in Memory of Maria Deich (Lakman)
Forty Three Steps Up The Stairs
Forty Three Steps Up The Stairs
This house on Roxborough Street in Toronto was on sale for a long time despite its convenient location and quite neighborhood. Buyers were coming, looking around, approving, leaving to “think it over” and never coming back. In 1940, just after the Great Depression and with the emergence of WWII in Europe, people (even the ones with money) were cautious about buying property. However, there was another reason that averted potential buyers – the house stood on the top of a high hill and to reach its front door someone had to climb up ... 43 steps.
It seemed that the house waited specifically for Paraskeva – full of energy, easy going, stubborn and determined to overcome any obstacle. It was the first home she owned in her life and the one she could hardly dream of before. So, when her husband asked if she loved it, she answered “Yes” with full certainty.
Years later she kept loving this home, its backyard, her studio in the basement. Here she lived long restless life looking ahead towards the summit, towards victory no matter what. She tried to come back to this beloved nest escaping from nursing home at her late eighties. She managed to reach the foot of the steps and here her strength abandoned her... When she died in 1986, the house was sold and the new owner renovated it soon afterwards beginning by getting rid of the 43 steps...
Paraskeva Plistik was born in 1898 in St. Petersburg. Her mother, Olga, was likely a native of the city while her father, Avdei, was born in the Zhabina village located some 35 kilometers from Vitebsk. His parents were farmers, though according to family legend their clan of Polish origin owned land around there in the past. In the beginning of 1890th Avdei decided to try his luck in the big city. He moved to St. Petersburg, found a job at a shoe factory, met Olga, and married her. Olga was selling artificial flowers made of fabric by herself so their home was full of colors and paint odor before Paraskeva was even born.
Plistik family lived on 45 Vereyskaya Street, in apartment #2, which Avdei got as a shoe factory employee. Their apartment consisted of one relatively spacious room connected by a long corridor to a big kitchen that was shared between multiple apartments. There Paraskeva (at home she was called Panya) lived with her parents, her brother Zakhar, and her sister Polina. Some time later her parents became the owners of a small grocery shop. Avdei and Olga bought and read a lot of books, which they kept under the bed as they had no room for a bookcase. They always dreamed about a good education for their children. Later Paraskeva mentioned that she attended school between 1906 and 1914 (sometimes she said 1916). In any case, she got a pretty good education especially for a girl from a working class family as, according to the 1897 census, literacy level in St. Petersburg province was only 55%.
After finishing school, Paraskeva helped her father in the store but she dreamed of much more. She wanted to become an actress, to appear before the footlights in fancy dresses. Some of Paraskeva biographies mentioned that she took acting classes. I could not find any evidence of that. It is hard to tell what her future would look like otherwise, but soon WWI began. Life has become much harder, both of her parents got pneumonia and her mother died in 1915 being only 39 years old. The only memory of her mother – a box with pieces of fabric and colored paper – Paraskeva kept all her life.
In the same 1915 Paraskeva began working at the office of the shoe factory where her father used to work. There she met Elsa Brahmin, they became friends and Paraskeva kept this friendship for many years. It probably was Elsa – joyful and romantic restless inventor, singer and poetry writer, about 6 years older than Paraskeva – who called her Plissa or Pliska and she was commonly called by this nickname at that time. Elsa pushed Plissa to study painting, as she knew of her abilities to draw. But Paraskeva hesitated as she had no savings, had to keep her job and, besides, she still dreamed about theatre. But so it happened that Savely Seidenberg's studio was located just near the factory and provided evening classes that Paraskeva could attend after work. So she decided to try and started with the Maestro.
Savely Seidenberg was then a painter in his fifties known by his historic and landscape paintings. He graduated from St. Petersburg Academy of Art, was awarded gold and silver medals at academy exhibitions, and was called “the first class historical painter”. He was also a member of Kuindzhi Art Society. He taught in his own School for Painting and Drawing and among his students were such well-known Russian painters as Mark Chagall and Yury Annenkov.
