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WATKINS, Margaret

Hamilton, Ontario, 1884
Glasgow, Scotland, 1969
Biography synopsis
Margaret (Meta Gladys) Watkins was born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1884 to Frederick Watkins and Marion Watt Anderson. Some sources report that Watkins began studying photography in 1900 under the tutelage of an uncle (this has never been proven). She left Canada in 1908 to pursue her career. In 1914 Watkins began studying at the Clarence White School of Photography in Maine and went on to teach at the school between 1916 and 1928, instructing photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, Laura Gilpin, Paul Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner and Doris Ulmann. Along with teaching she also had her own portrait studio in Greenwich Village. Watkins' work bridges the gap between Pictorialism and Modernism and helped to incorporate a modernist aesthetic in advertising. Watkins was a successful commercial photographer and was one of the first women to work freelance at a number of major advertising agencies, working for both the Fairfax and the J. Walter Thompson agencies, as well as Macy’s Department Store. In 1920 she became a member of Pictorial Photographers of America and was vice-president of the organization in 1926 and 1927. She also exhibited at the Pictorial Photographers of America International Salon in 1925. In 1928 Watkins left for a two month Grand Tour visiting Europe, the Soviet Union and Scotland, where she remained until her death, abandoning her photography career in New York. After her death in 1969 the executor of Watkins’ will, her neighbour Joseph Mulholland, discovered hundreds of photographs in her home in Glasgow. This discovery led to numerous solo shows in both the United Kingdom and North America. Her work can be found in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.
Media used
Clarence H White School of Photography, 1914 - 1916 (under Holland Day, Max Webber, Clarence H White)
Pictorial Photographers of America, Vice-President, 1926-1927
Glasgow and West of Scotland Photographic Association
Art Center, New York City, Member of the Board of Directors
Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain
File & Archive locations
Art Gallery of Ontario - Edward P. Taylor Research Library and Archives
Winnipeg Art Gallery, MA - Clara Lander Library
Amon Carter Museum, TX
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, DC
Canadian Women Artists History Initiative Documentation Centre, QC
McMaster University, ON - Mills Memorial Library
Library and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, ON
Museum of Modern Art, NY
National Gallery of Canada, ON - Library and Archives

