Franklin Arbuckle, RCA, 1909-2001

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Franklin Arbuckle was a sucessful illustrator
and painter whose career spanned 60 years


Canadian artist George Franklin Arbuckle was born in Toronto in February 1909.

He attended the Ontario College of Art, studying under J.W. Beatty, J.E.H. MacDonald, F.S. Challenger, C.W. Jeffreys and Fred Haines.

It was at the College that Arbuckle met fellow student Frances-Anne Johnston, the daughter of original Group of Seven member Franz Johnston. The couple married in 1934.

When he graduated in the midst of the Great Depression Franklin Arbuckle was fortunate to be able to earn a living from art-related activities. He taught at the Northern Vocational School, took classes at Franz Johnston’s summer Art School at Georgian Bay, sold paintings and worked as a commercial artist. “Somehow I always managed to make a go of it,” he said many years later.

Early on, he worked for an engraving company in Ottawa and Montreal, and also built a reputation and portfolio for his freelance illustration work.

Franklin Arbuckle had his first solo show of his paintings at the Art Gallery of Toronto (later the Art Gallery of Ontario) in 1940.

Illustrated Maclean’s Magazine

Franklin Arbuckle’s paintings were selected to appear as covers of Maclean’s magazine. He travelled frequently across Canada, depicting people in various aspects of daily life. His Maclean’s covers included a scene from a Toronto Maple Leafs – Montreal Canadiens hockey game, a worker on an oil rig, and a farm scene.

Franklin Arbuckle also taught at the Ontario College of Art.

He also illustrated a number of books on historical themes including Great Canadians (1967) and They Shared to Survive, The Native People of Canada (1975).

Franklin Arbuckle remained industrious, illustrating historical themes for major Canadian corporations including Labatts Brewery, Hudson’s Bay, Dow Chemicals and Seagram’s. He also painted large murals, including one for Hamilton City Hall and an Ontario government building in Toronto.

Hamilton City Hall Mural

The 17 X 32 foot mural inside Hamilton City Hall, painted in 1962, depicts scenes from life in Hamilton, as well as flowers. “I’ve tried to paint it in such a way that it will age with the building, so that years from now, it will still be fresh and will still have something to say about Hamilton and something to say about its people,” Arbuckle said in a 1962 newspaper article.

Franklin Arbuckle was invited to contribute to the Sampson-Matthews Ltd. Silkscreen project, creating two works: Shipping Paper (1947) and Western Hemlock (1950).

The artist also designed several large scale tapestries, including for the Royal Bank’s Toronto headquarters. Franklin Arbuckle supervised the weaving of the tapestries, which were wove in Aubusson, France.

Throughout his career, Franklin Arbuckle was active in Canadian artist societies, frequently exhibiting with the Royal Canadian Academy (RCA). He was elected as an associate member in 1936 and as a full member in 1945, and he later served as RCA president from 1960-1964.

Frances-Anne Johnston passed away in 1987, and Franklin Arbuckle died in September 2001; the couple had two daughters.

Franklin Arbuckle’s paintings are held in numerous public, corporate and private collections, including the National Gallery of Canadian and Art Gallery of Ontario.

Sources:  A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker. National Gallery of Canada, Artists in Canada database. Mural that Mirrors a City, Ottawa Citizen, January 27, 1962, Retrieved online.