Gery Puley


Story by Rayne Tunley.

“Reflections in a White Space” is my overall theme. The immediacy and elusive quality of transparent watercolour paint challenged me to give expression to my lyrical feelings for the world of light and colour.

Several related themes engaged, including the character of the buildings in their settings, and portraying the attitude and play of light in the intimate perception of the woodlands, landscapes, and gardens. The metamorphosis and transient quality of flowers allow me to express the importance of colour and change. Other subjects, including figures and fantasy, reveal the desire for humans to communicate.

Through my development of a greater understanding of the extensions and limitations of this medium, the expression of my ideas through the choice of subject matter has become more exciting. From my inner vision, and working with structural design to an immediate approach, I use the fluid translucent quality of watercolour paint to enable me to convey the reality of mystery and fantasy. The exploration of new experiences and the luminosity from within the painting itself established in me the desire to search out light, colour and space continuously in my life as it presents itself.”– Gery Puley, 2007

Geraldine Dicken (Gery Puley) 18 months, 1923

On January 4, 1922, Gery Dicken (Puley) was born in a small hospital on the mountain of Summerland, in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. She grew up in the rural village of Naramata, just north of Penticton, BC amongst artists, musicians, potters who inspired both her sister Lila and herself. With dedication, Gery pursued her interests in the arts independently and at the Alberta Institute of Art and Technology. Lila, who was studying for her Master’s Degree in Art, unfortunately passed away from an unexpected illness in 1966 at the early age of 47.

“My Life in Art began in a family who loved and practiced music, art and crafts as well as a deep appreciation and developing awareness of art and the nature of things. Through studies in drawing and painting as well as theory and some art history – l began to develop a base on which to grow. The violin was my early instrument and I played in two orchestras including the Calgary Junior Symphony Orchestra. Sundays were the day to hike, picnic or paint. My travels took me through the Rocky Mountains and the North-Western States to absorb the grandeur of the mountains and meadows. My enthusiasm, to be active in many interests including competitive track and field and basketball, choirs, clubs and becoming a leader in the Guide movement before returning to the Okanagan where I was born. In the Okanagan I took vocal lessons and entered competitions in Kelowna, doing well. I did drawings on commissions but mainly enjoyed my late teenage years and early twenties doing volunteer work on behalf of the war.”

Geraldine Dicken (Gery Puley, 19 years, 1941)

After the war, in December 1945, Gery headed out east on the transcontinental railway on a steam-powered train equipped with sleeping cars through the Rockies, prairies and northern Ontario en route to Toronto. During the trip she would sketch and dream of the days to come. She settled in Toronto and married Art Puley who she had known since she was a little child. They lived in the Parkdale area, danced at the Palais Royale, located on Lakeshore Boulevard at the foot of Roncesvalles Avenue, to prominent jazz bands of the time. Both enjoyed the bustle of the growing city.

Eventually Gery and Art moved to the Islington area where they started their young family. When their children were small, they settled in Burlington, Ontario in the late 1950s.

“When I came to Ontario after the war, I had wished to follow music, but the opportunity did not arise. As I had learned much about the visual painting art it became a great interest to pursue studies in oil painting of landscapes when my children were growing up while on holidays. My husband and our three children were the most important part of my life. As they began to become involved in their own interests, I began to develop my skills and advance my knowledge.”

It was in southern Ontario where Gery’s love for the arts solidified and flourished. She involved herself in all sorts of artistic venues and searched out like-minded artists.

“An artist likes to seek out other artists to share like interests with and to get to know the art-related activities available in the area.”

“The Hamilton Art Gallery Rental became my first volunteer organization, and it was there that I began to develop, and opportunities began to present themselves. Other artists worked together to form groups, exhibit.”

Provincial art associations were beginning to flourish during the time under Bill Davis as Premier. Davis promoted the growth of creative art across Ontario with subsidies for groups obtaining professional instructors. It was during this time that Gery Puley became a committed teacher and mentor to so many, generously sharing her knowledge of the arts.

Art organizations developed and Gery was one of the founders of many of these artistic assemblies – the Burlington Cultural Centre, now the Art Gallery of Burlington (AGB), Burlington Fine Arts Association (BFAA) founded in 1967 and Central Ontario Arts Association (COAA) where she became the President in 1968. Gery’s belief that art associations should be available to all became a strong focus for her in, not only building the framework for these societies, but assisting in the inclusion of exhibits and art instruction for the members.

Burlington was also becoming an entertainment hub where noted musicians, bands and vocalists captured audiences from wide areas at the famous Brant Inn. Again, this was of great interest to Gery with her musical background still alive within her. She enjoyed all the interesting activities and stories that would make a small-town hum with activity.