So it was 1916, just one year before the Revolution. Pliska was studying painting and made some progress which encouraged here. The life was hard and hungry but joyful – they were so young and laughed on any occasion. In the studio Plissa met Elsa's cousin Yakov Raskin – a handsome, intelligent and sociable young man from a wealthy Jewish family who shared her passion for painting. He liked Plissa very much but their love that was just at the beginning ended dramatically. Concerned about their future, Yakov's family decided to move to Berlin. When Yakov hugged Paraskeva at the train station, they both knew that this was forever. Yakov sent Plissa from Berlin his water colour picture that was hung over her bed for a long time. Later Yakov married a Russian woman that saved his life during WWII.
After the Revolution Paraskeva's life changed a lot. Private schools, including the one of Seidenberg, which she has been attending already for two years, were closed. The Academy of Arts was abolished and transformed into Petrograd Free Art Educational Studios where education was free and, moreover, students got bursaries. So, Paraskeva would now have the opportunity to quit her job at the shoe factory and devoted herself completely to her beloved painting. For Paraskeva, young woman from a working class, Revolution meant freedom, realization of her dreams and a general atmosphere of joy and celebration. This romantic image of the Revolution Paraskeva had carried throughout her entire life.
Paraskeva had chosen Vasiliy Shuhaev as her teacher. He was about thirty years old that time, graduated from the Academy of Arts painting school and served in the army as a volunteer during WWI when he created multiple portraits of soldiers and officers. After the Revolution he became a professor of painting in the Alexander von Stieglitz's School of Technical Drawing and since 1918 he taught at the Petrograd Free Art Educational Studios. Paraskeva was one of his first students there. She characterized his approach as neoclassicism. He required students to draw the same model for as long as it took to make it perfect. Paraskeva was not quite good at it. She remembered later “Sometimes Mr. Shoukhaeff would sit beside and with second chalk, two different rubbers and the magic touch of his thumb would produce a marvelous polished “shoulder” saying afterwards, well you see now, but it wasn’t so easy it did not appeal to me”. It's hard to imagine how she reacted to the fact that in winter of 1920 Shuhaev, his wife and another couple had crossed the Russian border and emigrated to Finland and later to France.
In any case, after this event Paraskeva became a student of Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. “His somewhat austere, precise fine lead pencil or pen and ink drawing appealed to me much more to my character. His colour, restricted but brilliant and luminous enchants me. It was not like anything I had been used to, not naturalistic nor realistic; it was classic in its simplicity reaching to almost abstraction but with the warm emotion of life within it. I was very happy to be there at last. All my old friends were there and the period — a little over a year — that I had the good fortune to be in the Petrove Vodkin studio, guided by him and his older pupils, listening to unforgettable conversation on art, constitute the main part of my art education”.
Seidenberg, Shuhaev, Petrov-Vodkin – each one of them was Paraskeva's teacher for no more than 2 years. But it was Petrov-Vodkin whose character, work and approach to art influenced Paraskeva the most.
These early years after Revolution, though hard, violent and paradoxical, yet full of enthusiasm, were among the best years in Paraskeva's life. Finding her way in life, making friends, finding love, giving birth to a child, working in a theatre (which she dreamed of before), living in it (literally) – these were just some of the events that occurred in Paraskeva's life during those years, despite and because of them.
Orest Allegri, the son of an Italian conductor and a ballerina, came to Russia in his youth. Since 1887 he worked in Imperial Theatre as decorator assistant and later as decorator and was considered as a maestro of perspective decoration. “He was real magician”, - remembered Russian actor Gennady Michurin. He continued his work also after the Revolution.
