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NEWS: Women’s Art Association’s Secret Postcard Society (Fall 2023)

December 4th, 2023 · No Comments

One of many unique exhibitions put on by the association

A crafty response to the isolation of Covid. Postcards made and sent during lock down. COURTESY INGRID HAMILTON

By Hailey Alexander

From June 28 to July 8, the Women’s Art Association of Canada (WAAC) displayed their Secret Postcard Society exhibit at 23 Prince Arthur Ave., northwest of Bloor Street West and Avenue Road. The group was delighted to share their brilliant collection of postcards in response to the community’s interest. In the Dignam Gallery, the association also showcased and sold a variety of art pieces inspired by the postcards.  

The Secret Postcard Society all began with a group of three artists working in separate studios during quarantine. As artist Janet F. Potter describes, the trio “got five other artists together and mailed everyone a postcard on the fifteenth of every month.” With 64 new postcards to talk about in waves, the group’s collection grew quickly. They discussed their work online as a way of keeping spirits high and “staying socially connected to one another” throughout the pandemic. Once restrictions were lifted, they agreed to host an exhibit with strong encouragement from the association’s board and community. Their work has been further shared on their website and social media platforms.

WAAC has long been known in the City of Toronto. “Our doors are just jammed with people because there’s a lot of history,” Potter said. They began as an informal art club for young female artists in September 1887, founded by the first president, Mary Ella Dignam, for whom one of the gallery spaces is named. The original objective was to provide women with room and support for self-development in their artistic endeavours, independent of an instructor. By 1893, the newly formed club became affiliated with the National Council of Women. In 1907, the association was recognized by a bill passed in the House of Commons which officially incorporated it as the Women’s Art Association of Canada.  

Currently, WAAC describes itself as a “volunteer-led, not-for-profit, charitable organization” with 230 members. The association’s objective has grown to provide public education in the arts and to support students in the arts through their scholarship program. “Generation after generation, daughters of members took over to keep the association running, but those days are gone.” Potter said. “Recently, there have been some men and very well-known artists taking interest. During COVID it was especially quiet, but now we’re getting active again.” 

In 135 years, they have grown substantially. Their 19th-century building includes a library of over 2,000 art books, and they have a printing room on site. The women offer a variety of arts-related educational programs to the public and to their members. 

The following artists were part of the Secret Postcard Society and participated in the July showing: Ulla Djelweh, Susan Farquhar, Heather Gentleman, Gretchen Jeens, Patricia Paolini, Karen Perlmutter, Janet F. Potter, and Deniz Ergun Seker. They look forward to displaying their postcards again as there is the possibility of another display in the future.


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