Susan Ross

Photo of Susan Ross, courtesy of Sharon Irvine

Susan Andrina Ross (née Ruttan)

  • Date of Birth: Port Arthur, Ontario, June 3, 1915 
  • Date of Death: January 14, 2006
  • Accomplishments related to: Arts

Susan Ross has been a noted artist, especially through her paintings and intaglio prints for the decades from 1940 until 2000. Born in Port Arthur, the influence of the Northwestern Ontario landscape was deeply rooted in her. The First Nations people who lived on the land in the area always captured her interest, and it was their close relationship to the land she recognized. Through her paintings and intaglio prints she was also able to capture the traditional Aboriginal way of life.

After being educated in Port Arthur schools, she proceeded to study at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. While there, she met James Ross, a young lawyer whom she later married. They came back to Port Arthur to establish their home and raise their children. Later, James Ross was appointed Judge of the District Court of the District of Thunder Bay, and this privilege afforded Susan a freedom to pursue her career in art more extensively than was previously possible for her.

Her camping experiences at Whitefish Lake near Thunder Bay introduced her to the First Nation people harvesting wild rice there. This contact with First Nation people as well as her encounter with renowned Native Artist Norval Morrisseau initiated further friendships with the people of Gull Bay, Lake Nipigon, and Big Trout Lake. Her paintings from those areas capture the life on the land of Northern Ontario.

In the decades between 1960 and 1980, Susan Ross instructed herself in printmaking. This added skill, along with her new friendship with the noted author Sheila Burnford advanced a collaboration of producing illustrated books about the north. Together they obtained Canada Council Grants which allowed them to travel to the arctic regions of Canada, namely Pond Inlet, Coppermine, Holman Island, Cape Dorset, Pangnirtung and Rae Edzo. The nurses in this far flung area offered them not only accommodation at the nursing stations, but also introductions to the people of the land. Through these contacts, Susan Ross was able to observe the real life situations of the people rather than merely see a tourist view. The resulting friendships with the nurses continued for many years because of their mutual, genuine interest of the Indigenous people of the Arctic.

"Painting is a way of life," Susan said. She was always a generous advocate to Thunder Bay artists as she involved herself in their workshops and associations. During her many visits to the Arctic, as well as during her work the First Nations life in Northern Ontario, Susan Ross was able to create works of art which reflected not only the people through her portraiture, but, more importantly, her work reflected the people's intrinsic relationship to the land.

Susan Ross was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2001.

Her works can be found in the following collections: Art Gallery of Peterborough, Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Province of Ontario Art Collection, Robert McLaughlin Galley in Ottawa, Thunder Bay Historical Museum, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Tom Thompson Gallery in Owen Sound, The Winnipeg Art Gallery.

There are many private collections of her work as well.

Thank you to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, The Thunder Bay Museum, and Sharon Irvine for sharing this information.

Submitted by Susan E.B. Simonsen

Contact Us