Gina Godfrey: The Portrait of an Artist Giving the Gift of Life
Life is multifaceted, and for many of us, our passions propel our choices. For Gina Godfrey, her life has been influenced by her desire to help others and create art.
Passion for art can be distilled down to an appreciation of imagery. We like what we like for individual reasons. After all, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” It is this appreciation for imagery that set philanthropist, artist and gallery owner Gina Godfrey on an artistic path from an early age. At the age of only 11 months, and despite being unable to pronounce the word, she requested a pencil from her mother. “I’ve always felt I’ve had what I call ‘eidetic imagery,’” says Godfrey in a sit-down interview with Dolce. “I can recall things that I see and that I hear. My mind is wired to see things people don’t see, and my process is to never stop learning. Anything I’ve actually learned in life, I’ve managed to keep and build on, and I think that’s why my art evolves, as well.”
That evolution has made Godfrey one of Toronto’s most respected artists, collectors and curators. Owner of the Gina Godfrey Gallery, Godfrey has, for the fourth consecutive year, been invited to create a sculpture for the Brain Project, an outdoor art exhibit that raises awareness and funds for brain health in support of Baycrest Health Sciences.
“The Brain Project is a good way for me to marry my art with philanthropy,” says Godfrey. “The project was actually started by my son Noah and his wife Erica, who were inspired by the Fabergé Egg Project in New York, and they came up with the idea of the Brain Sculpture in Toronto to create awareness and much-needed funds for brain health in support of Baycrest, a global leader in brain research.”
As part of her many generous works in philanthropy, this May, Godfrey was one of the hosts of a Private Collections tour at the Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences in support of arts and culture programming and the Brain Project. The event showcased collections of art in five private residences, and marked the unveiling of Godfrey’s brain sculpture at the event reception.
Godfrey and her husband of more than 51 years, former Metro Toronto chairman and current executive chairman of Postmedia, Paul Godfrey, have long been community leaders and supporters of many charities. In positions such as these, Godfrey brings various skills from many different life experiences. “I’ve always been someone who wanted to help the underdog.”
Those experiences include working in advertising, taking a hiatus to raise three sons, then returning to work full time as a citizenship court judge. Focused on her duties, she did not create any art during the eight years she served the federal government. “My office walls were bare, except for perhaps a picture of the queen,” recalls Godfrey.
Ever seeking to help out the underdog, in 1979, Godfrey and her husband started the Herbie Fund at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. For 35 years, she served as president and raised millions of dollars to save more than 800 children from 106 countries in need of life-saving surgery. The Herbie Fund has a reputation with hospitals around the world as a best hope for children who require challenging, life-or-death procedures.
“Giving the gift of life — what better gift can you give?” says Godfrey. “The Herbie Fund has certainly been the most gratifying to me, personally.” This May at Koerner Hall in Toronto, musical artists Jim Cuddy and Jackie Richardson, among others, donated their talents to Beyond Boundless, a fundraising concert to celebrate the fund’s 40th anniversary and to honour Gina and Paul. Godfrey returned to making art full time in 1996, revelling in her creative outlet. “I’m contemporary and I’m a printmaker,” she explains. “I create art every day and then post it, and I always have what I call a ‘favourite of the day.’”
“You’re given two names in life: one is the name you’re born with, and the other is the name you make for yourself”
She also takes lessons learned in art and applies them to her other passions that include interior design, cooking and photography. “It’s all about balance, and for me, organization,” says Godfrey. “What I use in art I use in life, and I did so as a judge. You can’t work all the time; you have to balance your life for your family, your friends and your other interests.”
That balance is crucial when you are involved in as many causes and projects as Godfrey. She has served on many boards over the course of her career, including Epilepsy Toronto, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the Metropolitan Toronto Zoological Society, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada.
The idea of balance also governs how Godfrey shows artwork at her Toronto gallery. She changes the works about every six weeks or so, and visitors say her giclee prints on canvas are displayed in such a way that even the brightest of them are relaxing, rather than jarring. “I create works to be appreciated purely for their beauty and emotional power,” says Godfrey.
Early on in her journey, Godfrey understood one must respond when opportunity knocks, and she encourages others, especially young people, to do the same. “You have to have confidence in yourself, as everyone has a niche in life,” she observes. “Opportunities come to everybody, but not everybody recognizes them or acts on them. You’re given two names in life: one is the name you’re born with, and the other is the name you make for yourself.”
Through her passion for art and her hard work for philanthropic causes, Gina Godfrey has indeed made a name to be proud of.
WRITTEN BY RICK MULLER
INTERVIEW BY VICTORIA SCOTT