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 Norah Drummond-Davies  (1862 - 1949)

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Lived/Active: Canada/England      Known for: animals, Indians, frontier scene and landscape painting, illustration, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
Nora Drummond Davis
from Auction House Records.
Gone to Ground; The Meet (pair)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Norah Drummond-Davies (1862 - 1949) (1)
'...the old Tabby who paints cats and dogs.' That is how, icon of Canadian art, Emily M. Carr (see AskART) described fellow Victoria artist Norah Drummond-Davies. (2)

A painter, illustrator, and educator, Drummond-Davies was born in Cork, Ireland and died in Goldsteam, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (about 8 miles west of Victoria), where she had lived since 1927. She immigrated to Canada from London, England in about 1916, and lived for several years in Banff, Alberta before moving to Vancouver Island. (3) (4)

Her mediums were oil, house paint, watercolor, gouache* calendars and postcards (published by Raphael Tuck and Sons). Her subjects were animals (pets, sporting, game, farm and wildlife), Indians, pioneer and frontier life, rural landscape, farm and ranch activities, and genre*. Her style was Realism*; however, some of it is occasionally classified as Primitive* or Naive Art*.

Before coming to Canada, she was already a published illustrator of postcards and calendars, and several sources say she came to Canada with a contract to do more of such illustrations. An internet search will turn up numerous pieces of ephemera by her dated before 1916. Most are postcards of dogs, horses and farm animals. Drummond-Davies only noted education is 'a course in animal anatomy at the veterinary college of London'. However, she came from a family of artists, her father was a marine painter named John Drummond, her brother was the well-known neo-classical and genre painter Arthur Drummond (1871 - 1951), and, according to one Whyte museum source, a sister, who lived for a time in Banff, was also an artist. In Canada, Drummond-Davies taught painting one day a week at the high school in Banff. Her most well-known student was Peter Whyte (see AskART) the future co-founder (with his wife Catharine) of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. (5)(6)

Excerpt: "Not surprisingly, Peter's favourite subject in school was art. One of his first art teachers was Nora Drummond-Davis [sic]. Nora was an eccentric woman who lived with 11 dogs and hordes of cats in a tiny cabin on the outskirts of Banff. She made her living illustrating postcards and painting wildlife and nature canvases that were displayed in some of Banff's hotels and businesses. Each week she would mount her horse and ride to the Banff school. Even though the other students thought Ms. Drummond-Davis smelled like her animals, Peter eagerly sat close to his teacher as she guided his natural talent." (7)(8)

Drummond-Davies exhibited with the Island Arts and Crafts Society* of Victoria between 1925 and 1932.

Her works are in the collection of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies (Banff, Alberta) and the New York Public Library (New York City); however, although clearly signed N. Drummond, the NYPL piece is currently (2013) mis-attributed to her brother Arthur Drummond.
(1) While she lived in Banff her husband - Davies? - apparently visited her once, briefly, and then returned to England. However, he did live with her for several years in Goldstream. Source: Whyte Museum Archives.

(2) The context of the statement is an October 1932 letter to Nan Cheney in which Carr proposed turning her Victoria home into an art gallery where local artists such as her, Drummond-Davies and others could exhibit their work. Epithets are not unusual for Carr, almost no one was spared: she referred to ardent early supporter Harold Mortimer-Lamb (see AskART) as an "Old Swine" and an "ear-wig" and to famous artist, friend and admirer Jack Shadbolt (see AskART) as "a goof-nit-wit". As for the tabby reference, most of the stories about Norah Drummond's life in Banff (see above) include a mention of her numerous cats and Airedale dogs. Source: Dear Nan: Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney, and Humphrey Toms (1990), edited by Doreen Walker (see AskART book references).

(3) Please note: The details of her life before arriving in Canada are sketchy, most of our sources about her life in Banff are loaded with anecdotes about her cats, dogs, very large horse, cabin, stone fireplace (a local landmark), rugged lifestyle, her taste for hand rolled cigarettes and over-proof rum, and the massive mural size canvases she painted for commercial establishments; little is said of her background. One exception is the Charlotte Gordon article, discussed in footnotes 5 and 6, which appears to be based on a contemporary interview with Drummond-Davies when she lived in Banff. Also, while most sources say she arrived in Canada from London, England, including Gordon, there are only two that mention a birth place; both are unsigned and undated, biographies in the archives of the Whyte Museum. One begins with "Born in Cork, Ireland?" the other includes the line "? born in Ireland of a family of fourteen."

