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The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part XXI – Ursula’s Sisters – Monica and Unity

We have pretty much covered all the controversial stuff in The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston, so now I want to go to the stuff that she has not mentioned before in her prior biographies. Lynn’s sole mention of her aunt, Unity Bainbridge was in her 10th anniversary collection:

I was going to be an artist like my Aunt Unity.

For her aunt, Monica Reznick, Lynn has this comment in her Treasury #1:

This is my mother’s story. During the Depression, she bought a chocolate rabbit as a gift for her sister, but she couldn’t resist tasting it. Monica received her rabbit minus the ears.

Lynn discusses her aunts in much greater length in The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston than she ever has before and we will talk about them after the cut.



Monica Reznick:

Katie:

There were other talented family members who influenced young Lynn as well. Her mother, Ursula, was the middle of three sisters. The youngest, Monica Reznick, lived in Montreal with her husband and four children. She, too, was a capable artist. Lynn loved her for her candid conversations. In a family that buried serious feelings, where “we don’t talk about those things, dear,” was the answer to many questions, Monica’s openness was exceptional. Lynn looked forward to the rare occasions when Monica and her family would come to the West Coast to visit.

Me:


Oddly enough, there is no actual text from Lynn about Monica, just this “third person Lynn” stuff from Katie, which does not speak well to Lynn’s relationship with Monica. Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, I found a few things about Monica.

Monica Reznick apparently married Maurice Edward Reznick. I found his obituary from last year:

REZNICK, Maurice Edward
(July 1921 - July 2014) It is with much sadness and a sense of loss that we share the passing of Maurice (Moses) Reznick on July 10, 2014, just two weeks shy of his 93rd birthday. He was predeceased by his parents, Nathan and Lisa, his daughter Tamara, his brothers Samuel and Saul, as well as his brother- in-law Edmund (Schnitzer). Maurice is survived by his loving wife of 66 years, Monica, his sister Fay (Schnitzer), his three children Martin, Anthony and Erica, and his adored grandchildren Keith, Evan, Alanna and Myles, as well as two sisters-in- law, and many nieces and nephews. Maurice was born in Berdichev, Russia (now Ukraine) in 1921. His parents and his brother fled Russia and travelled to Montreal when Maurice was 2 years old. His father started a leather goods manufacturing business where Maurice began work at age 12, although he continued his education on to university. Along with his brothers and brother-in-law, he later ran a successful leather goods manufacturing company, Renwick of Canada. He married Monica (Bainbridge) in 1948 and they continued to live in Montreal until 1993 when they moved to Vancouver. Maurice was an enthusiast with varied interests, particularly gymnastics, photography and travel. He will be remembered for his outgoing vivacious personality and remarkable charm. He lived a long, joyful life but struggled with the tragedy of mental illness in his family. At his request, there was no service but a private celebration of life was held in Vancouver.


Maurice’s arrival from Ukraine in 1923 means his family was most likely trying to escape the anti-Semitic riots by the army of the nationalistic Ukrainian People's Republic led by dictator Simon Petlyura that left 50,000 to 250,000 Ukrainian Jews dead.

In Montreal, Monica was a former director of AMI-Quebec Action on Mental Illness. This organization “helps families manage the effects of mental illness through support, education, guidance, and advocacy.” Clearly this was not a subject that the Reznicks took lightly.

Obviously there is a story to be inferred from:

a. That Monica was already living in Montreal by 1948 when she would have been pretty young.
b. That Maurice was predeceased by his daughter Tamara.
c. Maurice’s immigrant status and non-Anglican religion.
d. The fact that Maurice and Monica had been living in Vancouver since 1993
e. The obituary calls it “mental illness in his family” which means it was not just Maurice.

It is easy to why her visits to the Vancouver area would be rare for many reasons aside from distance. Also, it is easy to why Monica might be willing to talk about things that the Bainbridge family did not normally talk about. However, the big point here is that Monica lives in Vancouver, which means that not one but both Bainbridge sisters live in Vancouver and Lynn might have to deal with them after her move. I wonder if Katie will approach them with The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston opened to page 25 where Lynn talks about them.

Unity Bainbridge:

Katie:

Some of Lynn’s earliest memories are of her mother’s eldest sister, Unity Bainbridge. Unity was one of the early graduates of the Vancouver School of Art, where Lynn eventually began her training. By the mid-1950s, Unity was an established [albeit unorthodox] artist with a unique style that Lynn appreciated and admired.