Gery loved the Heritage buildings of Burlington, Hamilton and area. Coming from western Canada, Gery would exclaim that “This Ontario heritage is new to me!” Southern Ontario around the Burlington, Hamilton, Dundas and Ancaster areas became a focus for her in her earlier paintings from the heritage buildings, landscapes in all seasons to the beautiful flowers she so lovingly painted.

Gery Puley Portrait circa 1980

“Before the Burlington Skyway Bridge was built, travel South was along the Beach Boulevard to Hamilton East, Stoney Creek or Niagara and South. The traffic often had hours of tie-ups crossing this strip both ways especially on holiday weekends. The lift bridge delayed the trips as well.”

With these bridge delays Gery would sit in her car and sketch preparing for future paintings. Since Gery never worked from photographs, she would often be found redirecting herself back to the sketch locations with her painting supplies in hand and visually document the Burlington/Hamilton area.

Gery painted wherever her vision took her locally and eventually around the world. Locally, you will find paintings from Cootes Paradise, Webster’s Falls, the Royal Botanical Gardens as well as historic drawings and paintings of buildings of the Brant Inn, the Robson House, the Freeman House and the Freeman Station (old Burlington Train station). These are only a few of hundreds of paintings in various public and private collections throughout Canada, the United States and abroad.

A. J. Casson with Ann Duff and Gery Puley, circa 1984

Gery Puley’s involvement in the arts continued to expand. She was elected into the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour (CSPWC) in 1973. This historic society was formed in 1925 and the founders, some of whom were part of the Group of Seven, had a dramatic influence on the evolution of Canadian art. They include F.H. Brigden, A.J. Casson, Franklin Carmichael and C.W. Jefferys. In 1984-85 Gery became the President of this most prestigious society and later was elected a life member.

Gery received many awards for her paintings, including the work purchased by the Canada Council for Art Bank in Ottawa, the CSPWC and the Hamilton Spectator Award.

Gery felt driven to continue to enhance her existing knowledge and so continued her studies, at various times during her career, at the Ontario College of Art, Doon School of Fine Arts, the Dundas Valley School of Art, Master Class in Watercolour Maine and the Art Students’ League of New York. She also attended and taught specialty workshop courses in Canada, USA and Mexico. Her thirst for knowledge in art was insatiable.

Gery held her mentors during her studies with the highest regard: artists Carl Schaeffer, Eric Freifeld, Henri Masson and John (Jack) Martin, to mention a few. She loved to try all sorts of mediums of expression in charcoal, pastel, oil, acrylic but her true love remained with the fluid medium of watercolour.

Gery Puley had many exhibitions throughout Canada, United States as well as in Europe. Locally you would find her work exhibited at the Hamilton Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Burlington, McMaster Medical Centre Gallery, Hamilton Place, Beckett Gallery Hamilton, Alice Peck Gallery Burlington, Damkjar Burton Gallery in Burlington and later Hamilton to mention only a few.

Gery Puley, "Early Winter, Crawford Lake". 15in x 30in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

In 1985 her work “Early Winter, Crawford Lake” was accepted by Her Majesty, the Queen, into the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, UK. The Royal Collection is one of the largest collections in the world exhibiting the artistic tastes of kings and queens over the last 500 years. What an honour to be a part of such a lineup of art over the centuries!

Gery Puley continued to be a revered teacher and mentor of the arts to many. She taught at Sheridan College, Burlington Art Gallery, and had advanced tutorial classes in her studio. She sponsored several workshops of Master Artists (e.g. Jack Parker, Jean Dobie and Judi Betts) and seminars for Sheridan College (Chen Chi from New York and CSPWC artists). She gave freely of her knowledge and took art groups around the world where she gave demos, discussed philosophies and painted on location.

“I believe in art for art’s sake. I believe in a vision from the heart. I believe in sharing my philosophy, skills and events with the many through the years who have been in classes, workshops or trips that I have organized or shared my life with.”

Gery Puley spent her life creating and philosophizing about art. In her late 70s she lost a good part of her sight but still worked the brush on the paper, feeling the edges and searching for the light.

Gery Puley at exhibition Art Gallery of Burlington 2018

Later on in her life she had lost most of her vision. She continued to reflect on her artistic vision and life. Artists came from far and wide to learn what she was able to impart to them from her vast knowledge of the arts, her legacy. Gery taught her last mentoring course when she was 96 at the Art Gallery of Burlington. When she was 97 the Art Gallery of Burlington nominated her ‘Artist of the Year’.

Gery Puley with Robert Stevens CEO AGB - 97th birthday at Art Gallery Burlington 2019

It is clear that over Gery Puley’s lifetime her work, her philosophies and her passion for the arts demonstrated that she has been one of the most outstanding artists of the Hamilton/Burlington area.

