1080 Keewatin St,
Thunder Bay, ON, P7B 6T7

spotlight exhibition

Ruth Tye McKenzie (1929 – 2023) was a beloved artist in Thunder Bay. Born in Edmonton, Alberta, she moved to Thunder Bay in 1976. She loved the northern Ontario landscape and captured it in paintings, etchings, and mixed media works. Ruth is known for her lively sketches, portraits, and figure drawings. There is a sense of blitheness, wit, and a touch of risqué in her work. She created her own genre that blended landscape and the female nude, a term she coined ‘Nudescape.’ In 1983 she opened the Painted Turtle Art Shop which remains at the centre of artistic activity in town. Her collection of turtles, a whimsical fixture in her art shop, is on public view for the first time.


This exhibition honours Ruth’s creative spirit and passion for art. Many of these works are on loan from Ruth’s friends as well as from people who purchased original pieces directly from the artist at her studio sales, and from Lakehead University. While she exhibited her paintings across Canada, including a retrospective at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery in 2003, her work comes alive as part of the swirl of daily life in this community. Of Thunder Bay Ruth was quoted as saying “It’s a nice place to live but most of all, I enjoy the people.”


Included in this exhibition is ephemera from the Ruth Tye McKenzie fonds at the Lakehead University Archives. These records document her life as an exhibiting artist and reflect her career in business as owner of the Painted Turtle Art Shop.  On view are a selection of her sketchbooks, business records, personal papers, and more that date from her art student days in the 50s to the present day.


Debbie, nd, acrylic on canvas. Lakehead University Art Collection and Alumni Association.


Untitled, nd, scrylic on canvas. Lakehead University Art Collection and Alumni Association.

“To paint is my passion and life around me is my inspiration. The forms found in nature on the grand scale in Northwestern Ontario relate beautifully to the forms in the human body.”

Ruth Tye McKenzie