’ll never do it.”

Roberts, now 87, has published Joan & Goodridge: My Life With Goodridge Roberts, an account of her relationship with the famous artist. They married in 1954 and were together until his death in 1974. “I fell in love with the art before the man, or might have anyway,” she said.

Roberts’s still lifes, figures and portraits can be viewed in museums across Canada. In 1952, his work was part of Canada’s first participation at the Venice Biennale; he became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1970.

While her husband’s fame and work’s importance increased, Roberts was a social worker, having achieved her master’s of social work at McGill in 1948.

She helped her husband, cleaning brushes and answering letters so he could focus on painting. “The philosophy that underpinned my work was not that different from his,” said Roberts, adding that he always painted subjects he could empathize with. “We shared a respect for humanity, a respect for people.”

Writing her memoir has caused Roberts to reflect on her life. “It’s an important piece of work. Writing memoirs helps you come to terms with what you’ve done and been.

Joan Roberts’s memoir chronicles her life with artist Goodridge Roberts. Photo: Matthew Rettino

“I saw myself as a social worker,” she said, speaking of the challenge to think of herself as a writer. She says some people describe her book as a page turner. “It feels good to be able to find the right words to describe or explain something,” she said. Roberts learned publishers were interested in her memoir at a birthday party.

“Somebody said: ‘I have a memoir we can do about Goodridge Roberts,’ and I thought, ‘Well, that’s funny’.” The woman she overheard did not have the book yet, but was interested.

“Oral history is important whether or not it gets published,” said Roberts, who attended last month’s Blue Metropolis literary festival. “I think it’s an important legacy to one’s family.

“I would like to go on writing. Writing may not be my gift, but it’s my pleasure.”



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