Pegi by Herself: The Life of Pegi Nicol MacLeod, Canadian Artist


241 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2863-6
DDC 751.11




Reviewed by Pauline Carey

Pauline Carey is an actor, playwright, and fiction writer. She is the
author of Magic and What’s in a Name?


“Pegi’s paintings are like jazz,” the author tells us at the
start. Later, in quoting Pegi’s own words on her show Manhattan Cycle
two years before her untimely death, Laura Brandon describes the
language as “rich but unclear, much like her paintings.” A brief
look at the 16 colour plates of Pegi’s work supports both claims; her
paintings range from graceful portraits and landscapes to the crowded
and even chaotic expression of city life.

Brandon, curator of War Art at the Canadian War Museum, has written a
careful study of a lively artist. Early chapters detail a look at
Canadian art in the early 20th century; life in Listowel, Ontario, where
Pegi was born in 1904; and her early years in Ottawa, Montreal, and
Toronto. The book gathers strength as the author turns to the art
itself, which came to fruition in the 1930s along with Pegi’s
marriage, motherhood, and move to New York, where she cared for her
infant daughter and began to paint the street life below her window.

Pegi never again lived in Canada; but she returned continually to New
Brunswick, where she taught in the Observatory Summer School in
Fredericton and proved to be an inspiring instructor and a fierce
champion of New Brunswick arts and crafts. It was in Fredericton also
that she produced her unusual war paintings in which, as Brandon
suggests, “capturing war meant depicting its absence.”

Many friends and admirers of Pegi, such as National Gallery director
Eric Brown, Vincent Massey, and artist Marian Scott, had memories and
letters to share with the author. They all attest to Pegi’s bohemian
effervescence and youthful enthusiasm, which find a poignant echo in the
artist’s own words when discussing a student’s painting that “had
a touch.” “I sometimes think,” Pegi wrote, “nothing matters but
the communication from a certain kind of person thro his hand and his
brush.” Laura Brandon has vividly explored that mysterious link
between the personality of the artist and the art itself.


Brandon, Laura., “Pegi by Herself: The Life of Pegi Nicol MacLeod, Canadian Artist,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 24, 2024,