Honorary degree citation - Irène Sénécal*
By: Leah Sherman, June 1978
Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, Irène Sénécal.
It was in 1949, at a conference of the Committee in Art Education in New York that I first met Irène Sénécal. The conference brought together a small group of dedicated artists, teachers and students who believed in the value of art in education and the importance of developing creativity. Amongst them were names now internationally recognized - Fred Logan, Ken Beittel, Irving Kaufman, Victor d'Amico, Viktor Lowenfeld and Edwin Zeigfield.
Publications were scarce, a few books by the early authors such as d'Amico, de Francesco and Lowenfeld were indicative of a future body of knowledge which was to become the basis of new discipline, the discipline of art education. Herbert Read's "Education through Art" was known to a handful of Canadian teachers of art - Arthur Lismer, Anne Savage, Alfred Pinsky, Charles Gaitskell, Irène Sénécal and a few others. They were pioneers in the true sense of the word - breaking new ground, working in uncharted territory and sowing the seeds of future development.
Irène Sénécal received her artistic training at the Ecole des Beaux arts in Montréal between 1925 and 1929. She began her teaching career at the Montréal Catholic School Commission in 1930 as a traditional "drawing teacher". She soon sensed in the children she taught a natural creative urge which was not being met by existing pedagogical methods and began experimenting with new approaches and materials, encouraging children to draw and paint freely about the themes that were part of their lives. When she came upon the writings of Viktor Lowenfeld, she recognized the ideas which she had intuitively arrived at, formulated into a theory of art education.
In 1958 she began to teach future teachers at the Ecole des Beaux arts. She developed a programme based on the belief that teachers of art should be prepared both as artists and as pedogogues and themselves have gone through the different stages of artistic development in order to understand and foster the process in others. She was suspicious about putting theory before practice and insisted that her teachers learn with and through the children, arriving at their pedagogical concepts through personal experience.
There she inspired teachers who were to be instrumental in the dramatic developments and changes which have occurred in the schools of French Québec. Amongst them were Louise Vidal, Manique Brière, Hélène Gagné, Paul Wilson and Fernand Guillerie.
Her ideas are as fresh today as they were thirty years ago. We have developed a body of literature and many theories, but our practices have yet to improve significantly over those intuitively and creatively arrived at by Irène. It is fitting that we honour Irène Sénécal here tonight, for art education at Concordia has been enriched by the contribution of her students, who have come to our graduate programmes. Through them her presence continues to be felt. Her philosophy has become a part of our common heritage.
Mr. Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you, on behalf of the University Council, and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Irène Sénécal, that you may confer on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Monsieur le Chancellier, j'ai l'honneur de vous présenter, au nom du Conseil de l'université, et avec l'autorité du Conseil d'administration, Irène Sénécal, pour que vous lui confériez le Doctorat en droit, honoris causa.