Orest Allegri had three children from his first marriage – sons Orest Jr. (his twin sister died) and Paul, and daughter Olga. After his first Italian wife Sophie died, Orest married a Russian woman Ekaterina, who was younger than him, beautiful, energetic and a fluent French speaker. Despite his success at work and easy going nature, Orest got a lot of grief in his life.
For the beginning, in 1918 his son Orest Jr. was drafted into the Italian army, no letters from him arrived for a long time and Orest-father was very worried. Later they planned to meet in Paris where the Allegri family was planning to move (being invited by Sergei Dyagilev), but they missed each other's letters from and could not meet again. Another grief came from his daughter who had mental problems and was taken to the psychiatric ward.
During the war Orest Jr. got a concussion, survived typhoid and believed that the worst things in his life were behind him. After returning to Petrograd he began working on decorations for Bolshoi Drama Theatre together with Nicola Benois, Vladimir Shchuko and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky. “Here he stood in front of me, very young man below-average height with beautiful smile. He was not at all like his father, but it was enough for him to say a word and I remembered his father at once working in the same room... Some time later they got young woman painter with smiling Russian face covered with a lot of freckles by April. I became the involuntary witness of love developed between her and Orest”, - remembered Gennadiy Michurin. At that time Paraskeva had some art education, but not yet fully completed. She learned that decorator-assistants were wanted and hearing “magical word” theatre, she applied immediately. So she started to work in Bolshoi Drama Theatre.
The magic became true when Paraskeva met her Prince. They were almost the same age, liked each other from the first glance and were always together. They married in 1922 and lived in the theatre itself. Soon their son Benedict (or Ben) was born. Orest called him Benedetto in the Italian manner and built his son's crib himself. When they ran for work in the morning, young parents left their son with the dresser. Paraskeva had no more time for studying and Petrov-Vodkin classes were abandoned.
Allegry-father arranged visas to France for all three of them and could not wait for them to come. He planned to make them partners in the family business. Everything seemed to be very well but not for long. Alexander Benois wrote in his diary from July 13, 1923 “How terrible! Orest Allegri drowned the day before yesterday, the same day we got the letter from Ekaterina Pavlovna... We learned this terrible news from his wife, now his widow, this not too serious but cute lady that he married a year ago and which gifted him with the son this Easter... There was happy and joyful world, and suddenly – nothing! Poor girl is crazy from her sorrow and does not know what to do... But it seems that she is inclined to leave...”
Now Paraskeva was 23 years old – a young widow with a three month old child. Her father could not help her, but he also was against her marriage. She lived with Ben at her friend's Elsa apartment. “Remember how we lived together in that cold room and how worm we had been? Youth is a good time...”, wrote Elsa to her friend in early thirties.
At that time Paraskeva made a pencil and water color picture that later became the draft of her painting “Memories of Leningrad”, dated 1941, and its remake dated 1955-1956. In the picture mother is holding a baby near the crib (is that the one that Orest made himself?), there is darkness behind the window, solitude, sorrow.
Finally, Paraskeva decided to leave Russia. Orest the senior and his wife were people with sensitive hearts. They did not meet Paraskeva before marriage and she was not from their circle, but they arranged everything for Paraskeva's move to France (they lived in Chatou which is about 14 km from Paris) with her son, knowing that they will be their dependents. “I'm so glad that you and Ben are well and healthy. I even cried a bit from joy knowing that your new parents are good people and accepted you as their own daughter”, wrote her father (that previously strongly opposed her move to France) in a letter dated 1931. Years later, after Paraskeva's move to Canada, Allegry wrote her many letters calling her “my little squirrel” and signing as Papa.
In the beginning of her life in France, Paraskeva did not feel comfortable. Soon she asked Allegri to dismiss the housekeeper and took this role for herself – this way she felt more independent and confident. But she still missed her husband, her relatives and friends a lot.
