Queen’s Remembers Isabel Bader
With her late husband Alfred (BSc’45, BA’46, MSc’47, LLD’86), Isabel Bader (LLD ’07), transformed Queen’s University in many ways, from its physical campus to the educational opportunities it offered its students.
“Queen’s was very fortunate to have been one of Isabel’s priorities,” says Principal Patrick Deane. “She was so proud to be able to support the new home for The Bader Collection and the revitalization of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, and until the end of her life maintained a fond and active interest in Bader College at Herstmonceux Castle, its community, and its promise.”
Isabel and Alfred Bader were known, as a couple, for their generosity to Queen’s, notably their donation of The Bader Collection (comprising more than 500 works of art, including four Rembrandt paintings), a castle in England, and a centre for the performing arts for Queen’s and Kingston. Together, as well, they endowed chairs and created numerous bursaries and awards at Queen’s to advance education and research.
Isabel Bader was a quiet, yet forceful, champion of the arts and of underrepresented voices. A teacher by training and passionate about theatre and music, she saw firsthand the power of support and the right tools to help students express themselves and discover their strengths. While a U of T grad herself, she adopted Queen’s as a second alma mater. She took great interest in meeting students on campus, both in Kingston and at Bader College in England, and in encouraging their artistic pursuits and professional development.
Principal Deane says, “To have known Isabel – in all her warmth, gentleness, wit, and acuity – I will number among the great privileges of my life. She was a gentle soul who delighted in seeing students thrive and discover their own potential through the arts. I will remember her as indomitably humane.”
Isabel Bader personally created a number of bursaries to help students in music, drama, and textile conservation to pursue their fields of study. She was keen to find ways to encourage talented students who wanted to explore their creativity, but who, like her, preferred to stay out of the spotlight. For instance, through the Herbert and Stella Overton Production Award, named after her parents, she enabled the recognition of third-year drama students who have made outstanding contributions specifically in “non-major” departmental production work. The Bader Musicians in Residence program at Bader College provides unique learning opportunities for students at Bader College.
In 2019, Dr. Bader supported the creation of the Isabel Bader Fellowship in Artifacts Conservation at Queen’s. This was followed, in 2020, with her gift to create the Bader Chair in Art Conservation. The chair will enable the Master of Art Conservation program at Queen’s – the only program of its kind in Canada – to add a new field of study – imaging science – to its curriculum. Norman Vorano, Head, Art History and Art Conservation, says, “Isabel was an indefatigable champion of the art conservation program and wanted to ensure that the program remains vibrant and relevant for generations to come. Her gifts reveal her deep understanding about the vital role art conservation serves in society to ensure our collective access to all human artistic achievement. She supported advanced research and training in art conservation, not only in areas that aligned with Alfred’s collecting priorities, but across all fields of material culture, notably in textiles and Indigenous arts—areas of great personal interest to her. Her transformative gifts have benefitted so many students and have clearly enhanced the program’s international impact.”
A great advocate of developing emerging artists, Dr. Bader supported the Bader and Overton Canadian Cello Competition and the Isabel Overton Bader Canadian Violin Competition to invest in the next generation of extraordinary Canadian musicians and to facilitate their individual personal and career development and national exposure.
“Isabel loved the performing arts and was always interested in new developments. This is a person who had an acutely curious mind and extensive knowledge of the arts. She delighted in talking with young artists and she insisted on artistic excellence and bringing in internationally acclaimed artists to the Isabel,” says Tricia Baldwin, Director, Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.
Alongside her profound interest in the preservation of cultural materials, Isabel Bader understood the role of the arts in the present day and their capacity to change lives. She supported the work of Sistema Kingston, a Queen’s-affiliated organization with the vision of giving underserved children the opportunity, through intensive music learning, to reach their full potential as individuals, musicians, and citizens. Her instinct for social justice found expression in support for Indigenous arts. Notably, she supported the inaugural Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts at Queen’s in 2019 through Bader Philanthropies, Inc., the family’s Milwaukee-based charitable foundation.
