6 March 1926 - 18 February 2018
Her great skill and expertise as a master printmaker, influenced by a background in biological sciences, enlarged on a life-long fascination with mountain and prairie culture as well as the natural world: the plants, animals, birds, people, the life cycles in nature – a veritable life’s tapestry. “While not interested in pure abstraction, she does abstract and simplify all her subjects” into a vocabulary that is the artist’s own (Roed Cochrane, 102).” Although she denies any poetic approach, Mackie visualizes (makes visible) nature’s rhythms and reveals spiritual and symbolic points of reference that fill in our own realities. She embraces the common and everyday to fashion, through the medium of the woodblock print, etching, watercolor and charcoal drawing, imaginary worlds of surprise, interconnectivity, whimsy, and joy.
Mackie’s strong images, in conjunction with her use of color (often with a stencil technique), contain high levels of energy and denote her compassionate nature and keen sense of humor. Referencing various visual techniques from the history of art, such as the registers from illuminated medieval manuscripts and books of hours, Helen’s subjects shift the traditional scenes from the lives of the Virgin, Christ, and any number of saints, to take in the activities of moose, crows, cows, and horses, as well as cowboys, children, mice, flowers, and gardeners.
Mackie is an alumna of the University of Calgary, the University of Toronto and Queen’s University, member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Artists (RCA) and the Alberta Society of Artists (ASA), and has studied at The Banff Centre, Alberta College of Art & Design, and the Emma Lake Workshops. Dora Helen Mackie was born in Tavistock, Ontario in 1926. In 1947, she received a B.Sc. Honours at Queen's University in Biology and Chemistry and in 1949 she received a M.Sc. in Physiology and Biochemistry from the University of Toronto. After deciding to expand her understanding of the world via art making, Mackie received a BFA from the University of Calgary in Printmaking and Drawing (1973), where she studied with John Esler and Noboru Sawai.
She is well known for her woodblock prints and etchings, although she also works with charcoal and watercolor. Helen has had many solo exhibitions: her work was featured during the summer of 2011 at the Lebel Mansion in Pincher Creek courtesy of our gallery; in a travelling exhibition through the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (Dora Helen Mackie, A Print Retrospective, 2008-9); she exhibited at the Muttart Art Gallery, Calgary; Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff; and the Kanagawa International Association, Kanagawa, Japan, amongst many others. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions as well, including the Taejon Expo International Exhibition of Graphic Arts, Taejon, Korea (1993), the Alberta Society of Artists 65th Anniversary Exhibition (1996), the 5th International Biennal Print Exhibit: 1991 ROC, Taipei, Taiwan (1991), 1st Kochi International Triennial Exhibition of Prints, Kochi-shi, Japan (1990), and International Exhibition Small Forms of Graphic Art, Lodz, Poland (1985-1989).
Every individual has unique life experience, ideas and emotions which become part of their personal pattern. In my life I can see different sources for my interests in the relationships of man with the natural world. Especially in the energy and life that flows from the earth, our source, into the life of the plants, animals, birds, insects, fish, etc.
As a child, I lived in the country and that has given me vivid memories. The world of one's childhood is the bones of one's life. Encountering stories, myths, fables, and spiritual beliefs brought a larger understanding of my own life and the lives of others in times present and past. The study of life sciences focused my interest and increased my knowledge of living forms. Each plant, animal, or cell is unique onto itself but each depends on complex transfers of energy from other sources for its growth and movement.
In the world of art different experiences are woven into one's work. I have enjoyed working with watercolour in 'plein air' tradition since being given paints as a child. It is simple and direct and the experience greatly enhances one's observation and appreciation of the wonderful world of out-of-doors. When studying Fine Arts at the University of Calgary, I found that a course in printmaking opened my eyes to a new world of images and to new opportunities to create. I have found that the traditional methods of drawing on a plate or cutting into a wood block are most to my liking. In these the contact with idea, hand, and image are very close.
One begins each work big or small, with a new observation or thought. To define it becomes a unique challenge. Each work is a process that defines the worker.
1981 - Banff School of Fine Arts
1980 - Emma Lake Painting Workshop
1973 - University of Calgary, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Printmaking and Drawing
Attended the Alberta College of Art - Extension Program
1949 - University of Toronto, Masters Degree in Physiology and Biochemistry
1947 - Queen's University, Bachelor of Arts (with Honors), Biology and Chemistry
Mackie's work is in private collections around the world.
Cochrane, Bente Roed. Printmaking in Alberta 1945-85. Edmonton: UofA Press, 1989.
Laviolette, Mary-Beth. An Alberta Art Chronicle, Adventures in Recent & Contemporary Art. Victoria: Touchwood Editions, 2006.
Sowiak, Christine. Fine Lines: Drawings from the Nickle Collection and the Mackie Donation. Calgary: Nickle Galleries (UofC), 2014.
Sternberg, Harry. Woodcut. NY: Pitman Publishing Corporation, 1962.
Zimon, Kathy E. Alberta Society of Artists, The First Seventy Years. Edmonton: UofA Press, 2000.
It is with sadness that we report the passing of Helen Mackie, one of Canada’s foremost printmakers as well as a terrific watercolorist. Tom and I have had the pleasure of representing Helen for close to 20 years. She was a wonderful artist, a grand lady, and we were friends. We will miss her greatly. We extend our sincere and heartfelt condolences to the Mackie family.