Erica Deichmann, Master McCullough, and me

Beaverbrook Art GalleryAugust 28, 20200 Comments

By: Tom Smart, Director/CEO of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery

I remember the first time I met Erica Deichmann. She was sitting in her comfortable living room surrounded by hundreds of the beautiful ceramic vessels and objects that she and her husband Kjeld made over the course of their lives together. They were the founders of the modern studio pottery movement in Canada in the years preceding the Second World War. Amongst the lamp bases, ceramic bowls and plates, the tiles, pitchers, urns and other fanciful objects, Erica told me about her creative life in New Brunswick. 

Ceramic works by Erica and Kjeld Deichmann. Collection of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. 

She captivated me with stories about her involvement with the dynamic artist movement in Saint John in the 1940s. Her eyes especially lit up when talking about Miller Brittain.  She was one of his models who posed for the large mural he created probing the causes of tuberculosis that was to have been installed in a Saint John hospital. But, because of its critical message, the project was scrapped before Miller could paint it.  Fortunately, he completed the full-scale cartoon for the project.  If you look closely at it today you can still see a young Erica staring out, looking you straight in the eye.

As we spoke that afternoon, I kept noticing the evocative portrait of a young boy on the wall behind her.  Erica told me it too was painted by Miller -- its subject is a newsboy known as "Master McCullough." Many years later as I was walking through the National Gallery of Canada I happened to come across this tender portrait. It brought back memories of my first (of many) visits with Erica in the cosy embrace of her ceramics and her stories about the community of artists she helped to build.

Miller Gore Brittain (Canadian, 1912 – 1968), cartoon: Cartoon for the Saint John Tuberculosis Hospital Murals (Scene with Ten Figures), 1941-1942
charcoal, conté crayon and chalk on brown paper
support: Gift of Jennifer Brittain, 1984 (1984.20.9). New Brunswick Museum Collection

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