Fonds Acc5027 - Erica Rutherford fonds

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Title proper

Erica Rutherford fonds

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  • Multiple media

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on provenance of the fonds

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Reference code

CA PCA Acc5027

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • [ca. 1930S]-2005; Copied 2009 (Creation)
    Rutherford, Erica

Physical description area

Physical description

3.24 m of textual records and other material

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Name of creator

Rutherford, Erica (1923-2008)

Biographical history

Erica Rutherford was born Eric Rutherford on 1 February 1923 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to David and Isabel Rutherford. The youngest of four children, Eric spent most of his childhood in England, moving with his mother Isabel and siblings to Portsmouth, England in 1928. He received his early education at St. Johns College in Southsea, England. In 1937 Eric left home to enter the Dartmouth Royal Naval College and spent a year as a cadet on the HMS "Conway" at Liverpool, England.

After leaving the Naval College in 1938, Eric began his acting career when he was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts at the age of 16. During the summer of 1939 Eric got his first theatre job. From 1939 to 1940, Eric worked as an actor around pre- and early-World War II London, England, including the Amersham Repertory, Northampton Repertory and Colchester Repertory. During the war, Eric continued acting and toured army camps in England with several productions.

In December 1942, Eric married Chloe Clough. The couple had a daughter, Gail Erika, born 1 February 1943. The couple legally separated in 1944 and divorced in 1949.

During this period, Eric began to formally develop his interest in art. In 1945 he studied drawing, sculpture, and theatre design at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. That same year he also studied historic costume design at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, as well as drawing and painting at l'Académie Julien in Paris, France. During this period, Eric was also working as a stage and set designer. He would design for more than thirty productions in England, including sets for productions of Theatre Royal, Windsor and Theatre Royal, York.

Following the end of the Second World War, Eric was employed as a Public Relations Officer for ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) with the British Occupation Army of the Rhine in Europe. This job took Eric to occupied Germany, Belgium, and Paris. After leaving the service, Eric continued his work in the theatre, both acting and designing sets.

Eric met South African artist Gloria Green in 1947. In early 1948, the couple went to Johannesburg, South Africa. Eric continued acting, joining the Reef Theatre in Johannesburg and starring in the Rank Organization children's film "The Mystery of the Snakeskin Belt". Eric and Gloria founded Warrior Films, an independent film company which made the first all-Black South African full-length musical film entitled "Jim Comes to Jo'burg", or "African Jim" as it was commonly called, in 1949. Eric served as producer and set designer for the film which received considerable critical acclaim. Originals of the film are held by the National Film Archive in London, England, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, New York, United States.

In April 1949 Eric and Gloria were married and returned to London for a short time. In late 1950 the couple returned to South Africa to partner with Gloria's brother and work the family farm. Between 1951 and 1952, Eric and Gloria developed a banana plantation and built a home, "Mission End", on the site of a former Roman Catholic mission. In addition to farming, Eric began to focus more on his painting during this period. Health issues took Gloria to Switzerland in 1953 and the couple would not see each other again. They divorced in 1955.

Following his divorce from Gloria, Eric married Laura de Borgreve in December 1955 and the pair returned to London. The marriage was brief and the couple separated in 1958 (officially divorcing in1966). Eric was commissioned for some sculpture work while in London and also starting restoring old paintings for W. Drown Picture Restorers. In 1959 he was commissioned to design and create puppet characters for the BBC production "The Telegoons", the television version of "The Goons Show".

In 1957 Eric opened "Erika", a boutique for women's casual wear in London, and in 1958 Olwyn Armstrong became a partner in the shop. As Eric concentrated more and more on his painting, Olwyn managed the boutique. Eric, however, remained heavily involved in buying for the store. Eric and
Olwyn operated the shop until 1959.

Eric met Australian-born artist Gail Turner in 1959 and the couple moved to Ibiza, Spain the same year. While living in Ibiza, Eric painted extensively and exhibited widely throughout Europe. This period marked the beginning of Eric receiving significant recognition for his artwork with a series of solo exhibits at London's Leicester Galleries. Eric and Gail returned to England in 1964. Eric began teaching painting at the West Surrey College of Art in Farnham, Surrey, England, but the couple soon returned to Ibiza. Their daughter Susana was born in Madrid on 17 August 1966.

