Foreword by Lewis Dobrin
My parents, Mitzi and Mel Dobrin, were a remarkable couple. Married 69 years, they were invariably together, be it on the golf course, tennis court or at their Laurentian retreat. While they both worked hard, they enjoyed life to the fullest – entertaining, travelling and involving themselves in community philanthropic endeavours. They were almost always on the go and had subscriptions to the OSM, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, and Opéra de Montréal. Being such different personalities, they made a great team. My father, an accountant by training, was organized, meticulous and handled all the details of the household. My mother concentrated on the big picture and was adventurous and gutsy. She dreamed big and he was happy to make those dreams come true! Without question, their greatest collaboration for over 50 years was collecting Canadian art. This was a passion that consumed much of their leisure time and which gave them immense pleasure. One didn’t have to hold the other back because they were both smitten.
My parents began collecting Canadian art in the early 1960s, an era when interest in Canadian art was minimal. They loved to learn and found eager mentors in Walter Klinkhoff and Max Stern and, to a lesser extent, Paul Kastel and Philip McCready. A highlight of any weekend was a visit to the Klinkhoff Gallery, Dominion Gallery or l’Art Français. From time to time, they went to Toronto on art expeditions and, on one occasion, to Vancouver just for a weekend with the specific objective of purchasing a stellar work of art with which they were delighted to return home. My parents were keenly aware of the great privilege of being first to view a magnificent work of art because truly great works rarely surface on the market. Blair Laing, though invariably warm and friendly to my parents, never availed them the opportunity of purchasing one of his treasured pieces by Morrice or MacDonald.
By the late 1960s, my parents became close friends with Walter and Trudy Klinkhoff. The two couples spent lots of time together at their Laurentian home and Florida apartment as well as on several opera trips to Salzburg. In time, we all came to know the three Klinkhoff children. We were greatly saddened by Walter’s untimely death and in the last five years of my mother’s life, she dined with Trudy every Thursday evening. My parents’ relationship with Max Stern was more formal and restrained. Nevertheless, he would visit our Town of Mont Royal home to advise us on our collection. He had encyclopedic knowledge and, over time, became less intimidating and seemed to enjoy mentoring my parents. How fortunate we were that this iconic figure found his way to Montreal. It is astonishing that Max Stern, who arrived in Canada a refugee in 1940 and was interned for almost two years as an enemy alien, rose to wealth and prominence and became the dean of the Canadian art scene. I find it remarkable that Dr. Stern never spoke of the Nazis having looted the art of his father’s Dusseldorf Gallery. It was Max Stern who introduced my family to the sculpture of Henry Moore, Alexander Archipenko, Jean Arp and Aristide Maillol.
As most of the artists they collected were no longer living, my parents did not befriend many artists with the exception of John Little and his wife Lorraine. I do remember my parents dining with Jean Paul Riopelle in the Laurentians who was, at that time, quite elderly and once, I accompanied my mother on a visit with Louis Muhlstock who I recall being quite eccentric as he had a monkey for a pet! Once, Edwin Holgate came to our home and my parents moved a lovely Holgate winter canvas, that ordinarily hung in their basement, to a place of honour in their living room for the occasion.
My parents instilled a love of art in their children and grandchildren. Without question, my parents’ lives were greatly enriched by their love affair with Canadian art.