Retired Agnes Etherington Art Centre Director Jan Allen recalls, “Isabel was extremely thoughtful in her philanthropy, discerning where there was real need. From supporting digital initiatives to improve access to art collections or by advancing decolonization through celebration of Indigenous cultures, she understood how to effect sustained change.”
“She was especially excited about Indigenous programming,” says Baldwin. “This, for her, was a creative breath of fresh air that put the spotlight on tremendously talented Indigenous artists and art forms that had been so unjustly suppressed in the past. Both Isabel and Alfred Bader had the most beautiful converging interest in the arts and social justice. It is why they accomplished so much in their lifetimes in both fields.”
Most recently, Dr. Bader had been an advocate for the creation of an endowed Curatorship in Indigenous Arts and Culture at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. The Curatorship, sponsored through the Bader Philanthropies, Inc. Foundation, was envisaged to provide “exceptional opportunities” for dialogue between the Indigenous Art Collection and The Bader Collection at Agnes, says Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, who notes that no other university art museum in Canada allows for this reflection on the equality of relations between western and Indigenous visual art culture.
“The encouragement and support of Agnes and Queen’s continued leadership in the ongoing work of decolonization through this sector-leading position is unprecedented in Canada. Agnes is the only university-museum in this country to have such a position. The impact of what this curator will contribute, not only to research, exhibitions and collections care, but to the very future of Canadian art history is unknown, even to us,” she explains. “Investing in such a position in a permanent capacity builds trust between Queen’s and Indigenous communities and enables meaningful mentorship of Indigenous students, scholars and museum professionals. We are leading the way to transformative cultural change and the effects of this endowment will be felt for generations.”
Isabel Bader died Aug. 28 in Milwaukee. Predeceased in 2018 by her beloved husband, Alfred, and in 2015 by her sister Marion, Isabel Overton Bader is survived by her brother Clifford Overton (Arts’53), stepsons David and Daniel Bader, and extended family.
Isabel Overton Bader, LLD’07, studied history and languages at the University of Toronto. She taught for 28 years at a girls’ school in Bexhill-on-Sea, where she co-founded a drama school, the Thalia School of Elocution and Drama. She was particularly involved with making costumes for the school’s productions and became a gifted costume designer. In 1999, she donated some of her costume collection to Queen’s, where the pieces are still used for research and inspiration by students at the Dan School of Drama and Music.
At the same time, Isabel Bader was keenly aware of the importance of the conservation of, and access to, historical assets. She supported the work of the Queen’s University Archives and ensured that Alfred’s personal papers and memorabilia were safely housed there.
She also personally contributed greatly to the conservation and scholarly study of an important facet of Canadian social and women’s history, through the Queen's University Collection of Canadian Dress, housed at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. The collection holds clothing items from the 1790s to the 1970s. With her support, the Art Centre was able to re-house and conserve its historic collection, and research a number of its holdings. This research enabled costume specialists to study the garments as social and economic indicators of their periods.
Dr. Bader also sponsored both a research fellowship and internship in textile conservation and research at Queen’s, which links two of the university’s most unique resources: the Collection of Canadian Dress and the Master of Art Conservation Program, which offers Canada’s only graduate degree in conservation theory and treatment.
“Isabel Bader’s generous philanthropic and passionate support of Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress has been transformative, both for Agnes and for the field of textile research, presentation, and conservation on a global scale. This year we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the Isabel Bader Fellowship and Internship in Textile Arts and Conservation and reflect upon the enduring sector-defining legacy this program has had on a young generation of emerging scholars, researchers, and curators,” says Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. “These collections are integral to teaching and learning at Queen’s; they have enduring appeal for the public and media; they are disruptors of traditional art histories; and they are increasingly the focus of contemporary artistic practice. We are forever grateful for Isabel’s visionary and prescient perspective on the role historical collections can play in shaping our perspectives on the future.”
Note: This article orginally appeared in the Queen's Gazettte.