Artist eyes remote learning at Rokeby Museum

STUDY, SELFIE, GRAPHITE on paper, Courtney Clinton.

FERRISBURGH — What does the age of social distancing look like for visual artists? Musicians are live streaming, authors are tweeting and Montreal artist Courtney Clinton is currently navigating a remote arts residency with the Rokeby Museum. As she dives into the archives of a young artist’s 19th-century correspondence course, Clinton is producing her own modern-day correspondence class, which will be made available to the public July 27-Oct. 5.
While remote education is a hot topic in our current pandemic context, this project looks at a history of remote arts education to see how art learning, and elements of the museum’s collection, can be made accessible to a broad audience. Videoconferencing is new, but distance learning is not. Clinton is working with the museum and with her historical “peers” — artist Rachael Robinson Elmer (1878-1919) and artist and educator Ernest Knaufft (1864- 1941) — to offer an alternative to YouTube tutorials: a contemporary correspondence course. She is being granted access to images from the museum’s archives and helping the museum to “open its doors” digitally.

Clinton’s course will be posted at and will encourage anyone following the course to take the lessons into the world, and on their own time. “In the contemporary context we think about distance education as this horrible thing forced on us by the virus. But in the late 19th century it was an innovation that allowed people living in remote communities to access education,” says Clinton. The lessons will cover topics such as developing a sketchbook practice, finding and fixing mistakes, drawing from life (self-portraits) and more. With each lesson, students encounter archival images, Clinton’s drawings and a letter explaining the week’s lesson — both the why and the how.
“Rachael’s course was part of the Chautauqua Movement that is credited as a major influence on the expansion of university education in the United States. By engaging with the challenges facing education now, I hope to be part of future initiatives to make education truly universally accessible,” says Clinton.

Clinton’s primary source materials from the Rokeby Museum archives are the letters, sketchbooks and journals of Rachael Robinson Elmer, the most talented and successful of the Robinson family’s artists. Robinson Elmer followed a drawing correspondence art course from 1891 to 1893 taught by Ernest Knaufft, an advocate for the social value of art education.
Rokeby Museum has recently worked to cultivate the creative legacy of the family through Contemporary Art at Rokeby Museum, a partnership with Ric Kasini Kadour and Kasini House, designed to invite artists to engage and activate the collection. Clinton’s virtual residency is an outgrowth of the project’s 2019 Art Lab, wherein Clinton first learned about Rokeby and Rachael Robinson Elmer.
Clinton is working with Allison Gregory, the Rokeby Museum Education and Interpretation Fellow, to access materials and to develop the research element of this project. 

Clinton studied illustration at Seneca College and Concordia University and drawing at the Grand Central Atelier in New York before going on to work and study at Syn Studio, Concept Art School, in Montreal. She dedicates her practice to self-directed studies in art history (which she publishes on her blog, Graphic Traffic) to inform her painting and drawing. She was a resident at the Toni Onley Artist Workshop in 2015, the Grand Central Atelier Bootcamp in 2017 and the Landscape Atelier’s Mentorship Program in 2019. Her work has been featured as part of the Salt Spring National Art Prize in 2015, the TD Wealth — Thor Wealth Management Art Prize in 2018 and the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series in 2018. Clinton has been interviewed and published by Canadian Art in 2018 and CBC Arts in 2018 and 2020.


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