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The legacy of the the late Erica Rutherford

by Libby Oughton

Erica RutherfordHow did a talented and unusual artist born in Scotland, who lived and worked in England, Europe, South Africa and America find Prince Edward Island? Luckily, for all of us and the flourishing of the arts here, Erica Rutherford met Islander Jean Webbe when they were both working in Louisville, Kentucky. “You must go and see my beautiful Island,” Jean said, offering her home there for a summer vacation.

Erica and her partner’s family visited the Island in 1970, and quickly Erica fell in love with landscape, colour, horizon. By 1972 Erica found a house in Earnscliffe where she came every summer. Then in l977 she moved here permanently. After a few years, she spent much time searching for a larger home that could incorporate studio space, and found an old farmhouse in Pinette. She and Ambika Gail undertook vast renovations, including converting the barn to a printmaking studio, as well as creating a luxurious garden (where Erica dug 6 foot trenches for flowers!) to complete their paradise.

Erica was blessed with a creative and visionary mind, hand and eye that was equally at home in theatre, film-making and all visual arts. Once the Pinette barn was transformed, Erica and Ambika Gail conceived of sharing their love of printmaking by inviting prominent printmakers to give workshops here to local artists, then have another week for their own work…not to mention the added enticement of great food, wine and company. It only took the first visiting artist Jan Winton to rave about her experience here as the place to go. Many local artists were nourished, mentored and encouraged by these workshops. Printmaking thrived on the Island. Eventually this active group of artists formed the Printmakers Council of PEI and established a first class artist run studio in the Arts Guild building. This brainchild of Erica and Ambika Gail was a vital part of visual arts here. Their legacy can be seen in the new Confederation Centre Art Gallery show called Printed in PEI, which displays selected prints from the over 300 archival prints recently donated to the Centre by PCPEI.

As well as mentoring so many artists, Erica was actively printmaking, painting, designing theatre sets and writing. She illustrated two children’s books, published the hilarious Yoga for Cats, and then her autobiography Nine Lives in l993. Two years later she started her evocative series of paintings, The Human Comedy that would become a major show at Confederation Centre Art Gallery in l998.

Erica contributed so much to the Island…great art, a searching spirit of innovation, a vivid mind, kindness to other artists and a wicked sense of humour about life’s follies. To keep Erica alive in our hearts, The PEI Council of the Arts, along with Ambika Gail and daughter Susana, have created The Erica Rutherford Memorial Scholarship. This will be awarded each year to a young Islander embarking on studies in an accredited program in fine arts, theatre, dance, writing or film-making. The first award will be autumn, 2008. Erica’s family is considering a sale of some of her artworks to support the scholarship. We all feel Erica would totally support this initiative in her honour. She firmly believed in a wide education for artists and was quite outraged that after the early 90s there was no access to full higher arts education here.

All of us who love Erica will miss her profoundly. We have some comfort that she had a long, full and ever passionate life.

For more information about the Erica Rutherford Memorial Scholarship please contact the PEI Council of the Arts.

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