The Lillian Malcove Biography Project

In 2005, Dawn Cain and Elisa Coish, former curator and curatorial assistant of the Malcove Collection, embarked on an independent research project about Dr. Lillian Malcove. The inspiration for the Lillian Malcove Biography Project came primarily from a box of Dr. Malcove’s personal effects that arrived at the university in the winter of 2004. It wasn’t immediately clear where the box had come from, so it was initially dubbed “the mystery box.” It was soon discovered that the materials had been sent from New York by Dr. Mary Mercer, a dear friend of Lillian Malcove who was then in her early 90s. She had been given the materials in the box when Lillian died. The contents were remarkable. They included Lillian’s photo albums, personal letters, newspaper clippings, invoices for artworks, her last appointment agenda, bits of textiles, and various other treasures. Such documents permit one to witness random moments of Lillian Malcove’s life, which she appears to have lived joyfully and well. After assessing and archiving this material it was clear something significant had to be done with it. The Lillian Malcove Biography Project was born.

In April 2006, an interview with Dr. Mary Mercer was filmed, setting in motion the first major component of the project, a documentary film about Lillian Malcove. Interviews with acquaintances, colleagues, and family members followed, and the process is ongoing. The project has been undertaken on a volunteer basis by Cain and Coish, with the support of the University of Toronto Art Centre and donations from several private individuals. The researchers expect to complete the film, a pictorial time line of Lillian Malcove’s life, and a short biographical text over the course of five years.