In the winter of 1924, Paraskeva received a letter from her younger sister Polina: “How are you my dear Panya and Ben. It's so happy a day today as we got your letter from Dec 28, 1923 for which we are very grateful to you... My ear Panya, I can see from your letter that you are happy. I am so glad for you. You have now so beautiful dress (it's my dream to have a blue dress) and a cute purse... Ben is so lucky, I'm so glad that he is so stout, red-cheeked and so nicely dressed, it's very important...”. This is from another letter dated summer of 1925 “... I got a parcel from Paris. When I unwrapped it, I recognized that dress at once. You wear it on that picture. My god, how swell it is, what a wonderful silk and velvet. And the style is very cute. It fits me perfect. I'm so grateful to you for it...”
Praskeva did not hold a pencil or paintbrush in her hand very often. “When in Paris I painted seldom, sporadically, making time for it from housekeeping. But my brain and my eyes were painting all the time...”. There are two landscapes created during that time. Critics consider one of them being influenced by Cezanne and the other – by Petrov-Vodkin. We can mention also two self-portraits dated 1925 and 1929-1930 respectively painted in Chatou. What Paraskeva Allegri saw in herself in 1925? She looked much older than her age, very serious, mature, with a strong character. The portrait is done by oil paint with dark colors and has very dark, almost black background. Self-portrait of 1929-1930 is much lighter and opalescent. It's small, done by water color, and depicts handsome young woman, slightly smiling, who knew her own worth. This portrait she sent later to her future fiancee.
Over time, Paraskeva's heart had become easier. Paul, young Allegri's son, began to care for her and even proposed to marry him. She visited many exhibitions and concerts with the family (once she even met Picasso who sat just in front of her).
After Ben went to school, Paraskeva had got a job in the interior design store which sold Venetian glass, wood-carved figures, and other art objects. She was glad to get rid of her cooking and cleaning. Every day she travelled to work in noisy Paris by train. There were many painters, interior designers among customers of the store – it was interesting to talk to them. Besides, she got her own money and independence. She began to buy nice dresses and wear makeup...
And for sure she could not even imagine that her life will take another sharp turn very soon.
Two friends from Canada had arrived to France in the summer of 1929. They came to the store where Paraskeva worked to buy a gift. Both young and handsome with small a moustache and glasses. Murray Adaskin was a violinist and a composer, and Philip Clark was about to graduate from university and become financial adviser as his father wanted. They both were charmed by the lovely young lady that spoke very poor English and had a strong accent in French too.
I will not describe the development of Paraskeva's relationship with both young men and Paul Allegri in details, but her initially clumsy correspondence with Philip in mixed language (Paraskeva kept learning English) ended in 1931 by his arrival to France one more time to take Paraskeva and Ben with him to Canada forever.
They got married in London on their way to Canada. It was not a typical marriage for an educated middle class Canadian. Philip's father and other relatives could not comprehend it for a while. There were too many unusual things for them in Paraskeva – Parisian wearing bright red lipstick; Russian admitting that she was “red” after eight years in France; widow with a son who should be taken care of; a person without money, without systematic education and uncertain occupation. But Philip loved her and wanted to help her. Later on he wrote in the greeting card “... some wives are clever, some wives are sexy, some wives are barrel of fun, and I've got some wife who happens to be all these things rolled into one”.
They rented an apartment in Toronto. Philip was a member of a prestigious Art & Letters Club and Paraskeva got acquainted with his friends – musicians, designers and painters. They accepted her to their circle and that gave her impulse to paint again after a long break in France. Just one year later she participated already in the exhibition of Royal Canadian Academy of Art in the Toronto Art Gallery with her new self-portrait (1931-1932) in brown colors. She depicted herself in an unusual perspective: somebody called her and she turned around – dark hair, dark eyes, the same red lipstick. In 1933 she presented “Portrait of Philip” at the exhibition of Ontario Society of Artists. Philip was portrayed sitting in the armchair, his hands are not shown and he seems to be too tight within the framework of the portrait (this is typical for Petrov-Vodkin). By the way, there was some risk in portraying Philip as he was pretty well known.
