Pratt & Christopher Pratt
Bay Roberts, Easter 1940
Christopher Pratt is one of Canada's most prominent painters and printmakers.
The ideas that inspire his visual art,also
find expression through his poetry and prose. He was born in St. John's,
Newfoundland on December 9, 1935 to John Kerr and Emily Christina (Dawe)
Pratt's Newfoundland roots run deep on both sides of his family. His mother's family, the Dawes, were among the island's first settlers, arriving on Newfoundland's shores as early as 1595. His great-grandmother on the Pratt side was Fanny Pitts Knight, whose Newfoundland lineage dates back to the early 1700's. His first interest in painting was encouraged by his paternal grandfather, James C. Pratt, a businessman who retired and began painting as a hobby when he was 65.
Christopher was ten years old then and, having a close relationship with his grandfather, came to share his love of painting. Pratt grew up in St. John's, attending school at Holloway (grades 2-6) and Prince of Wales College (grades 7-11). During these years however, he spent many summers, and for a short period attended school at Topsail and Bay Roberts and spent time at Ocean Pond and Southeast Placentia camping with friends. His interest in the province, and his love of the land found him “roaming” through forests, across barrens, along salmon rivers and through landscape studded with ponds full of trout. At first, these trips were taken with his father, but, very soon, he was heading out alone, or with small groups of friends from St. John’s and Bay Roberts. Nonetheless, he continued to make annual fishing trips trips with his father, frequently to the coast of Labrador, aboard his Uncle Chester Dawe's yacht, the Hemmer Jane, until the elder Pratt's health began to decline in the early 70's.
Growing up in this diverse environment, surrounded by people who had never had any home other than Newfoundland, meant that Pratt was always aware of his identity as a Newfoundlander. The relationship he built with the province in those years gave him a profound sense of belonging and ownership that can be found in much of his work. His feelings about and for Newfoundland are influenced by family history, the physical landscape, and the social and political realities that dominated his youth, as Newfoundland and Labrador faced the difficult decision to enter into confederation with Canada.
In 1952, Pratt started painting in watercolours. That same year he entered
Memorial University of Newfoundland as a pre-engineering student. His
talent as a painter was first recognized in the spring of 1953 when he
won the Provincial
Government's Arts and Letters Competition for his watercolour Shed
in a Storm. His stay at Memorial University ended that
spring. In the fall of 1953 he went to Mount Allison University in Sackville,
New Brunswick as a pre-medicine student.|
Owens Art Gallery, Mt. Allison University 1953
Mount Allison had, and still has a highly renowned Fine Arts Department, and Pratt found that he was far more interested in what was going on there than he was in medicine. It was there that he met his future wife, Mary (West) Pratt , then a freshman fine arts student. He showed some of his paintings to Lawrence P. Harris, Ted Pulford and Alex Colville. Encouraged by their enthusiasm for his talent, and for his ideas, and with Mary’s support, he decided over time to focus on his painting; he did not return to Mount Allison after the fall semester of 1955.
Christopher Pratt's life and work have always been deeply affected by his love of Newfoundland, both the land itself, and the people who have chosen to make a home there. He was thirteen at the time of confederation in 1949. His parents and grandparents were opposed to Confederation with Canada. He has vivid memories of, and personal associations with, pre-confederation Newfoundland. In many ways, his work has been his way of understanding and describing divergent realities: his sense of himself as a Newfoundlander, his acceptance of life and opportunities as a Canadian, and the place ‘his’ Newfoundland occupies in the nation and in the world.
In his twenties, after dropping out of pre-med at Mount Allison, Pratt
spent much of his time wandering the Cape Shore, the Southern Shore, St.
Mary's Bay and the West
Coast of the province. In the spring of 1956,
he traveled to New York where he visited many of the major galleries and
art schools, stopping over at the Ontario College of Art and the University
of Toronto on his way back.
In April he began construction on a cabin at Southeast Placentia.
It was a place where he could be alone, and where he lived in the spring
and summer of 1957 when he took a job as a construction surveyor on the
Naval Base at Argentia.
The Americans began construction of the base at Argentia in 1941, and
it attained strategic importance during World War II and through the Cold
War. During the time the Americans occupied the base, the entire area
was considered American territory, and was physically and socially an
American town - a fact that had a significant influence on Pratt's later
Mary West moved to St. John's in May 1956 to be closer to Christopher, and found work as an occupational therapist at the General Hospital. On September 12, 1957 Christopher and Mary were married in Mary's hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Two days later they set sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia, for Liverpool, England en route to Scotland where Pratt enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art. He spent the next two years studying under the important influence of Jessie Alix Dick. In the summers they returned to Newfoundland, where Pratt continued to work at the US Naval Base in Argentia. Their first child, William John, was born in the summer of 1958. John is now a lawyer and naturalist in St. John's.