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Mary Ella Dignam (Born Mary Ella Williams; 1857–1938) was a Canadian painter, teacher, and art organizer best remembered as the founder and first president of the Women's Art Association of Canada (WAAC).


Mary Ella Williams was born in Port Burwell, Ontario. She studied art at the Western School of Art and Design in London, Ontario. In 1886 she went to New York City to further her training at the Art Students League, followed by time in Paris, France at the artist's workshop run by Raphaël Collin (1850–1916) and Luc-Olivier Merson (1846–1920).

In 1886, Dignam founded the Women's Art Club, which later evolved into the WAAC. During her presidency (1887-1913, 1935-1938),[1] Dignam was the driving force behind production of the Cabot Commemorative State Dinner Service. This was a hand-painted eight-course, 24-place dinner set representing Canadian subjects that had been made by WAAC members to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's discovery of Canada.[2]

Following her return to Canada in 1891, she taught at a ladies' art school in Toronto and later organized the first Art Studios of Moulton Ladies' College at McMaster University.[3] In 1898, Dignam and Lady Edgar, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, arranged for members of the House and Senate to subscribe $1,000 to purchase the service, which was formally presented to Lady Aberdeen on the occasion of her husband finishing his assignment as Governor General of Canada.[4] She later helped organize the International Society of Women Painters and Sculptors and in 1900, founded the first all-women international art exhibition calling on Women's Art Association members & Women's International Art.

Dignam was a member the Art Association of Montreal (1886-1931), the Ontario Society of Artists (1883-1912), the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1883-1924), and the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (1891-1900). Her works were exhibited across Canada and New York, London, Paris, and Chicago.[3]

She died in 1938 in Toronto, Ontario.

"Presidents". Womens Art of Canada. Women's Art Association of Canada. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
"Mary Ella Dignam (1857-1938)". Women's Art of Canada. Women's Art Association of Canada. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
"Artist Database: Canadian Women Artists History Initiative". Canadian Women Artists History Initiative. Retrieved 8 March 2015.

Elwood, Marie (Spring 1997). The State Dinner Service of Canada, 1898 (PDF). Ottawa: Droits reserves au nom de la couronne. Retrieved 8 March 2015.

External links

Canadian Women Artists History Initiative (Concordia University) DIGNAM, Mary Ella biography

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