Born in London, Ontario, Nancy Geddes Poole was interested in art from a young age. She attended public schools in London and, in the eighth grade, sat behind Margot Ariss and watched her draw in the margins of her books. At Central Collegiate, Poole took art classes from Tony Gillies but it was apparent to her she did not have the same talent for creating art as her peers. Later, Poole attended Branksome Hall in Toronto. At the age of 18, she visited the Montreal Art Museum and was immediately drawn to a painting by Lawren Harris, North Shore of Lake Superior. It was then that she knew art would be a large part of her life.
Poole returned to London and married her husband William (Bill) Poole in 1952. In 1955, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from The University of Ontario. Soon afterwards, Poole began a collection of contemporary Canadian Art and joined the Women’s Committee of the London Art Gallery. She took a drawing class taught by Jack Chambers and painting classes with Bernice Vincent, both of which confirmed to her that Poole was better equipped to be a curator than a professional artist.
Jack Chambers agreed to paint a portrait of Poole and her daughter, Andrea, which he titled Summer Behind the House, the beginning of their lifelong friendship. Poole continued to collect artwork and frequently visited artist’s studios to view their work. However, out of a desire to view the work in a more neutral territory, she approached her friend Terry O’Shaughnessy about displaying art at his interior decorating business on Queens Avenue. O’Shaughnessy agreed and Poole organized an exhibition and sale of work by London artists. The show became an instant success and was repeated a few months later in July 1969. Shortly after, Poole was asked to create an exhibition of London artists for the Rothman Gallery (now Gallery Stratford), her first experience curating for a public gallery. Titled London S.W.17, the exhibition brought together seventeen London artists and received a positive review in The London Free Press.
Encouraged by Jack Chambers, Poole opened “Nancy Poole’s Studio” at 554 Waterloo Street in 1969. She chose the name studio to convey the idea it was a place where all were welcome to view and learn about art in an informal setting. With the sale of Chambers’ painting Sunday Morning No.2 for $25,000, at that time the highest price ever paid for a work by a living Canadian artist, Nancy Poole’s Studio was firmly established. A second location was opened on Hazelton Avenue in Toronto in 1971 which remained open for 30 years and exists today as Loch Gallery.
The same year the Toronto gallery opened, Poole was asked to join the board of the Ontario College of Art. She attended the first meeting in June, 1971 and was named chair of the faculty relations committee. She was later chairman of the Governing Council and then acting president for four months during a tumultuous time in the College’s history. Upon her retirement from the Governing Council, she joined the board of The University of Western Ontario for eleven years.
Poole closed the Studio (London) in 1976 and transferred ownership of the Toronto gallery to Joan Martyn in the spring of 1978. Afterwards, she rented a flat in London, England for several weeks, a trip she enjoyed for five successive years. She attended numerous lectures at the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the Wallace Collection. While still in England, Poole accepted the position of interim director for six months at the London Regional Art Gallery, her first introduction to working in a public gallery. The arrival of Brenda Wallace in October 1981 as the new executive director prompted her consideration of pursuing a fine arts degree at The University of Western Ontario. Instead, history professor Jack Hyatt urged her to write a book on the history of London art resulting three years later (1984) in the publication of The Art of London: 1830-1980. Poole had also assisted Marjorie Blackburn in creating The London Free Press art collection, later donated to the London Regional Art and Historical Museums by Blackburn’s grandchildren.
In 1985, Poole was appointed executive director of the London Regional Art Gallery at a time when it was experiencing severe debt, minimal attendance, and low employee morale. Through innovative fundraising initiatives, free admission, and strategic partnerships with schools and organizations, she was able to improve the gallery’s reputation and financial health. A major success was a visit for lunch from The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth in July 1989. That same year, Poole oversaw the transformation of the city’s gallery and history museums into the London Regional Art and Historical Museums and continued as director until her retirement in 1995. In 2012, she published another book: The Past…Comes Back: A Memoir.
Over her career, Nancy Poole has received numerous distinctions: the first London YM-YWCA Women of Distinction Award (1984); the Mayor’s New Year’s Honours List (1985); an Award of Merit (1985) and an honorary degree (1990) from The University of Western Ontario. She was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2003.
Biography by Victoria Stopar
Poole, Nancy Geddes, The Art of London, 1830-1980. London, Ontario: Blackpool Press, 1984.
Poole, Nancy Geddes, The Past…Comes Back: a memoir by Nancy Geddes Poole. London, Ontario: Blackpool Press, 2012.
The University of Western Ontario, Western Archives. “The Nancy Poole Fonds”. Prepared by Deb Majer 2004.
Title: The ART of LONDON
Author: Nancy Geddes Poole
e-Book Published by: Nancy Geddes Poole, 2017
Available as a free PDF download thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor.
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CV Courtesy of Nancy Geddes Poole
A Driving Force interview conducted by Mary Spinks
M.A. Public History Program, Western University
Eric Simard, Videographer
Click here for information about works donated by Nancy Geddes Poole
to McIntosh Gallery’s collection.
A Driving Force Interview: Nancy Geddes Poole