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A celebration of art and family

Isabel Bader]
Isabel Bader speaks with the finalists of the inaugural Isabel Overton Bader Canadian Violin Competition, Lucy Wang, Katya Poplyansky, and Yolanda Bruno, at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

One of Queen’s most beloved benefactors, Isabel Overton Bader (LLD’07), visited the university in late April to take part in a series of special celebrations.

The visit was particularly significant in that a large number of the Overton family took part in the celebrations. Dr. Bader and her family members attended three significant events: the launch of Alfred Bader Collects: Celebrating Fifty Years of The Bader Collection; a celebration of Alfred Bader’s (BSc’45, BA’46, MSc’47, LLD’86) 93rd birthday; and the inaugural Isabel Overton Bader Canadian Violin Competition.

On April 28, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre held its Spring Season Launch with Alfred Bader Collects: Celebrating Fifty Years of The Bader Collection, marking the anniversary of Alfred Bader’s first gift to the Agnes in 1967 and painting a portrait of his enduring relationship with art, the Old Masters, and Queen’s.

Isabel Bader, along with several members of the Overton and Bader clans, enjoyed a special preview of the exhibition on Friday afternoon, ahead of the official opening, led by Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Bader Curator/Researcher of European Art and curator of the show.

“The Bader Collection is the greatest collection of early modern European art at any Canadian university, which is precisely what the Baders had envisioned for Queen’s,” Dr. Coutré says. “Its strength in Rembrandt and his circle reflects Alfred’s tastes in painting: Biblical subject matter, expressive faces and gestures, and stories that help man achieve a better understanding of himself.”

The works on view include early gifts as well as paintings more recently donated by Alfred and Isabel exhibited for the first time. This selection articulates Alfred’s activities as a collector and amateur art historian in a very personal way, highlighting his scholarly discoveries and the parameters of his taste.

As they moved through the collection, Dr. Coutre explained the paintings and the rationale for their inclusion in this special exhibition. Often, Isabel added to these explanations with additional anecdotes and personal stories about how a piece was acquired.

“Isabel shared wonderful stories of acquiring these paintings with Alfred and living with them over the years. It was very powerful to listen to those meaningful memories while looking at the paintings on the walls,” Dr. Coutré says.

The group then got a private tour of the Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress, which is stored in a climate-controlled basement vault at the Agnes. Earlier in the day, the family was treated to a presentation from Sophia Zweifel, the Isabel Bader Fellow in Textile Conservation and Research, and Gennifer Majors, the Isabel Bader Graduate Intern in Textile Conservation and Research. They presented select fashion items from the collection, which they have been investigating and treating as part of Ms. Zweifel’s research into the history and residues of cleaning practices in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Queen's Collection of Canadian Dress started in the 1930s as an assortment of costumes for the Queen’s drama department. When historical dresses began arriving, however, it was transformed into a museum collection. The collection now contains more than 2,000 items dating from the early 1800s to the 1970s.

In 2003, recognizing its historical and artistic significance, Isabel Bader provided a generous donation that funded rehousing of the collection, conservation treatment of key works, an exhibition, and a publication entitled, Beyond the Silhouette: Fashion and the Women of Historic Kingston, by M. Elaine MacKay.

Later, Dr. Bader and family were joined by Principal Daniel Woolf and his wife, Julie Gordon-Woolf, and a few close friends to celebrate Alfred’s 93rd birthday. Isabel received a personalized embroidered Queen’s blanket for him.

The highlight of the visit was the final round of competition of the inaugural Isabel Overton Bader Canadian Violin Competition. More than 20 members of the Bader and Overton families attended the Saturday evening performances of the three finalists.

“The Baders created the Isabel Overton Bader Canadian Violin Competition to inspire excellence and to provide exceptional young Canadian violinists with a great professional development opportunity,” says Tricia Baldwin, Director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.

Bader philanthropy has often targeted young aspiring artists and academics with the support they need to launch successful careers.

“By establishing our own competition here at Queen’s, we are able to foster Canada’s top talent and to provide substantial and much needed support to extraordinarily gifted young Canadian violinists who aspire to a concert career,” Ms. Baldwin adds.

The competition marked the final phase of a year-long calendar of activities that began with the month-long Bader and Overton International Violin Festival. The festival featured a variety of violin genres and attracted some of the very best violinists from the around the world including Pinchas Zukerman, Ashley MacIsaac, and Midori.

Isabel Bader’s extended family gathered primarily to pay tribute to Marion Overton, Isabel’s older sister and namesake of the Marion Overton Dick Memorial Violin Prize.  The prize is awarded to the winner of the competition. Marion was a lifelong violinist and music lover, and the Baders and Overtons established the competition in her memory.

“The Baders have championed excellence throughout their lives, and to see the reaction of the Bader and Overton families to the calibre of performances by the competition’s artists was wonderful.  We all knew it was one of those special moments in life that these young people would treasure forever,” Ms. Baldwin says. “Isabel Bader was so kind-hearted and encouraging of these young violinists – they were just beaming when she talked with them.”

Members of the Overton and Bader families made the final award presentations once the jury had made their decision. Isabel Bader presented the Marion Overton Dick Memorial Violin Prize for $20,000 to Yolanda Bruno. Isabel’s brother, Clifford Overton (Arts’53) awarded the second prize, the Clifford Overton Prize for $4,000 to Katya Poplyansky. Marion’s daughters, Marg Foster (NSc’76) and Heather Dick (Artsci’77) presented the third prize, the Marg Foster and Heather Dick Prize for $2,000 to Lucy Wang. Grand Prize winner Yolanda Bruno also won the Bader Family Audience Prize for $1,000, presented by Daniel Bader.

Dr. Bader closed the day’s events by sharing the story of her sister’s love of the violin and dedicating the competition to her, saying, “My sister Marion played the violin, not as a professional but it was a great love of her life.”

Saturday’s events also included some smaller but no less significant delights. Through the day’s performances, Isabel sat with Susan Solomon (Artsci’17) – the first recipient of the Principal Wallace Freedom of Opportunity Award. The award, established by Alfred and Isabel Bader, aims to support refugee applicants to Queen's. Ms. Solomon and the Baders have stayed in close contact during her time at Queen’s.