“Gery was a remarkable woman, small in stature but big in spirit and an unending supporter of our national watercolour painters through the auspices of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour. Her name goes down in history as part of the long list of presidents of that esteemed society, and in a truly significant way joins other great names of Canadian Art History. Her legacy is more than a lifetime of enthusiastic painting and includes founding work for the AGB (Art Gallery of Burlington). My own dear and personal memory was to travel with her through a book of paintings by fellow presidents of the society where, at an advanced age, she was sharp as a tack, remembered them all and had interesting stories to relate for her 90th Birthday. Rest in Peace Gery.” – Peter Marsh, Past-President CSPWC

Gery Puley, 97 years 2019

Gery Puley, excerpts from her discussions about her art

“As I discovered that LIGHT would become a theme – I worked with it in different ways to give a greater meaning to my paintings. In my woodland themes, I would now work negative against positive dark background and positive darks against a lighter background to indicate coming out of the smaller one-third dark area into the lighter background which would be air and space. This idea brought about “Transcending Light” from the upper right area background. It allowed me to express my spirituality about nature’s woodlands. I wanted it to work and it gave me a purpose and direction.”

“I believe that by letting nature be my best teacher, the joy of discovery of the nature and characteristics of my chosen subjects have given great value to my life.”

“In painting, I developed a personal way to paint light from within the painting itself, to build a broad base always expanding upon the basics of colour and design and to absorb the information that the masters or impressionists handed down for us to experiment, use and/or expand. Today, when I look at my work, being unable to paint in the same way, I realize that I was always trying something new in each painting – some had a little magic, some had a little mystery and I always felt I was working in infinite space. ‘

“If my paintings can give peace or uplift the soul, this journey with my family and friends has been wonderful. I am looking forward to a new way.”

Gery Puley, "Little Tunnel and Reflections – North Penticton (Naramata – The Smile of the Manitou)". 24in x 30in, Oil. Courtesy of the artist.

Prior to the mid-1900s people could watch and listen to the Kettle Valley train toot its way through this tunnel followed by a distant toot through a second tunnel moving on through the mountains through Crow’s Nest Past and East.

Working in oils, dark to light, thin to thick I now painted down the mountainside with pine trees lining the creek beds exposing rocks until the orchards above the clay cliffs were painted a first of two or three coats as needed were applied. The trees between the beach and the cliffs added soft seasonable colour.

To express the abstract reflections in the Okanagan Lake, I scraped, lifted, and painted with the palette knife to achieve the mood of the rippling water which also gave movement from a breeze.

Gery Puley, "Etude". 15in x 22in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

In the fall of 1970 near Lake Couchiching, I discovered an Ash tree with almost-white leaves. As I began painting on smooth D’Arches 140 lb. stretched paper with a composition by placing the tree trunk to the left of centre and drew a small tree to the left. The pattern for the leaves crossed the trunk.

I began to use a simple primary palette of ultramarine blue, yellow ochre and burnt sienna from which I made various tones, tints and shades. I treated the tree to the left as a negative shape by pouring water down the drawn shape and tilting the paper to let it run slowly to the bottom where I dropped some dark values. I added a little tint to the foliage to suggest autumn and to paint the texture on the trunk. Starting on the right of the trunk I would paint a mixed grey about a half-inch down to the bottom and let dry. I overlapped the left side of this wash with the same method and let it dry. I repeated this until I reached the left side of the trunk. At the bottom I added grasses with a mix of yellow ochre and a touch of burnt sienna and blue, keeping the depth of the tree darker. After adding shadows over this dry trunk which depicted depth between the leaves and the tree the painting was complete. While building relationships during the creation of the whole pattern, gives flow to my painting process.

Gery Puley, "North Paris, South to French Riveria to Monaco, Alps South". 24in x 36in, Acrylic. Courtesy of the artist.

On linen canvas with details painted in watercolour technique made permanent with a clear acrylic glaze with details of Paris in the North and along the Riviera to Monaco and beyond to the Alps. Across the centre includes Arles, home of Van Gogh, and up to the higher Alps. The land east of Arles in the picturesque medieval village, Eze where famous perfume became world-renowned. The blue paint ties the painting together either as sky or water. My imagination and small sketches with memories together gave me the whole impression.

Gery Puley, "Blowing in the Wind". 22in x 30in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

On a windy day, I did a demo for a group of twenty art students. The challenge to try something new in the sun. A two-inch Simmons brush and took a chance that I could perform with a dancing brush. by twisting – turning and squeezing the brush to make fine lines. I selected from the garden tall florals for the back rows. As my brush danced down the page, twisting and turning, I picked up the flowers and placed the colours in the place of my choice. When I came to the daisies at the bottom left, I had to paint negatively behind the flowers to give them form and paint each centre of the daisies slightly different hues of the centre due teethe age of each. And found the painting to be complete. And because the wind was blowing two of the members were holding my paper steady on my stand-up easel which helped me proceed with the painting.