In the same year Paraskeva created self-portrait which she called “Myself” that was acquired later by the National Art Gallery (sometimes it's called “Woman in Black”). “The great Self Portrait of 1933 demonstrates how naturally she would have stood on stage ... she seems to have made an entrance, and calmly folded her arms to say 'I'm here'”, - writes Mary E. MacLachlan in her book “Paraskeva Clark. Paintings and drawings”.
Her hands are so prominent in this portrait. Paraskeva considered them big herself but did not try to hide it. She was not at all a tall woman but you can not tell this looking at the portrait. May be this is how she considered herself at that time – very confident and significant. She is wearing black dress, black hat and her famous red lipstick – very elegant lady. I wonder what her young sister would have told if she saw this portrait.
In 1933 Canadian Group of Painters was created. Many painters who were not group members participated at the opening exhibition, among them P. Clark who presented her landscapes. She became member of the group in 1936 and remained in the group until 1967.
From 1920 to 1933 Canadian painting was dominated by the artists of the Group of Seven. Paraskeva was not fond of their work; she considered them too conservative as she looked at them from the contemporary European point of view. Her “Wheat Field” “... is a very original response to Canadian landscape” (Mary E. MacLachlan).
On the picture we see a field painted by the various shades of yellow, light-brown and beige. It's shown from above and from such a height that small details are not visible. The field occupies the vast majority of the picture, besides it there are only few houses, hills and trees. The sky is not painted at all which emphasizes the immensity of the field.
In the early thirties Paraskeva worked for some time with French architect and designer Rene Cera. She missed like-minded artists in Canada and with Cera they shared the same views on European art. He just came to Canada and remembered the store in Paris where Paraskeva had worked. Under Cera's supervision she worked on window decoration at the Eaton's College Street department store. It was a unique experience that Paraskeva never returned to and she claimed that it had made her more confident in her future experiments.
In 1933 Paraskeva and Philip's son Clive was born. Her life in that time was very busy. It was as though all that happened to her before – accumulation of life experience, achievements and losses - filled her and embodied in acute desire for work, life, friendship and love. She managed to take care of two children, cook, clean, and create. By the way, she was always concerned about the place of a woman in the art and the place of an artist in everyday life. She always tried to find an answer to the question, could a woman preoccupied with household work be a real artist, and often decided that she could not.
Her personal life was not always easy. Sometimes it seemed to Paraskeva that Philip did not like Ben enough. Sometimes she was irritated by their very even way of life she considered boring. She probably complained in her letter to Elsa that she did not accept a way of boiling eggs in silverware, but her wise friend Elsa replied that if all the life is so beautifully arranged, it should not bother Paraskeva. “Take this your happiness without hesitation, it happens so rarely...”. Paraskeva and Elsa corresponded for many years during which Elsa always approved Paraskeva and was proud of her, considering herself mature and wise and Paraskeva as being forever young.
Their relative wealth provided by Philip allowed Paraskeva to paint without thinking about the commercial side of it, but at the same time she seemed ashamed of her wellbeing. She probably remembered her relatives whose life was always much harder.
Clarks liked guests and welcomed painters, musicians, singers in their home. There were always a lot of debates and a lot of laughter too. Paraskeva liked to cook and was a welcoming hostess for their frequent guests. She developed new habits some of which looked funny. For example, she always went to buy groceries by foot and neighbours could hardly understand why she does not drive and even more so, why she should bring all of her load up by herself, 43 steps by foot. Paraskeva disliked inequality, she was a socialist in her views and always “hated capitalism”. That's why she was probably drawn to the man who shared the same views.