Another article in the Whyte archives titled "Characters of the Rockies" from the Kicking Horse News dated "New Year 1970", describes her as an "Irishwoman". None of the listed books give a place of birth, and both Early Painters and Engravers in Canada and The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction do not mention immigration at all, they only say she was working in Alberta in the 1880s (?) and afterwards in B.C. For these reasons, there is not as much confidence in any information about this artist's life before 1916 as there is in the information about her life after 1916. (M.D. Silverbrooke)

(4) When she first arrived on Vancouver Island she lived briefly in the community of Deep Cove, which is about 20 miles north of Victoria. Source: Whyte Museum Archives.

(5) The source for: the veterinary college of London, the father being J. (John) Drummond and her brother being artist A. (Arthur) Drummond is an article, by Charlotte Gordon, which appears to be based on a first-hand interview with the artist while she was living in Banff. The full names of the father and brother are derived from the line in the article which reads "... the sister of A. Drummond, whose picture, His Majesty the Baby, is of world-wide fame...." His Majesty the Baby is indeed a famous painting by Arthur Drummond whose father is noted as John Drummond. Source: Whyte Museum Archives.

(6) Interestingly, the author of the article, mentioned above, Charlotte Gordon, wrote a novel in 1928 in which one of the characters appears to be partly based on her interview with Drummond-Davies: the character - Catharine Fleming - is an English artist who lives alone in a rustic cabin in the woods, who came to the west to study and paint the animals, and who in preparation had taken "a course in animal anatomy at the veterinary collage of London". Source: Redgold: A True Story of an Englishwoman's Development in the West (1928), by Charlotte Gordon (see AskART book references or read online at

(7) Please note: Since, a woman being permitted to attend veterinary college in the early 20th century, or before, seemed very advanced for the time we contacted the Royal Veterinary College, London to check it out. Hannah Murray of the RVC press office asked the Veterinary History Society to look into it; they sent the following reply:

'[Sir John] McFadyean was Principal [RVC] from 1894 - 1927, he did not like the idea of women students and I would be certain that he would not have allowed Norah D in on any type of course. [Sir Frederick] Hobday became Principal in 1927 and encouraged women students with the first being in 1927.  All of this is a long time after she [Norah Drummond] had left the UK.  However I find that John Wortley Axe [1841 - 1909], was appointed as Assistant Professor, Demonstrator of Anatomy of Domestic Animals in 1870; he also conducted what were described as 'flourishing private classes'....  My only suggestion is that Norah D was a pupil at one of Axe's classes, as he was associated with the College, in her recollection she could easily have regarded the classes as part of the College as all the other pupils were most probably RVC students.'

(8) Source: Romance in the Rockies: The Life and Adventures of Catharine and Peter Whyte (2003), by Kim Mayberry (see AskART book references).

(9) Please note: There are a few variations of this artist's name; they include Nora Drummond, Nora Drummond-Davies, Nora Drummond-Davis and Norah Drummond-Davis. The Canadian Heritage Information Network*, The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction, and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies refer to her as Nora Drummond-Davies. She usually signed her paintings "N. Drummond". The inscription on her tombstone reads "Norah Drummond-Davies 1862 - 1949  A Great Artist and Staunch Friend  R.I.P." Source: Photo of her tombstone in the collection of the Whyte Museum Archives.
Bow Lake: Wellspring of Art (2010), by Jane Lytton Gooch (see AskART book references)

Romance in the Rockies: The Life and Adventures of Catharine and Peter Whyte (2003), by Kim Mayberry (see AskART book references)

Biographical Index of Artists in Canada (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references)

The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references)

Dear Nan: Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney, and Humphrey Toms (1990), edited by Doreen Walker (see AskART book references)

A Dictionary of Folk Artists in Canada from the 17th Century to the Present (1988), by Blake McKendry (see AskART book references)

Dictionary of Women Artists: An International Dictionary of Women Artists Born before 1900 (1985), by Chris Petteys (see AskART book references)

Banff, Canada's First National Park: A History and a Memory of Rocky Mountains Park (1975), by Eleanor G. Luxton (see AskART book references)

Early Painters and Engravers in Canada (1970), by J. Russell Harper (see AskART book references)

Redgold: A True Story of an Englishwoman's Development in the West (1928), by Charlotte Gordon (see AskART book references)

Canadian Heritage Information Network*

Lena Goon, Reference Archivist, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Alberta

Cheryl Siegel, Librarian/Archivist, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, B.C.

New York Public Library website
A special thank you to Lena Goon and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies for very kindly sharing the material the Whyte has on Norah Drummond-Davies. This includes several newspaper stories dating from the time the artist lived in Banff and afterwards, biographies and photos. They are very important sources for this biography.
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Written and submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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