Anne Savage (1896-1971) and Baron Byng High School Mural
Baron Byng High School was located at 4251 St. Urbain Street, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Anne Savage was an accomplished painter associated with the Group of Seven and long-time pen pal confidant of A.Y. Jackson. She co-founded Montreal’s Beaver Hall Hill group that later merged with the Group of Seven to become the Canadian Group of Painters (1933). A few years later, at the request of the former dean of medicine at McGill she was asked to set up Saturday Art classes in the basement of the Art Association of Montreal, simply called “The Gallery,” that later became the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Children flocked to Anne’s free weekly art studio and soon other spaces for art making were opened in school gymnasiums around Montreal (1).The summer after the start of the Saturday morning classes, Anne Savage was invited to share her skills to inspire art teachers in other provinces.
From 1922 to 1948, Savage was the high school art teacher at Baron Byng High School which was a part of Montreal’s Protestant School Board. While she preferred the energy and inspiration of painting alongside the students, the students described the art room as a refuge (1). Strict gender rules were in place at the high school where boys studied physics and manual training and the girls studied Latin and painting. During the noon hour and at the end of the day, Anne Savage’s art room was open to everyone. Anne’s enthusiasm was contagious causing the students and the spaces they worked in to become transformed.
Remarkably, Anne was able to disrupt red tape often associated with institutions and transform the school’s environment by creating art with students for the walls of the school. Toronto’s Group of Seven, especially Jackson, MacDonald and Arthur Lismer supported the school’s art proliferation (1). The basement of the school became a mural spectacle as high school students over the years designed large scale paintings that were then painted directly onto the brick walls. Often the bricks and pipes were creatively included in the motif of the paintings (1).
Many students who were later interviewed, spoke about being positively influenced by their teacher, some becoming established artists and art educators themselves. One former student, Leah Sherman described Anne Savage as “a burst of light and vision” (2). She went on to describe her teacher’s influence: “She taught us the meaning of creativity, of visual experience and of art. She did this through being what she was rather than saying what all these things should be…as her student and later as a fellow teacher… I was conscious of simultaneously receiving her wisdom and at the same time being a partner to discoveries which we shared. In her company, the visual world became an endless source of stimulation and pleasure.” (2)
When Savage retired from Baron Byng High school she went on to teach at McGill’s Education Department from 1954-1959 and also worked provincially to affect policy change, forming the Art Council in Quebec, later known as the Quebec Society for Education through Art.
In 1960, with Anne Savage’s encouragement, Leah Sherman and another former student, Alfred Pinsky, initiated the fine arts program at Sir George Williams' University which later became Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Concordia University continues the legacy of Anne Savage’s “vision of the role of art in humanistic education and the importance of art in society” (2) through the Art Education and Creative Arts Therapies programs, as well as Concordia’s Art Hives Initiative.
1. McDougall, A. (1977). Anne Savage: The Story of a Canadian Painter. Montreal, QC: Harvest House.
For research on the High School: http://www.baronbynghighschool.ca/
For research on Anne Savage: https://concordia.accesstomemory.org/downloads/anne-savage-fonds.pdf
Art Murals in the Basement, One Signed P. Levine, 1947
Photograph by Clay Sperling Taken for a 1949 Article for the Montreal Standard
Credit: Concordia University Archives