Doctor Bethune had a bright, unusual and unpredictable personality. He dropped his university studies and spent a year in North Ontario with newcomers to Canada working there as miners and lumberjacks, helping them to settle and to study English. He dropped out of the university again during WWI and went to France where he volunteered to become a paramedic. After being wounded, he returned home and completed his education as a doctor. He worked for some time as a military doctor in England and USA. Later he moved to Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, where he perfected his skills in surgery and developed or modified more than a dozen surgical tools. With few other fellow doctors he opened a free medical clinic for the poor. He read about the progress in tuberculosis treatment in Soviet Union and decided to see it for himself. He sold his car and used this money to participate at the 15th International Physiological Congress which was held in the Soviet Union. In the same year he joined the Communist Party of Canada and next year he became active in raising support for Spanish democratic forces. Then he moved to Spain and participated in the civil war as the head of Canadian blood transfusion station which helped to safe the lives of hundreds of wounded. In less than a year he returned back for reasons just as contradictory and ambiguous as his character was.
Paraskeva Clark was sincerely troubled by the Spanish events, as she was on the anti-fascist side with her whole heart. So, when the Canadian Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy was created, she became an active participant by collecting medicine and rising funds for the organization. She met Bethune before his departure to Spain. It turned out that they shared not only political views as Norman also wrote poetry and painted when he had time. He could also tell her about Russia which he visited not too long ago... Besides, they both disliked taboos, commonly adopted formalities and “correct” demeanour. They did not make their relationship a secret, on the contrary, Paraskeva seemed to be proud of them. In 1989 a documentary about Paraskeva named “Portrait Of The Artist” was created. “Sure it was love”, - told from the screen 80 years old Paraskeva straightforward as always.
From Spain, Bethune sent her a soldier cap and red scarf of the Spanish International Brigade, a magazine and some Spanish music sheets. Paraskeva depicted these items on her water color still life “Gifts from Madrid” (1937). When Bethune went to China next year to help Chinese communists, she sent him the portrait of Mao which she made from the photo. “These works integrated several aspects of Paraskeva's painting life then: her firm belief that artists were responsible to depict real life, her awareness of political situations, and her personal relationship with Bethune”, - wrote Jane Lind in her book “Perfect Red. The Life of Paraskeva Clark”.
Paraskeva discussed and wrote a lot about the social role of the artist. She could not pass by the events in Chicago when during Memorial Day massacre in May 1937, unarmed demonstrators were killed. One of her best known paintings “Petroushka” (called “political allegory” by the critics) was her response to those events. On the street puppet show stage capitalist and policeman are beating and throwing out a small man. But public is on his side, they bravely boo capitalist and policeman action. There is a woman keeping child in the crowd – is it Paraskeva's allusion to herself? The background is filled with irregular buildings looking more Russian (from Petrograd) than North American. The faces of the people are tense, they are looking somewhere outside of the picture frame. The very similar faces you can see on the Petrov-Vodkin painting “Workers” created in 1926. Paraskeva could not see it as she left Russia in 1923, but similarities show how strong, though short, Petrov-Vodkin influence on Paraskeva's painting was.
Bethune visited Paraskeva when work on “Petroushka” was in full swing and “had an audacity” (J. Lind) to take a brush and made brown building bright blue. The same evening, after Norman's departure, Paraskeva restored the original brown color. She definitely did not suffer from a lack of character.
Paraskeva Clark had many fans and friends throughout her life. None of them was poor, none of them belonged to the working class. Most of them, including her husband, were “normal” capitalists (and only Bethune shared her socialist ideas). For example, successful businessman Stanley McLean purchased ten of her paintings which was a significant support during Great Depression years. He also helped the Clarks to buy their home with the 43 steps. Paraskeva and Stanley met and corresponded with each other until 1954 when he died.
When WWII started and especially when the siege of Leningrad began, Paraskeva was very concerned about the fate of her relatives especially as she had no contacts with them. She made a remake of her “Memory of Leningrad” painting and a new self-portrait where she depicted herself keeping “Salute to Russia” concert programme in her hand showing her connection to the events. She looks very serious, excited and determined. By the way, all the revenues from the concert were donated to the Canadian Aid to Russia Fund.
