When Nan Yeomans died in 2004 at 81, she wanted her modest estate—comprised primarily of artworks—to benefit the community that she felt had served as her family.
Co-executor Mary Ann Higgs explained Nan’s intentions to me one afternoon last week as we were sitting in the WAG surrounded by Nan’s artwork. One thousand dollars each would go to 10 organizations of which she had been a member, organizations as diverse as the Rideau Trail Association and the Kingston chapter of the Canadian Hearing Society. The balance would go to the Community Foundation of Kingston and Area (CFKA), who would establish a bursary in support of aspiring artists or artisans. In 2008 the Nan Yeomans Fund was set up to this end, with the CFKA as administrator. The recipient is chosen by the Kingston Arts Council. This year, the 11th year of the fund’s existence, the $2500 bursary will be awarded on December 16. The proceeds of the Gala for Nan, at the WAG on December 5, will be shared equally by the KSOA and the CFKA.
Nan Yeomans was a well-known and well-loved presence in the Kingston arts community. Her diminutive stature matched her modest personality, but belied the fierceness of her dedication to her artistic practice. When she arrived in Kingston in her mid-20s from her home on the farm north of the city, she attended summer courses and then evening courses at Queen’s, studying painting and drawing under André Biéler and Carl Schaefer. As an artist she worked in various media, but in 1953 her interest in printmaking blossomed. Subsequent courses at St. Lawrence College gave her access to presses, expensive but indispensable pieces of equipment. When the college closed, Nan followed the printing presses to the KSOA. Her artistic output, prodigious as it was, led to three solo exhibitions--at the Agnes, the Modern Fuel and the Kingston Frontenac Library--as well as submissions to fundraisers and arts festivals.
Aware of her successes (and also failures), Nan, without fanfare, considered herself better than the average hobby artist. In a 2004 video entitled Under My Shell, made by Val Westgate, former curator at the Agnes Jan Allen praises her “high level of accomplishment”. After Nan died, the Agnes bought her watercolours dating from 1949-1951.
Nan’s meticulous approach to everything served her well. To earn a living, she worked as a bookkeeper and accountant, sometimes offering her services pro bono to organizations of which she was a quiet and constant member. Nan understood the financial struggles of community groups, and artists in particular. In her own small apartment, her bedroom served as a studio while she slept on the couch, with only her beloved turtle Tommie for company.
When executor Mary Ann Higgs considered the format of the Gala for Nan fundraiser, one of several that have benefitted the Nan Yeomans Fund, she wanted to do it in a way that Nan would approve. Thus the gala supports the artistic community and offers the public the opportunity, included in the ticket price of $100, to get first pick from among Nan’s remaining framed pieces. Also on sale are matted and unmatted artworks, which, if purchased, include a $35 gift certificate for framing. Each attendee can bring one guest with the same ticket.
The Gala for Nan exhibition includes mixed media drawings, watercolours, etchings, collages and embossed images dating from the 1940s to the 1990s. They cover a wide range of subject matter—sometimes historical, sometimes realistic, sometimes whimsical. Also on offer during the event are wine, charcuterie and live music. The aforementioned video and a printmaking demonstration will run concurrently in the KSOA studios.
GALA FOR NAN takes place Thursday, December 5, from 5-8pm.
For more information about the Nan Yeomans Fund, and to view a selection of the artwork in the exhibition: nanslegacy.com