A new exhibit featuring artwork from a 19th century Presbyterian reverend who depicted West Prince rural life in his paintings is coming to Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside during the summer of 2020.
And one of his descendants is helping to co-curator the exhibit.
Anne Neatby is the great-granddaughter of Reverend William Stuart, a minister for the Presbyterian Church charge of West Cape, Campbellton and the Brae from 1865 to 1870.
Originally from Scotland, Rev. Stuart’s family emigrated to Nova Scotia somewhere between 1845-55, where he attended the Church of Scotland Academy in Halifax from 1856 to 1862 before completing his theology studies in 1865. He married Elizabeth Carr Ramsay from Port Hill in 1866. His daughter Catherine married William James Montgomery of Port Hill. In 1890, the reverend began ministering at a church in Nutley, New Jersey, but continued to visit his PEI relatives regularly. He retired in 1911 and passed away in 1916.
A prolific artist throughout his life, studying art while in Scotland, Rev. Stuart’s paintings frequently visit the theme of rural life, depicting farming and scenes from the Port Hill area as well as sketches and portraits of relatives. Other paintings feature views from New Jersey where he ministered, New York state where the family camped during the summer and Pictou and Bridgetown, NS where he preached.
The idea to create an exhibit of the reverend’s paintings was inspired by Ms Neatby’s late mother, Orell Montgomery. Her mother had always been interested in everything regarding history, family history and genealogy, collecting information on communities, on people and on the family. Ms Neatby was organizing some of mother’s boxes after she passed in 2015 when came across a photo album with pictures of all the paintings the family knew of at that time belonging to her great-grandfather.
“There were probably 45 or so up to 50 paintings she had gotten different cousins, nieces and nephews to send to her photos of,” said Ms Neatby. “That’s what really got me going. Plus, we had talked amongst us in the family, cousins and so on, that we wonder if we shouldn’t share these with people because we had so much and they are so interesting.”
Currently, since beginning work on the exhibit this January, 35 paintings belonging to 14 families have been reviewed and had condition checks completed on them.
Ms Neatby said they are aware of at least 60 pieces of the reverend’s artistic work and have collected paintings as far away as British Columbia, Alberta and New York state.
Along with the artwork, the curators have collected 10 artifacts belonging to the reverend, including bibles, photos and scrapbooks. They are hoping to track down more items of this nature to be displayed during the exhibit along with the reverend’s artwork. They are asking anyone who might have bibles, postcards, letters, photos or other artifacts or newspaper resources relating to Rev. Stuart or his daughters Catherine Montgomery, Sophia Stuart or Mary Broadbent to contact them.
Ms Neatby’s brother, Roy Montgomery, is donating a family bible to the exhibit, given to his grandmother, Catherine Montgomery, from his great-grandfather. The bible contains birth and death entries.
The exhibit is being mounted by the Museum and Heritage Foundation of PEI.
“It’s very important,” said Carolyn McKillop, chair of the foundation’s board, of the upcoming exhibit. “It’s not only oral tradition, it’s pictorial and other artifacts. It’s going to be an amazing exhibit.”
Janet Whytock, who has a masters in art history and curating, was hired by Museum and Heritage Foundation of PEI to be co-curator alongside Ms Neatby for this exhibit.
Ms Whytock said the reverend’s works are interesting because of his diverse background.
“I was intrigued how this Presbyterian minister artist came to the Island and how much worked he has left behind,” she said. “You usually don’t find since a large collection still intact.”
In the 1970s, steps were taken to preserve the paintings already in the possession of Ms Neatby’s family.
“Several of the pieces have been restored, but several are in really good shape,” said Ms Whytock. “So, it’s interesting to find such a collection, but also to find such a strong oral tradition tied to it.”
Ms Neatby said she is really happy the exhibit is going to happen, but is sad her mother won’t be able to see it.
“Janet calls her the third curator,” she said fondly. “If we didn’t have what she already collected and documented we would not be near where we are now. We wouldn’t know who had them (the paintings).”