In 1942 a special meeting with Russian snipers Ludmila Pavlichenko and Vladimir Pchelintsev, and Moscow's defense organizer Nikolai Kravchenko was held in Toronto City Hall. Paraskeva was one of the organizers as she actively participated in activities of the Canadian Aid to Russia Fund. She also convinced Stanley McLean to help and he not only donated his own money but kept in close contact with Paraskeva during all the activity of the Fund. There was a collection of medicine, warm clothes and money organized not only in big cities, but also in small towns and villages.
In 1943 Paraskeva created a painting “Pavlichenko and Her Comrades at the Toronto City Hall” and in the same year there was her second personal exhibition (the first took place in 1937). She donated all the money obtained during the exhibition to the Fund. J. Lind wrote “She believed that art could be a great force during wartime”. In 1945 she created a painting “Maintenance Jobs in Hangar”. To make it she visited air force base multiple times and observed the woman’s work there. In the first few years after the war she created two other paintings showing woman's labour during the war. Today they are kept in the collection of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Only working, acting and organizing help Paraskeva could express her solidarity with her country of origin where her friends and relatives lived.
In 1943 a trouble came – her older son Ben became seriously ill. At that time he was a student at the Central Technical School and demonstrated good abilities in drawing. The reasons for his illness were not clear; it might be hereditary (his aunt Olga was mentally ill), or it might be a result of the stress due to war (for him it was also a conflict between Russia and Italy), but the diagnosis was – schizophrenia. All Paraskeva's thoughts were occupied by her son. All her subsequent life including events happening outside of their home bore the gloomy shades of this sorrow. Ben's illness affected all their family habits, reduced their independence. But Paraskeva managed to adopt herself to the new realities of life and continued to work.
Remembering her childhood, Paraskeva painted in 1944 “Public Bath – Leningrad” - light water color picture full of motion and cleanness. In sixties she made oil on canvas remake of this picture which resembles “Morning bathing” by Petrov-Vodkin created in 1917. Both paintings show a mother and a child as their main theme.
About the same time she created a portrait of Murray Adaskin (Philip's friend who met Paraskeva in her store in Paris) who was their family friend for many years. She also created a portrait of A. Y. Jackson (Group of Seven member), other portraits and landscapes. These years of war were hard for Paraskeva: her thoughts of Russia, her relatives in Leningrad, Ben's illness... But she was not depressed, to the contrary she became more active and counted every minute of her life. She became an executive of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour and also vice-president of Federation of Russian Canadians. During the Second Congress of Russian Canadians in 1944, Praskeva gave a speech that by style and content was very much like any other speech given at that time from any meeting in Soviet Union. This is an incredible fact given she left Russia more than 20 years before! Paraskeva gave patriotic lectures about Russian art, and wrote to the “Vestnik” Russian magazine issued in Canada. At the same time she loved Canada (which she called “the land of hope”), its nature and people.
With the beginning of the cold war and subsequent confrontation between Russia and Canada, many things have changed. Her son Clive could not anymore bring his friends to the home where the portrait of Lenin and red flag were hang on the wall. Paraskeva stopped her lectures and could not publish anymore in the “Vestnik”. She wanted to make both of her beloved countries friends again. Believing in the power of art, she tried to arrange an art exhibition exchange and sent letters with her proposal to the various institutions.
In 1957 Ben's illness became worse and he was put in the hospital. Where did Paraskeva get her strength from? Her husband always supported her despite their complicated relationship. She also kept a lot of friends who liked her despite any political changes. Her faithful friend McLean was not well towards the end of his life and could not climb the 43 steps, but Paraskeva descended to his car and they talked a lot. Her other son, Clive, became an architect, got married and had a three children. Almost every weekend they had a dinner together which Paraskeva kept cooking herself. She also found her relief in gardening.