Gery Puley, "Oriental Impressions". 22in x 30in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

In my garden, I painted for two weeks sitting beside white and pink double Peonies

This painting was developed with opposition (painting behind each petal) commonly known as Negative. The method of bringing out the positive to develop the large double peony blooms of white and in my garden. The bud was painted positive and the flat leaves were painted with a wash across and under the peonies changing from a lighter green to a darker green and then by superimposing a darker green to pop out the shape of the foliage as many times as to give greater depth under the blossoms. The background was painted a greyed green of a value that would emphasize the pink and the white blossoms.

Gery Puley, "Fergus Spires". 15in x 22in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

Driving around the bend into Fergus, Ontario, the first building to the right was exceptionally long, with a tall green copper spire. It was the Royal Bank built in 1884 of local quarry grey cut rocks. I began painting this grand old building before it had the last few rooms removed. My colours were greyed values on the shaded side, local colour on the main entrance and tower, and gradation of tint values on the sunny side leaving an outline only of the part to be removed with a light wash to define the change.

The painting was accepted into the 125th-anniversary exhibit of the Women’s Art Association of which I had formerly been a member. The exhibit was held at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Gery Puley, "The Bens Mountains, County Claire, Ireland". 15in x 22in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

On a soft day in County Claire Ireland in a Canadian artist’s summer home. On a half sheet of watercolour paper looking out the window at the kitchen sink, I did an underwash of the Big Bens with white church steeple dominant in the distance. The white lime rocks, purple heather, many varieties of green grasses and shrubs covered the foreground which I could compose into a movement of shapes to create a whole. The greens were mixtures of greens, yellows, sienna, purple to create the feeling of the day and location. The white of the stone created an extension of values.

Gery Puley, "Stamp Collage". 20in x 23in, Acrylic. Courtesy of the artist.

This Acrylic, abstract painting is composed of Canadian Postage stamps, newsprint from a family attic and Vancouver Chinatown posters, and was modified with clear acrylic over tissue. When completed, it gave a suggestion of a Map of Canada.

To test with an audience, I entered a Juried show in Guelph where I won the top award. This painting was shown with artist Ken Danby.

Gery Puley, "Barberry Clothesline". 15in x 22in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

These sugar sacks were bleaching and hooked a Barberry hedge on an Amish farm near Philadelphia. As the hedge was growing above a stone wall, I wanted to explore the subject with glazes, greens, and stone as well as some foliage and a red shaft of light. I kept my palette simple – non-dye primaries for the sky and shadow of the cotton – one green mixed with warm blues for transparent greens, and an opaque mix of primaries with variation for the stone wall. The glazes for the sky background were applied until the white patterns of the ghost-like figures became a strong enough contrast to allow the white shapes to become the strong focal area. I became completely immersed in the painting of this “one of a kind” subject.

This painting is showcased in Jeanne Dobie’s book, “Making Color Sing”.

Gery Puley, "On Wings of Song, a Lotus Flower, Diptych". 16in x 24in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.
Gery Puley, "On Wings of Song, a Lotus Flower, Diptych". 16in x 24in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

Diptych 2 frames, 4 images of the life of a lotus flower – painted in lotus garden, Bali.

Painted on four sheets of Watman 140 lb. paper, first as a window and later finished as a diptych influenced by Japanese art. Without pre-drawing I painted one lotus flower and one large cup-like leaf containing a large shiny water drop. The water and the leaf and the flower were used as a part of various rituals and health. When I finished the first painting, I realized I had more time to add more, and completed three connected images, showing the bud and the seed pod in the life cycle of the lotus. The seed pod is used throughout the world as a décor element. The title came to me in the process from a piece by Mendelssohn – On Wings of Song. The colours that I used were non-dye primary colours found only in the watercolour medium.

Gery Puley, "Carousel". 15in x 22in, Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist.

ln the Merry Go Round painting that I painted on the Beach Boulevard in Burlington, I wanted to give the feel that the Merry Go Round was turning. I had the white horses coming out of the dark into the light. The horses that were up front had the mirror, lights and action of the colour. I felt the eye would follow the transition. To also create a visual movement – the canopy would move from a grayed colour to a pure colour to a pastel with its patterns – and the floor of the “round” I painted from pastel to saturated to gray, giving another movement. This painting was accepted in the CSPWC jurying for my membership. This transition of colour would appear in more paintings

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