Phoebe Watson | 1858 - 1947

Artist, Poet, Curator and Supportive Sister 

Born June 1, 1858, Phoebe Watson was the younger sister of Homer Watson.  Like her brother, Phoebe was also an artist. Homer and Phoebe were very close siblings and supported each other both personally and professionally.  

At the age of fourteen, Phoebe accepted a job as a clerk at the local mill to help support her widowed mother. Phoebe’s new income helped support the family and allow Homer to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. Over time, she would share in her brother’s love for the arts.  She eventually pursued formal training and was taught by Scottish-born painter William Cruickshank, although unconfirmed, this education likely took place at the Ontario School of Art.  Cruickshank later taught Canadian landscape artist, Tom Thomson.  

Phoebe Watson experimented with many artforms including oil portraits and watercolour landscapes, though she was most famous for her painted pottery. In 1897, she was one of sixteen female Canadian artists chosen to contribute pieces to the Canadian Historical Dinner Service, celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of John Cabot to Canada. Phoebe painted twelve soup bowls depicting Canadian scenes. The pieces were featured in a travelling art show and were shown across Canada. They are now part of the collection at the National Trust for Scotland. 

After Homer gained success as an artist, he purchased a house in Galt (Cambridge, ON) for Phoebe and their mother to live in.  In Galt, Phoebe opened and operated an art store where she sold her painted porcelain, watercolour paintings and taught art lessons.  She also taught out of her cottage in Oliphant, ON. An influential and loved teacher, she offered lessons in oil, watercolour, and china painting, sharing her knowledge and experience with up-and-coming artists. 

In 1918, Homer’s wife, Roxanna, passed away. Always a supportive sister, Phoebe moved in with Homer to help look after the house and care for his adopted daughter, Mary. Phoebe continued to teach art lessons and create her own art from the Homer Watson House. When Phoebe was not painting, she would spend her time developing gardens on the property or hosting Sunday teas, parties, and various charitable fundraising events.  

After Homer Watson’s death in 1936, Phoebe continued to live in the house and act as Curator of her brother’s gallery. Described as charming and well-liked, Phoebe was a fixture at the gallery for many years, providing insight into her brother’s work and occasionally talking about her own artistic endeavours. She faithfully maintained the gallery until her death on October 22, 1947. It is due to her devotion to her brother’s legacy that the gallery exists today. 

After Phoebe’s death in 1948, Ross and Bess Hamilton took over the mortgage and management of the estate. The Hamiltons opened the Doon School of Fine Arts continuing the legacy of the house as a home for the arts. 

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The Loch Doon area was memorialized in celebrated Scottish poet, Robert Burns piece “Ye banks and braes O’ bonnie Doon”

Ye banks and braes o’ bonny Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu’ o’ care?
Thou’lt break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro’ the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o’ departed joys,
Departed, never to return.

Aft hae I rov’d by bonnie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine twine;
And ilka bird sang o’ its love,
And fondly sae did I o’ mine.
Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose,
Fu’ sweet upon its thorny tree;
And my fause lover stole my rose,
But, ah! he left the thorn wi’ me.

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