Like a lot of artists working in 2D mediums, Mary Filer often carried a sketchbook with her to stay busy in between creating her larger works on canvass and paper. The University Archives and Special Collection was lucky enough to receive dozens of Mary’s sketchbooks as part of the 2020 donation. While many of these books are filled with rough, quickly executed ideas for drawings and paintings to be properly rendered later, many of them also contain illustrations that are as finished and fully realized as her other, stand-alone works. It’s also clear that Filer often relied on sketchbooks when she traveled as a convenient way to capture impressions and record landscapes without the need for a studio’s worth of materials. While much of the writing contained in the books is incidental information such as reference notes, point-form lists and artwork dimensions, longer text passages aid in our understanding of her artistic process and changing attitudes over the decades of her life.
From the titles of some of these books, we can partially trace Filer’s journeys across the globe, from New York in the summer of 1956, to Italy in 1966, and Edmonton in 1979, among other places. Mixed in between these visual travel journals are sketchbooks dedicated to specific projects, like the costume sketches from a 1940 theatre project, drawings that capture the Montreal Neurological Institute and its staff of doctors and nurses, portrait studies of various friends and colleagues, and diagrams for the glass sculptures that became her focus during the later period of her career.