Happy 131st Birthday, Franklin Carmichael for May 4th, 2021. Fellow Orillians are on a quest to learn more about you.

Carmichael was a Renaissance man: husband, father, teacher, philosopher, artist in oil, watercolour and graphite, designer of book jackets, illustrator of books, expert at traditional printing methods, leading edge technician in mechanized printing, concert musician playing bassoon, cello and flute and founder of Canadian art movements.

Carmichael was also a teacher extraordinaire. A.J. Casson, a famous Canadian artist, credited Carmichael with teaching him everything he had ever learned about painting.

The Era


This article focuses on Carmichael’s tenure at Ontario College of Art from 1932 to 1945.

For 1933-1934, tuition was 82 dollars per year. The postal address was: “Grange Park, Grange Road, Toronto, Canada.”

An inspiring quotation on the cover page of the Prospectus is:

“The five colours, well applied, enlighten the world. – Old Chinese Proverb.”

Colour rendering is a keystone skill for artists. The five colours: red, yellow, blue, black and white, when combined variously, make all hues.


What did Carmichael do at Ontario College of Art?


Franklin Carmichael was Department Head of COMMERCIAL AND GRAPHIC ART from 1933-1934 through October 24, 1945, the date of his untimely death. He had finished a day of teaching and returned to his car when he died.

After J.E.H. MacDonald, former Head of Commercial and Graphic Art, passed away in 1932, aged 59, Carmichael began instructing at OCA. JEH MacDonald and Carmichael had known each other since Carmichael left Orillia to move to Toronto in 1911. They had been colleagues at graphic art and industrial design firms. Both were founding members of the Group of Seven.

Course Content in Commercial and Graphic Art


Frank Carmichael, O.S.A., as he is named in the Session Prospectus, was a technically proficient and artistically gifted teacher.

In Commercial and Graphic Art’s first year of study, students learned to draw styles of lettering and to do ‘elementary design,’ placing words and images on a page in a way to attract and please the eye.

“Instruction in standard letter styles with modern adaptations and varieties” was key content. It was a manual world then. Artists designed, drew and coloured each sign and poster by hand, and had to learn how to draw various fonts.

In second year, students created Graphic Design for “simple commercial problems.” Projects required that students apply “design principles to commercial advertising and graphic art.”

There were no .jpg files then. “Toward the end of the year the student is given instruction in the making of working drawings for simple Photo-engraving problems.” The era of clicking and dropping into a digital field was 60 years away.

Mechanical aptitude was needed for success in Third Year, to operate large drum printers.

“The projects are prepared in such a way that the student is gradually made familiar with the more difficult commercial art problems, not only in their advertising values but also for their successful reproduction by the various mechanical processes. A more detailed study of the principles of design as well as historical ornament is continued.”

Carmichael’s Additional Teaching Roles


As well as being Department Head for Graphic and Commercial Art, Carmichael instructed in the Department of Interior Decoration and Applied Design, headed by Gustav Hahn, RCA. Courses focused on understanding relationships between interior decorating and historical architectural styles.

Carmichael also taught courses in the Elementary Art and Teacher Training Department, crucial to getting visual art instruction into Ontario’s elementary and secondary schools. He also had instructed returned soldiers from World War One in various aspects of art.

Later, Carmichael would teach in the Department of Drawing and Painting at Ontario College of Art.

Carmichael remained at OCA as Department Head and Instructor until his unexpected death in 1945.


Acknowledgements and Thanks

Quotes included in this article are from the 1933-1934 OCA Session Prospectus.

Ref: OCA Prospectuses, Student Services, RG 10.3. OCAD U Archives, Toronto, Ontario.

Thanks to Jessica Zimmerman, MLIS, MA (Museology), BFA (Cum Laude), Archivist, Visual Resources & Special Collections, Dorothy H. Hoover Library Ontario College of Art and Design, who kindly pre-selected materials from the archive. I am grateful for Ms. Zimmerman’s help in identifying documents contemporary with Carmichael’s time at OCA. The materials paint a picture of Franklin Carmichael’s role as an educator as well as the character of OCA then.


If readers have information about Franklin Carmichael, his students, photos, anecdotes, OMAH is interested to learn more about his life.


By Janet Houston, OMAH Director and History Committee Member