Eric and his family returned to London in August 1967. When he was unable to find work in the local art schools, Eric moved to the United States and took a teaching position at the Louisville School of Art in Kentucky in 1968. Gail and Susana joined him shortly thereafter. By 1969, Eric was a visiting professor at West Virginia University and in 1971 he was appointed Associate Professor in the Art Department at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.

In 1970, Gail and Eric traveled to Canada and visited Prince Edward Island for the first time. They enjoyed their time on the Island so much that they purchased a summer home in Earnscliffe, PEI in 1972. They would later make PEI their permanent residence.

After suffering from what he would describe in his autobiography as gender dysphoria and struggling with his sexual identity for much of his adult life, Eric made the decision to begin the medical process which would eventually lead to transsexual surgery. Eric and Gail legally separated in January 1975 and that year Eric changed his name to Erica. In 1976, Erica underwent transsexual surgery in St. Louis, Missouri, to complete the physical transformation. Erica documents her struggles with gender identify as well as other aspects of her personal and professional life in "Nine Lives: The Autobiography of Erica Rutherford" which was published by Ragweed Press in 1993.

Following the surgery, Erica moved to Canada. She took temporary teaching positions at the University of Guelph and Sheridan College in Ontario before settling into life in Toronto, Ontario. She continued with her art, engaging primarily in painting and printmaking activities. She remained close with both Gail and Susana and was an active parent to her daughter throughout her life.

Erica made PEI her full-time residence in 1985 when she purchased a property in Pinette. In 1987 she and Gail converted a barn on the property into an art studio. They also ran an artists' retreat at their Pinette property.

Erica had an interest in writing for much of her life. After moving to PEI, she officially began her career as children's book illustrator with the publication of "The Owl and the Pussycat" in 1986. She wrote, illustrated, and published two humour books, "Yoga for Cats" and "Dance for Cats", in 1987 and 1988 respectively. In 1993 Erica published her most significant and personal work entitled "Nine Lives: The Autobiography of Erica Rutherford." In 1994 her children’s book "An Island Alphabet" was published.

During her long and active artistic career, Erica exhibited widely in England, Spain, South Africa, the United States, and Canada. Her work can be found in public, corporate, and private collections around the world. In 1992 her painting "Country Scene" was selected to be included in a series of stamps to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Canada. In 1999 Erica was admitted to the Royal Canadian Academy. She was also the recipient of the Father Adrien Arsenault Senior Arts Award (PEI) in 2001.

Erica had a powerful influence on the art community in Prince Edward Island. She played a key role in the formation of the Great George Street Gallery in Charlottetown. In 1990 and 1991, Erica organized a series of printmaking workshops with leading national artists Jan Winton, Otis Tamasauskas, and Anne Meredith Barry, at her printmaking studio to encourage printmaking on PEI. These activities eventually led to the formation of the PEI Printmakers Council. An active member and supporter of the local art community, Erica continued to paint and exhibit into her eighties. Her last show, "Enigmatic Whispers", was held at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown in 2006.

Erica Rutherford died 11 April 2008 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, at the age of 85.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The fonds consists of personal and business papers, correspondence, sketchbooks, writings, photographs, and other records belonging to Erica Rutherford (1923-2008). The records, which span the years ca. 1930s-2005, document Rutherford's various careers as an actor, set designer, director painter, printmaker, teacher, illustrator, and writer. The fonds also consists of personal papers which provide insight into the private life of an individual who struggled with gender identity from a young age, ultimately undergoing transsexual surgery to live her life as a woman. The fonds has been divided
into the following five series:

Series1: Art and artistic career
Series2: Theatre and film
Series3: Writing
Series4: Biographical sketches, exhibit lists, etc.
Series5: Personal papers, daybooks, photographs, etc.

Notes area


Original file titles have been maintained when available. Supplied file titles and supplementary information appears in square brackets.

Language of material

  • English

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General note

For preservation purposes, newspaper clippings and faxes have been photocopied and the originals discarded

Acc5027/Series1/Files 115 and 116 are located in oversize


Includes 367 photographs, 88 negatives, 5 contact strip sheets, 2 prints and 1 35 mm slide

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Language of description

  • English

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