Pearl Litwin is as gracious as she is charming, welcoming the Dolce team into her lovely home on a rainy summer afternoon, where we gathered to interview her and take some photos. With five one-woman shows under her belt, she is an artist and an avid art collector, a philanthropist and a person who loves her family and friends dearly. We wanted to talk about her, but for Pearl, it’s all about the art.
It’s important to foster a child’s passion. Let’s say she likes art, for example. If she’s encouraged, she may develop a love of the craft that may someday allow her to realize her infinite potential, to live her dream. That’s exactly what happened with Pearl Litwin, who grew up to be a respected artist, a sophisticated collector and a philanthropist with a beautiful spirit. “I’ve always taken art lessons my whole life,” she says. “But I never really thought in terms of any kind of career — it didn’t even occur to me.”
Truly an artist in every sense of the word, Pearl saw a beautiful piece she wanted to buy at an art gallery in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood when she was just married, at 19 years old. She took her husband, Louis, to see it. “It was the most wonderful gallery, and I was so excited about it,” she says. “I took my husband to see it and I told him, ‘I really want this.’” He asked her if she was crazy, adding that they didn’t even have a washing machine. So they didn’t buy it. “That was a lesson for me; I never asked him again,” she laughs. “But he trusted me,” she says simply.
“I WAS VERY FORTUNATE, [AND] YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE RIGHT GALLERY — THE GALLERY CAN MAKE YOU OR BREAK YOU”
As for her own artistic career, Pearl eventually turned to sculpting and grew to love this art form most of all. In fact, she says she has designer Brian Gluckstein to thank for kicking it off. Gluckstein was doing some work for Pearl at her home and noticed a sculpture in her library. He asked who the artist was. Well, she told him, it was none other than herself. He wanted to buy it. Pearl ignored him. But about a month later, she ran into him again at a party, and he still wanted to buy it. A sale was made, and Gluckstein prominently displayed his new acquisition on his dining room table. Time went by, and Gluckstein hosted a charitable event at his home. “There were a lot of people there, and they saw the sculpture,” says Pearl. “They asked the name of the artist. And he said, ‘It’s a Litwin,’” she laughs.
“That was really the beginning of my art career, and I enjoyed it very much,” says Pearl. In fact, she has enjoyed four one-woman shows at Gallery One in Yorkville. “I was very fortunate, [and] you have to have the right gallery — the gallery can make you or break you,” says Pearl. Now, she’s represented by Abbozzo Gallery, where she held a solo show in 2015.
“IF I HAD A WISH, I WOULD WISH THAT MY CHILDREN HAVE AS GOOD A LIFE AS I HAVE HAD”
“While visiting Pearl Litwin’s home to discuss her upcoming solo exhibit at the Abbozzo Gallery, the first thing that caught my attention was the beautiful sculpture of horses displayed on her dining room table,” wrote Ineke Zigrossi, director and founder of Abbozzo Gallery. “I am confident that you will find in Pearl Litwin’s new series of work, a sculpture that will be a unique and essential addition to your collection.”
It’s no secret that the art world has changed. “Art is very different today,” says Pearl. “In the ’50s and ’60s, it was a very interesting time to collect art because the time was one of innovation and creativity: the art scene at that time was changing, and artists were experimenting.” The sizes of canvases were getting bigger, artists were deliberately splashing paint onto canvases and there were even printed words on canvas sometimes, she adds. “It was just a whole new world, and it could blow your mind,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “We just accept everything today, but it wasn’t like that in those days. It was an exciting world — and it was wonderful to be part of that.” And she reminds us how important it is to keep an open mind, “because there was a time when photography wasn’t even accepted as art, and now it’s an art form.”
One of Pearl’s favourite artists is Helen Frankenthaler. Although Frankenthaler worked in an environment dominated by men, she was able to carve out respect, with her work speaking for itself. “I have a number of Frankenthalers,” says Pearl. “And when I bought her work, I never thought of this, but in those days, there was a ‘canvas ceiling.’ And it was very difficult for women to be accepted on par with male artists.” Gratefully, says Pearl, she herself never had an issue with that, never found that to be a challenge.
As generous as she is kind, Pearl is a philanthropist, as was her husband. And that, too, is bred in the bone. Before they were married, Louis worked at his father’s paint store, St. Clair Paint and Wallpaper on (where else?) St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto. When he married Pearl, he went to work for her father, who owned a chain of small general stores. Then, when Louis’s father died, he rejoined the family’s business, and using the smarts he gained from working for his father in-law, he opened up another store in partnership with Sid Gladstone, his brother-in-law. The expansion really took off when they opened up a store in Yorkdale Shopping Centre, turning it from just a paint store into a successful home decorating store. Eventually operating all over Canada, they opened 440 outlets, with several paint and wallpaper stores in the United States and a wallpaper factory in Lancashire, England.
Louis knew how important it was to give back, volunteering his time and financially supporting organizations important to both of them. “My husband was on the board of [Toronto’s] Mount Sinai Hospital,” says Pearl. “But I remember this, going back a lot of years, when I was only a child, when my father and his brother donated a wing to the first Mount Sinai Hospital, when the original site was in Yorkville,” she says. Pearl has done a lot of community work herself, taking on roles such as vice-president of the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada and vice-president of the Canadian Opera Company. Most recently, she opened her doors for the Yogen Früz Brain Project to raise funds for brain health, as well as research on dementia and aging at Baycrest. Guests were able to tour the private art collections at the Four Seasons Hotel, and Pearl was happy to be one of the hosts.
Recently, Pearl’s life has changed. After being married for 67 years, her husband passed away last year. She’s learned to adjust to life without him with the help of family and friends. “I’m very fortunate. I think, first of all, I must say this: I have good children — three kids, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren,” she says. “And I have good friends — that certainly helps,” she adds.
And if she had a wish? “If I had a wish, I would wish that my children have as good a life as I have had,” she says. “Because I have a very good life. I had a wonderful husband and a long marriage, and I have wonderful children.”