Jack and Ina Gilbert

Donor Profile: Jack Gilbert and a New Visual Arts Award

The Foundation is pleased to announce the establishment of The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto Foundation Ina Gilbert Visual Arts Award. The $500 annual award, to be juried by the Club’s Art Committee, will be awarded for the first time in 2021.

This is the third award set up by Club member Jack Gilbert, following on from the Arts & Letters Club’s “Deborah Gilbert Award for Plein Air Painting” and the Foundation’s “Jack Gilbert/Ryerson University School of Image Arts Award.” The awards in Jack and Ina’s names are in partnership with the Foundation.

Jack Gilbert comes from a family of artists, including his father Nathan who set up Elite photography studio on Queen Street West in 1922; Jack’s eldest brother Lou who was, as Jack says, “a phenomenal retoucher”; and his other brother Albert who took over their father’s business becoming one of Canada’s pre-eminent portrait photographers.

Jack set up this latest award to honour his artist wife, Ina. They met at Camp Ogama in Huntsville in the late 1940s. Albert’s friend managed the camp and suggested Jack could manage photography for the campers. “All I knew was asphalt,” Jack said. “It was the first time I saw grass and lakes.” Unfortunately, after burning down the building that was to serve as the darkroom, Jack spent that summer as a counsellor instead. “That was the end of my camp photo career.”

Having graduated from Harbord Collegiate, Jack completed his undergraduate degree at University College at the University of Toronto with the ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. But the Jewish quota being full kept him from realizing his dream and he shifted to studying law, becoming a successful business lawyer in Toronto.

Jack and Ina married in 1951 and had three daughters, all of whom became artists. Deborah, an established plein air painter, died of pancreatic cancer in 2015.

Clown in Easter Egg
“Clown in Easter Egg” by Ina Gilbert

Ina is a founding member and former president of the Society of Canadian Artists and one of the co-organizers of the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair, an annual event since 1961. Sadly, Ina now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Speaking with Jack, now 92 years old, two things are obvious: the first is although he made his living as a lawyer, he never lost his passion for photography. “My 88 years in photography are, I believe, the longest continuous history in the world. I’ve been working on Photoshop for two hours a day since 2002,” he says, even while continuing to do legal work and caring for his wife.

The second fact is that he learned about giving back from his parents. “My parents, with the few dollars they had, were always very charitable. I have a very broad charitable streak in me.” Proceeds from the sale of his work at various shows are donated to various other charities which, like the Foundation, have low administrative costs so the majority of the gift is channelled into awards that go the recipients. He admits that his career choice knitted together nicely with his continuing passion for photographic art. “This combination of being a successful lawyer and my background in the arts have meshed to the benefit of award recipients.”

Asked why he opted once again to partner with the Foundation, he replied, “I chose the Foundation because I’m a member of the Club. I got the co-operation immediately. The support I got from the Foundation was very meaningful to me.”

One of the benefits of giving is meeting young artists. “The arts colour the world,” he said. “The artists I’m meeting all the time are generally at least one generation younger. They’re artists for whom I have a great deal of respect. It hurts me when they say they’re going to study photography full-time. I ask ‘Why? It’s almost impossible to make a living today because everyone with a digital camera today thinks they’re a photographer.’ I am surprised that even more Club members have yet to support the Foundation.”

So why is he a donor? “I just want to do it,” he said.

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