Gordon Couling's Artistic Career

Throughout his lifetime, Gordon Couling had a wide and varied career, holding many jobs, both paid and volunteer. His diverse interests are reflected in the types of careers he sought, as well as his passion for the arts, and desire to teach others about art.

Gordon Couling's interest in the arts was apparent from the time he was a young man. While he was in high school at Guelph Vocational Collegiate Institute, he took night classes in fine art. He was quite involved in the YMCA and various "Boys' Clubs". His involvement in these boys clubs varied from religion to camp, but consistently he was leader of the "hobby group". There are several references to his classes in sketching and printmaking that he gave his peers, from the Guelph Mercury at that time. He seemed to be a rather well-liked young man, and at one point ran for Boys' Parliament. Although he lost, he still acquired a fair number of votes, and the writeup in the Guelph Boys' Mercury by his friend Gladstone Fiddes is testimony to Gordon Couling's character.

After high school, it was his singular ambition to go to the Ontario College of Art. Although the school rejected his attempt at entering directly into second year (they felt it was imperative everyone take the fundamental first year), they did accept him into their program. He immediately became involved in keeping a record of the costume ball that was to be held by the students, and these clippings and cutouts survive today. His highest marks, not surprisingly, were in drawing, stained glass and history. He received honours certificates each year and scholarships in his first two years. During his years at the Ontario College of Art, he did freelance work, mostly as a mural artist or art supervisor for various churches. His schooling at the Ontario College of Art was interrupted with the onset of World War Two, and his architectural skills came in handy when he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers in Toronto on June 4th, 1942. He served as an architectural and topographic draftsman and was posted to Vancouver, British Columbia on September of that same year. During his time in service, he was promoted to both Corporal (October 1st, 1942) and Acting Sargeant (January 1st, 1943). He was eventually discharged in 1946 and returned to Ontario to finish up his last remaining year at the Ontario College of Art.

Upon his graduation from the Ontario College of Art, he did freelance artistic work for the next three years. His specialty at this time was mural decoration, ecclesiastical furniture design and stained glass work. It was during this period that many of the church interiors in Guelph and surrounding areas were completely redone by Gordon Couling. (see the section entitled "Church interiors"for more detail).

In 1949 he became a lecturer and assistant professor of art and home planning at the MacDonald Institute, Federated College of Ontario, although he did not have his PhD, his life and work experience, as well as his OCA schooling, were sufficient to have him hired. He was instrumental in promoting the arts at the University of Guelph. There is much correspondance at this time between Gordon Couling and various artists and artistic bodies, with him expressing his concern that the students were not getting enough culture, and inviting artists to display their work at the school.

He was such a success as a lecturer and assistant professor that in 1965 he was promoted to full-fledged professor in the Department of Fine Art, when the three colleges (MacDonald Institute, Ontario Agricultural College and Wellington College) had combined to become the University of Guelph. He was also the first chairman of the Department of Fine Art, as well as a member of the original Senate of the University of Guelph. He remained as staff of the University of Guelph until 1974. During his time at the University of Guelph, he also served as a guest lecturer at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

During his many years after World War Two, in addition to his teaching career, Gordon Couling was involved in unpaid work with many artistic and architectural organizations.

Alongside this work, he wrote many publications about art, architecture and art criticism.

The varied career of Gordon Couling contributed much to the arts, culture and architectural conservancy in the City of Guelph. Guelph's cultural life owes much to this man.

The information about Gordon Couling's career was derived from the examination of 5 resumes, written between 1949 and the final one which was written April 13, 1983, a year before his death. In addition, many personal correspondances were consulted. All of this information can be found in Box 25 of the Gordon Couling Collection, Archive Centre, University of Guelph Library, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

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