Paraskeva was often critical about her individual paintings and her art in general. She tried different styles and techniques, but was not satisfied with her achievements and “regretted” being born a woman. She liked abstractionism and Picasso in particular and believed that woman could never reach such a level in art. But she never quit working - “I'll try to work as hard as possible for an old girl”
She created more still life and landscapes and seemed to be more unsociable, hiding from the external events in her own world. Many of her paintings of that period show the view from inside a house with window as a frame, a background or an independent object. Here is one of them – “Rain on the Window”. Judging by the bare trees behind the window, it's a strong autumn rain. Big drops of rain going down the window glass resemble tears, but the picture is not sad and full of light. By the way, the year of this painting creation was considered unknown. Christine Boyanoski, who worked on an online book on Paraskeva for Art Canada Institute asked me “What do you think these two signs after her signature might mean?”. To tell the truth, it took me some time to realize what it was. In this case, under Paraskeva's signature in English, there were two Russian letters that were the first letters in words “sixty” and “three” which likely meant the date of creation. We could only guess now why Paraskeva started dating her paintings by this “Russian code” at some point in time.
In 1966 P. Clark became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. During her last decades she participated in many art exhibitions and when she became 80, she declared that she stopped painting. In 1982-1983, the Dalhousie Art Gallery in Halifax organized personal exhibition of Paraskeva's work “Paraskeva Clark: Paintings and Drawings” displaying 46 of her works since 1925. This exhibition was also shown in Ottawa, Toronto and Victoria. It was a beautiful result of her long creative life.
Paraskeva's father, Avdei Plistick, had died not long before the war. All her other relatives died during the siege of Leningrad.
Nothing is known about the faith of Paraskeva's friend Elsa Brahmin. It is very likely that she also did not survive the siege.
Orest Allegri the senior missed his grandson, Bendetto, very much and came to Canada after the war to visit them. He lost his wife in 1937. He tried to stay in America and looked for a job as a decorator in an American ballet but had no success. He returned to Paris and died in 1954 in poverty.
Norman Bethune kept helping all the communists in the world. He died of blood poisoning in China in 1939. He is one of the few Westerners to whom China has dedicated statues and his name is known to every student in China.
Philip Clark died in 1980 without coming into agreement on everyday and political issues with his beloved wife.
During the last years of her life Paraskeva was not well and required frequent medical assistance, so Clive and his wife made a hard decision to put her in the nursing home which was difficult for her to accept.
Benedict Allegri was taken care of by his nephew until his death in 2006.
Clive and Mary's daughter Panya Clark-Espinal, who bears the forgotten childhood name of her grandmother, became an artist too. Her works were exhibited in Canada, Japan, England and other countries.
When I told Clive Clark that I'm going to write this article, he responded that his “mother would be very pleased to hear that you will be writing an article about her and her work to be published in a Russian Art magazine”.
The author gratefully acknowledges the help of: Clive Clark, son of Paraskeva Clark; Panya Clark-Espinal, her granddaughter; Marc Mayer, Director and CEO of National Gallery of Canada, Philip Dombowsky, Archivist and Raven Amiro, Copyright Officer of National Gallery of Canada; Michelle Gewurtz, Curator of Ottawa Art Gallery; Christine Boyanoski, Art Historian, Independent Curator, Lecturer and Writer; Sheila Robertson, Communications Coordinator and Donald Roach, Registrar of Mendel Gallery (Remai Modern); Jennifer Nicoll, Manager of Collections of Etherington Centre, Queen’s University; Susan Ross, Image Reproduction Technician of Canadian War Museum, Nicole McCabe, Curatorial Coordinator Art Gallery of Windsor;
Christine Braun, Collections Manager and Research of Art Gallery of Hamilton; Sonya Jones, Curator of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery; Sym Corrigan, Administrative Assistant/Design and Communications of Dalhousie Art Gallery.