D. Helen Mackie, RCA

6 March 1926 - 18 February 2018

...And Victory Goes To The Flowers***

After the lengthy winter cold stretches in Western Canada the rebirth of spring is always completely welcome. So, we have gathered a wonderful grouping of flowers in paint and in clay to embrace the glory of spring. As Mary-Beth Laviolette states "flowers continue to inspire new interpretations (A Delicate Art, p.9)." Our April flower show includes ceramic work by Ruth Chambers, oil paintings by local Banff artist Susan Elkins, and watercolours by D. Helen Mackie RCA (1926-2018).

Throughout her career, Helen Mackie’s understanding of the relationship of colour against ground in her watercolours has also informed her printmaking. Her knowledge of colour theory and ability to put paint to page resulted in brilliantly expressive as well as finely detailed paintings of household plants and the wild flowers found during her hikes.

Helen Mackie's 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.

Birds figure prominently in Helen's block prints: she has printed them boldly full on as well as subtly placed within larger designs.

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 states that the art of printmaking “opened my eyes to a new world of images and new opportunities to create.”  For Helen the block of wood and the etcher’s plate kept her “contact with idea, hand, and image very close.”


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).

Artist Statement

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

Selected Juried or Solo Exhibitions:

2017, THE PRINTMAKER'S HAND, Willock and Sax Gallery, Banff - The Printmaker’s Hand encompassed a number of print series as well as watercolors which span her career as an artist from the early 1970s through to the early 2000s.
2015, WOOD WATER a celebration, Willock and Sax Gallery, Banff
2011, D. Helen Mackie, solo exhibition, Lebel Mansion, Pincher Creek, Alberta
2009, Of Wood and Water, solo exhibition, Willock and Sax Gallery, Banff
2002, Brave New Prints, Alberta Printmakers, Calgary and McMullen Gallery, Edmonton
2001, Biennale International D'Estampe Contemporaine de Trois-Rivières, Quebec
Of Wood and Water, a thirty year survey of work by Helen Mackie, Image 54
Kaleidoscope, travelled to Calgary Amsterdam, Ostrava, Czech. Rep.
Evidence of Things Unseen, Tyndale College, 1st Prize, Toronto, ON
Bridging a New Century, ASA 70th Anniv. Traveling Exhibition, Red Deer, AB
Biennale International D'Estampes Miniatures de Montreal, Montreal, PQ
1st Biennial International Mini Print Exhibition, Granville Island, Vancouver, BC
Japanese and Canadian Woodblock, Nickle Arts Museum, Calgary, AB
1999-2001, Mini Print International de Cadaques, Barcelona, Spain
1999, University of Calgary Millennium Print Portfolio, Image 54, Calgary, AB
1996, International Review of Book-Plate of Pawel Stellar Name, Katowice, Poland
         ASA 65th Anniversary Exhibition, Leighton Centre, AB
1995, Alberta Printmakers, Medicine Hat Art Gallery, Best of Show
1994, Printmaking in Alberta, Triangle Gallery, Calgary
1993, Taejon Expo International Exhibition of Graphic Arts, Taejon, Korea
         The First International Print Biennial, Maastricht, The Netherlands
         Solo Exhibition, Giordano Gallery, Edmonton
1992-6, Kensington Fine Art Galleries, Calgary
1992, Northwest Print Council, Salem, Oregon
         CSP Watercolour, Traveling Exhibition, Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton
1991, 5th International Biennial Print Exhibition, 1991 ROC, Taipei, Taiwan
         51st Annual Exhibition of North-West Watercolors, Kirkland, Washington
         1st Kochi International Triennial Exhibition of Prints, Kochi-shi, Japan
         Visual Communication 89, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto
         Wintershow 88, Olympic Arts Festival, Calgary, AB
1989, Western Canadian Woodblock Prints, Muttart Gallery, Calgary
1987-8, Exposicao International de Gravura, Brazil
1987, John B. Aird Gallery, Toronto, ON
        Galerie Rochon, Toronto, ON
        Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff
1986-7, Del Bello Gallery International Exhibition of Miniature Art, Toronto
CSP Watercolour Diamond Jubilee, Royal Collections, Windsor Castle, UK
Galerie Rochon, solo exhibition, Toronto, ON
1985, 88, 89, Small Forms of Art International Exhibition, Lodz, Poland
1984-90, International Independents Exhibition of Prints, Kanagawa, Japan
1984, Solo Exhibition, Kanagawa International Assoc., Kanagawa, Japan
         Sharing Visions, Alberta Society of Artists Traveling Exhibition, Japan
1977, The Cleveland U.K. International Drawing Biennial, Middlesborough, England


Alberta Foundation for the Arts
Alberta Governmental Affairs, Tokyo, Japan
Alberta House, London, England
Amoco Canada Petroleum Co. Ltd., Calgary
City of Calgary Civic Art Collection, Calgary
Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa, ON
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Calgary
C.B.C., Calgary
Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour - Diploma Collection
Esso Resources, Calgary
Glenbow Museum, Calgary
Grant MacEwan College, Edmonton
Gulf Canada Resources, Calgary
H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II, Permanent Collection, Windsor Castle Library, England
Hydrocarbon Research Inc., Lawrenceville, NY
Montreal Trust Company, Calgary
Pan-Canadian Petroleum, Calgary
Royal Bank of Canada, Calgary
Shell Oil Company, Calgary
Toronto Dominion Bank, Calgary
Nickle Galleries, University of Calgary, Calgary
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff

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.