Writings about
Black Light: Margaret Watkins. Madrid: diChromA Photography, 2021
"Photography Comes into the Kitchen: A Group of Photographs by Margaret Watkins Showing Modernist, or Cubist, Patterns in Composition." Vanity Fair Oct. 1921, 60
Baele, Nancy. "An Unknown Shares Gallery Spotlight with a Star." Ottawa Citizen 6 Mar. 1991: D12
Barnes, Lucinda, Constance W. Glenn and Jane K. Bledsoe. A Collective Vision: Clarence H. White and his Students. Long Beach, California: California State University Art Museum, 1985
Bassnett, Sarah and S. Bassnett. Photography in Canada, 1839 to 1989 Toronto, On.: Art Canada Institute, 2023
Borcoman, James. Magicians of Light: Photographs from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1993
Borcoman, James. Magiciens de la lumière: Photographies de la collection du Musée des beaux-arts du Canada. Ottawa: Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, 1993
Boutilier, Alicia & Tobi Bruce. The Artist Herself : Self-portraits by Canadian Historical Women Artists / L'artiste elle-même : autoportraits de femmes artistes au Canada. Kingston, ONT.: Agnes Etherinton Art Centre. Hamilton: Art Gallery Hamilton, 2015
Boxer, Sarah. "Growing into a Tree and Other Excesses." New York Times 29 Nov. 1996: 28
Bruce, Tobi. "Regional Translation: Some Hamilton Pictorialists." Lumina: Approaching a New Photographic Aesthetic Hamilton, Ontario: Art Gallery of Hamilton, 2000
Fulton, Marianne, ed.. Pictorialism into Modernism: The Clarence H. White School of Photography. New York: Rizzoli, 1996
Holliday, Taylor. "A Place of their Own in Photo History." Wall Street Journal 31 Dec. 1996: A, 5:1
MacDonald, Colin S. The Dictionary of Canadian Artists. (Volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker) Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2009.
McCulloch, Martha. Margaret Watkins, 1884 - 1969: Photographs. Glasgow: Street Level Photography Gallery and Workshop, 1994
Michaels, Barbara L. "Pattern vs. Passion: The legacy of the Clarence H. White School of Photography." Afterimage 24 (Nov.-Dec. 1996): 7-11
Milroy, Sarah, editor. Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Movement. Vancouver: Figure 1, 2021
Mulholland, Joseph. Margaret Watkins (1884 - 1969): Forgotten Woman. Glasgow: Hidden Lane Gallery, 2009
Mulholland, Joseph.. "Chance Request Leads to Discovery and Exhibit at Light Gallery." Photograph Collector 15 May 1984
Nelson, Andrea, et al. The New Woman Behind the Camera. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2021
Newlands, Anne. Canadian Art: From its Beginnings to 2000 Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2000
Novak, Mira. "Posoda v kuhinjskem koritu: fotografije Margaret Watkins." Delo 38.48 (28.II.1996): str. 8
O'Connor, Mary. Margaret Watkins: Life and Work Toronto, On.: Art Canada Institute, 2024
O'Connor, Mary. "The Objects of Modernism: Everyday Life in Women's Magazines, Gertrude Stein, and Margaret Watkins." American Modernism Across the Arts New York, New York: Lang Publication, 1999
O'Connor, Mary. From Amateur to Professional: The Advertising Photography of Margaret Watkins, 1924-28 Rethinking Professionalism: Women and Art in Canada, 1850-1970. Ed. Kristina Huneault, and Janice Anderson. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2012: 168-193
O'Connor, Mary. Margaret Watkins Lumina: approaching a New Photographic Aesthetic Hamilton, Ont.: Art Gallery of Hamilton, 2002
O'Connor, Mary and Katherine Tweedie. "Margaret Watkins, Photographer: Seduced by the Modern." Queen's Quarterly 115.2 (Summer 2008): 220-235
O'Connor, Mary Elizabeth and Katherine Tweedie. Seduced by Modernity: The Photography of Margaret Watkins. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007
Pauli, Lori. Margaret Watkins : Domestic Symphonies. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2012
Pauli, Lori. "Margaret Watkins: Making it Home." Studies in Photography 2001: 16-23
Rosenblum, Naomi. A History of Women Photographers. New York: Abbeville, 2000
Skidmore, Colleen. Rare Merit: Women in Photography in Canada, 1840-1940 Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press, 2022
Smither, Devon. “Defying Convention: The Female Nude in Canadian Painting and Photography during the Interwar Period.” vol. 32, no. 1, 2019, pp. 77–93 Journal of Historical Sociology 32.1 (2019): 77-93
Stauble, Katherine. "Margaret Watkins: Of Sight and Sound." Vernissage Magazine 14.4 (Fall 2012)
Sullivan, Constance, ed.. Women Photographers New York: Abrams, 1990
Thomas, Ann. Modernist Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2007
Thomas, Ann. Photographies modernistes du Musée des beaux-arts du Canada. Ottawa: Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, 2007
Tweedie, Katherine and Mary O’Connor. "Margaret Watkins Walking the Streets f Moscow, Paris, and Glasgow,." Modernisms, Inside & Out: The Fourth Conference of the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative, Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario and McMichael Collection, 30 Sep. - 2 Oc. 2021
Viau, René. "La modernité mise à nu." Vie des arts 216 (Aut. 2009): 34-36
Wawzonek, Donna. "A Quick Lesson in History of Photography." Ottawa Citizen 31 Mar. 1998: 3

Writings by
Watkins, Margaret. Margaret Watkins 1884-1969: Phototographs Glasgow, Scotland: Street Level Photography Gallery & Workshop, 1994
Watkins, Margaret. "Advertising and Photography." Pictorial Photography in America 4 (1926)
Watkins, Margaret. "Concerning the Pervasive Influence of Art." Boston Sunday Globe 6 June 1915
Watkins, Margaret. "How My Art Enriches Life." The Ground Glass: Bulletin of the Newark Camera Club 8 (Sep. 1926): 5
Watkins, Margaret. "The House I Love." Canadian Magazine 47.3 (1916): 199

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