NEW MERLE FOSTER FIND!
I’m two weeks away from completing the manuscript of the full Merle Foster biography, and I’m still finding forgotten works of her art. Foster was not just a sculptor, but also a prop and display maker. She worked for Toronto’s big retailers of the time, Eaton’s and Simpsons; she made displays for the Santa Claus Parade, the Toronto Skating Club’s annual carnival – and she made puppets. In her few remaining papers, I found a sketch for a hand puppet that indicated it was being made for Ross Bertram. But Ross Bertram (1912-1992) was a magician, a master of sleight of hand. Why did he need a hand puppet?
“I saw the bear puppet,” said David Ben, a former tax lawyer turned stage magician and sleight of hand artist who was Bertram’s protégé. “Ross did children’s shows at various points in his career.”
The bear puppet – in fact, two of them – are now owned by Dr. Gene Matsuura of San Francisco, who bought Bertram’s magic props when he retired from performing. Dr. Matsuura kindly sent me this picture of the actual puppet.
John Lorinc and other editors of and contributors to The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood will be speaking on Thursday (28 May) at the City Hall branch of the Toronto Public Library from 1.00 to 2.15pm.
The book is a comprehensive, well-written, fascinating look at Toronto’s first ‘priority neighbourhood’ that was obliterated by urban renewal — its architecture, controversies, businesses (Chinese restaurants, Chinese laundries, bootleggers, sex workers) and residents, artists (including sculptor Merle Foster – see below), religious leaders and others. Loads of archival photographs and other illustrations of this lost community.
Come to Dust: The Long Life, Short Art and Shorter Afterlife of Merle Foster is still in the works, but in the meantime, Merle features in a chapter of The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood.
The book’s official launch is Wednesday 20 May at the Church of the Holy Trinity near Toronto’s Eaton Centre.
Toronto sculptor Merle Foster’s studio was located in or near The Ward in the 1920s, and for the decade, she gave Christmas parties for the kids — urchins, really — who lived there. Her first party had fewer than 10 guests; by the time of her last party, there were nearly 70.
The story of the life of this forgotten artist — once a household name in Toronto and much of Canada — is coming soon!