Doris Snowdon: Art in the Archives

February 20th, 2023

By Jazmine Aldrich, in collaboration with Marjorie Mikasen

The word “archives” brings to mind photographs, diaries, letters, and maps, but did you know that the Eastern Townships Resource Centre also preserves works of art? This month, we explore the Doris Snowdon fonds, which showcases beautiful sketches drawn at the artist’s cottage on Sally’s Pond in West Bolton – nestled between Bolton Pass and Knowlton.

Lucy Doris Maffre was born in Montreal on January 7, 1897. She married James Clifford “Cliff” Snowdon in 1921 and together, they raised their sons, Bruce and Robert, and daughter, Helen. Cliff documented their family life in photographs developed in his own dark room and in home movies. It was only around the age of 60, her children grown, that Doris took up painting.

She took her first painting courses in the 1950s at the Women’s Art Society of Montreal. She studied with two well-known Canadian artists, Adam Sherriff Scott and Oscar de Lall. Her works represent landscapes and still-life subjects. She especially liked to paint bouquets of flowers cultivated from her own flower gardens in Montreal and West Bolton.

Much of what we know about the artist comes from her family. In the early 2000s, Doris’ granddaughter, Marjorie Mikasen, gifted the ETRC a sketchbook containing six sketches, as well as a concise biography of Doris’ life and a brief genealogy of the Maffre family. Marjorie also credits her late mother, Helen, for many of the recollections of Doris’ life that are included in the biography.

In her life history of the artist, Marjorie explains that Doris’ artworks “can be characterized by her expressive use of color against color. Her textured canvases play out their themes in a variety of tones. Whether applied with a brush or palette knife,” the artist’s granddaughter writes, “her sure hand gives the paint an animated quality.”

Doris had a studio at her Montreal home, but also created many of her artworks at her cottage on Sally’s Pond – a mountain pond located east of Chemin Bolton Pass (Rte. 243) which drains into the West Field creek toward the Missisquoi River North. On top of being marvels of aesthetics, Doris’ paintings also document distinct hydrographic features of Sally’s Pond, including the interval and the outlet.

Known for being a talented painter, Doris also sketched. The sketches held by the ETRC primarily feature landscapes at Sally’s Pond and views of the family cottages as well as other cottages surrounding the pond. Her family recalls that she would take her art supplies directly into the natural scenery surrounding her cottage to create her landscape works.

It was through a chance encounter in 1927 that the Snowdon family of Montreal discovered Sally’s Pond. Doris was in the hospital in Montreal for the birth of her daughter, Helen, when she met Alice Judge, who was giving birth to her own daughter, Myra. Their daughters were born two days apart, and the two women became fast friends. Alice and her husband, George Judge, had a cottage on Sally’s Pond and the Snowdon family started visiting in 1939 and rented the cottage from the Judges for two weeks in the summer. “In the process,” Marjorie recounts – based on her mother’s memories, “Doris fell in love with the place.”

The Snowdon family purchased their cottage on the northwestern portion of Inglis Island – the large island in the center of Sally’s Pond – from Mr. and Mrs. Earnest C. Inglis sometime in the 1940s after several years of renting from the couple. Cliff paid only $1000 for the fully-furnished cottage following years of encouragement from Earnest Inglis. The Inglis’ built several cottages on Sally’s Pond, the first being the one that Doris and Cliff purchased and the second being the adjacent cottage that their son, Bruce purchased in the 1950s. The island in the center of the pond, as well as the road leading to the island are both named “Inglis” after the couple.

In the years preceding Cliff’s retirement, Doris would spend the summer at the cottage and Cliff would stay on weekends. Bruce and his family spent their own share of summers at their cottage on Sally’s Pond.

Precious family moments at the cottage are captured in Cliff’s home movies, recently donated to the ETRC by Marjorie. Among them are scenes of Cliff and Doris’ grandchildren, Jody, Marjorie, Jan, and Jill, playing on the lawn in the late 1950s; Doris rowing a small boat on the water; and their son, Bruce, fishing off the dock.

As the Snowdon family grew, its branches extended geographically through the 1950s and 1960s. Helen married Robert “Bob” Mikasen in 1952 and moved to Chicago to be with him. Bruce and his family relocated to Ontario and sold their cottage. Robert and his family were the last to relocate to the United States.

Helen and Bob brought their children, Jody and Marjorie, to the cottage roughly every other year in the 1960s. Marjorie remembers with fondness her week-long summer visits spent swimming at the beach near the old sawmill; going for long walks to the end of the island, the nearby Rogerson Farm, or Saint Andrew’s Church; and seeking out the perfect sticks for roasting marshmallows. She describes their visits as “a microcosm of the cottage experience my mom and her brothers enjoyed as children.”

Helen’s letters to Bob before their marriage describe life at the cottage before the grandchildren came along. In particular, Marjorie notes that her mother’s letters describe large parties with fellow Inglis islanders. She explains that “there was a great deal of camaraderie with the neighbors who had been friends for many years.”

The cottage also drew in Cliff and Doris’ friends from Montreal. Doris invited at least one fellow artist from the Women’s Art Society of Montreal (WASM) to paint at Sally’s Pond. Marjorie suspects that there may have been others who visited, too, based on her own research into the exhibition records of the WASM which include painting submissions with “Sally’s Pond” in the titles by two other artists. As a member of the Mount Royal Lodge of the Scottish Rite, Cliff participated in their annual trek up to Owl’s Head. Doris would host the wives of the masons at the cottage for lunch on the day of the trek and entertain them until their husbands picked them up on their way back to Montreal.

By the early 1970s, Cliff and Doris made the difficult decision to sell their cottage as the upkeep was too demanding for a couple in their golden years. “This was a very sad thing for all of us,” Marjorie recalls, “since ‘the cottage’ was one of the beautiful places in the minds and hearts of the family.”

Although art was a great passion for Doris, her intention was never to profit from her gift. She ceased painting at age 93 due to her failing eyesight and passed away in Montreal on February 9, 1996. Her works are now scattered across the United States, where fond memories of a cottage on a pond in the Eastern Townships adorn the homes of Doris’ descendants – a reminder of the Snowdon family’s tranquil refuge from city life.

Photo credit : Jennifer Snowdon collection. Photograph courtesy of Marjorie Mikasen
“Pond Outlet” by Doris Snowdon, ca. 1968. Exhibited in the 1971 Annual Juried Exhibition of the Women’s Art Society of Montreal.
Photo credit : Photograph courtesy of Marjorie Mikasen
Doris Snowdon.
Photo credit : P138 Doris Snowdon fonds
Sketch #2, From Snowdon Property, Looking West, Sally’s Pond, ca. 1960.
Photo credit : Photograph courtesy of Marjorie Mikasen.
Doris Snowdon, seated, sketching on the lawn of her cottage. Sally’s Pond is visible in the background.
Photo credit : Collection of Marjorie Mikasen. Photo credit: John Spence.
“The Rocks” by Doris Snowdon, ca. 1960s.
Photo credit : P138 Doris Snowdon fonds
Sketch #3, Snowdon Cottage, Sally’s Pond, ca. 1960.
Doris Snowdon: Art in the Archives
February 20th, 2023
Jody Robinson