Lynn:

I was an artist. There was no question about it. I was going to be an artist like my Aunt Unity. Everyone said so and I knew it was true. I had been able to draw since the age of two. I accepted it.

Me:

Copied straight from the 10th anniversary collection, her only prior reference to Aunt Unity.

Katie:

Unity travelled all over British Columbia, capturing the integral character of First Nations people, their villages, their churches, and their surrounding landscape. Lynn remembers all corners and spaces of her aunt’s small house filled with her art.

Lynn:

Paints, drawing tools, and other supplies covered the dining room table. Paintings, sketches, finished and unfinished work were stacked against the walls in every room. I was fascinated as much by Unity’s painting and drawing equipment, as I was by the art itself.

Unity travelled with a flat wooden box, which folded out onto a small set of legs. Inside this box were her paints, brushes, and all the things she needed to sketch with. This box sat like a briefcase in her painting studio, a small, bright room on the side of her house. I knew that someday, I would have all of these things to work with too.

Me:

What are we missing here in this narrative? There is no mention of any kind of relationship between Unity and Lynn. This recollection could have come from a one-time visit to Unity’s house. And of course, somehow Lynn has managed to make a discussion about her aunt all about herself.

Katie:

Lynn eventually took particular notice that Unity carried out her own marketing. In the 1960s she had begun to create prints, illustrated books about her travels, and greeting cards, all of which were popular items in galleries and specialty shops where tourists went to find exclusive examples of Canadian West Coast art. She was an irresistible force, promoting her work at a time when being an artist was discouraged by those who believed it was no way to make a living. Lynn saw in her “Aunt Unie” an example of a full-time working artist, who was able to blend her passion for beauty and expression with her ability to produce a line of work others could readily enjoy. Bainbridge, now ninety-eight years old, states, “I loved painting, capturing the true in nature and in people. I was immensely grateful to be recognized with the Order of British Columbia in 1993.” Unity Bainbridge had set the bar for Lynn.

In the Acknowledgement section, it says:

The quotation on page 26 is taken from a personal email from Unity Bainbridge to the author on November 15, 2014.

Me:

I am going to guess that since it is phrased “the author” and not “Lynn Johnston”, we are talking about the author Katherine Hadway. The question being asked was probably something like: “Yo. Wassup with you and the Order of B.C, great aunt Unie?”

In general, this is a pretty limp description of Unity’s contribution to art and it looks like something Katie could have gotten from the movie “Big Eyes” where Walter Keane startled the art world by selling massive number of prints and postcards of his wife Margaret Keane’s “big-eye” work. Yes, in the 1960s Unity Bainbridge did what practically every artist and art gallery started doing with postcards and prints. Katie ignores the more impressive parts of her life. As for “those who believed it was no way to make a living”, the quote from Unity’s biography is:

Born in Victoria in 1916 and schooled in Vancouver and the Okanagan, Bainbridge decided upon an emancipated life for herself. “I just found myself wanting to paint,” she explains. “I was sixteen, seventeen, and heard about the Vancouver School of Art. I had to go there. My father said, ‘You’ll never earn a living from art,’ but I got a scholarship my first year and managed to graduate during the Depression.”

As much as Lynn hated her grandfather, you would think this would be worth mentioning. If not that, Unity hung around with and was taught by members of the Group of Seven, tremendously well-known Canadian landscape painters. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that Lynn had much of a relationship with Unity beyond seeing her drawing equipment and I am sure that she did not improve that relationship by with her public trashing of her mother/Unity's sister. It's too bad. After the big deal that Lynn makes about how much she likes hanging around artists in the National Cartoonists Society, you would think she would have a terrific relationship with Aunt Unie.

The Wikipedia on Unity

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_Bainbridge

A good description of her history

http://50svanartscene.blogspot.ca/2007/06/unity-bainbridge_25.html

In case you want to buy a Bainbridge book of art

http://www.abebooks.com/book-search/author/unity-bainbridge/

Her Order of British Columbia page

http://www.orderofbc.gov.bc.ca/members/obc-1993/1993-unity-bainbridge/

Yes, Unity Bainbridge is a big deal and in retrospect, it is a little surprising that it took Lynn Johnston this long to name-drop her in a book. Both of her aunts must be well into their 90s by this point, so I hope Lynn can make peace with them while she still has a chance.

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