Don Wightman was born in London, UK and educated in Mechanical Engineering at the Preston Technical College in Sussex, and in Technical Illustration at West Sussex College of Art in Worthing. He then completed a five-year apprenticeship in aircraft (airframe) engineering at Miles Aircraft Company in Sussex. Don immigrated to Canada in 1959, and after a year in Vancouver moved to Toronto to begin studying industrial design at the Ontario College of Art (OCA). While at OCA, he worked at Hale and Associates in Port Credit developing a stair-climbing wheelchair for which he won the John F. Kennedy Stair-Climbing Wheelchair Award in 1964 through the Committee on Employment of the Handicapped in Washington, DC. Don returned to the UK for one year in 1964, to teach Industrial Design at the West Sussex College of Art. In the 1970s and 80s, Don’s artwork was represented by the Gustafsson Galleries in Brampton and Toronto.
In 1968, Don began teaching at Sheridan College as a professor in the School of Visual Arts (now the Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design). Sheridan opened in 1967, and in those early days Sheridan looked to hire professors in visual arts who had the training and flexibility to be able to teach across several programs. Over his 32-year career at Sheridan, Don taught in a range of visual arts programs including Creative Art, Graphic Design, Animation, Art and Art History, and Art Fundamentals. Don was the Coordinator of the Creative Art Program from 1970-71. Sheridan was planning to establish an industrial-design program, one of the reasons Don was hired, but the college did not realize its plan until 2014, well after Don retired. Don was in fact first hired by Sheridan in 1967 to teach painting in the Creative Art Program, but delayed his start date by a year to return to OCA to further develop his painting skills — a testimony to Don’s professionalism and fastidiousness. From 1975-81, Don pursued part-time undergraduate academic studies in aesthetics and the history of film, design and art at Atkinson College, York University.
Don Wightman Art and Design Curriculum Collection
Marg Wightman, Don’s wife, offered Sheridan a collection of Don’s teaching files and materials in 2019. The examples of Don’s work in Source are all from this collection, now held in the Sheridan Library. The collection came in three large plastic storage bins containing a range of his pedagogical materials from photographs of historical and contemporary artwork mounted on matboard to use in presentations and lectures through to course outlines and assignment and technical information sheets. All of Don’s information sheets outlining art-and-design techniques and material use are illustrated with his own technical drawings. The collection is particularly rich in course material from the Creative Art, Art Fundamentals and Art and Art History Programs.
Here are three examples of what you will find in the Don Wightman Art and Design Curriculum Collection.
• Don often provided his students with contextual and philosophical introductions to his courses, as in the following excerpt from a 1971-72 second-year painting outline in the Creative Art Program.
One common aspect of modern art, both discussed and expressed in the art, is the prolonged search into the nature of the contemporary world, the realities of life and the meaning of art itself. It is extremely important that the current art student be exposed to and involved with this searching aspect of contemporary art. Otherwise the history of modern art will appear … to be nothing more than a sequence of fashionable decorations.
When originality becomes synonymous with novelty, too much stress on achieving originality may be detrimental to the student, especially if it is forced too soon. However, if originality is interpreted to mean Antonio Gaudi’s definition: “To be original is to return to the origin,” (1852-1926) then never can it be emphasized early enough.
The 1982-83 second-year painting course outline in Art and Art History divides up class presentations into technical demonstrations, presentation of historical and contemporary art, and purposely contradictory theoretical and art historical readings. One of his assigned readings was Heinrich Wölfflin’s Principles of Art History (1915), which demonstrates the evolution of Renaissance and Baroque Art in Europe by developing terms for five pairs of contrasting formal and stylistic approaches for each period. Wölfflin’s contrasting terms were still applied to both contemporary figural and abstract art in some formalist critical writing in the 1960s and 70s. As an alternative to Wölfflin’s concern for descriptive or formal description and analysis, Don had his students read Joseph Kosuth’s essay “Art After Philosophy, I and II” (1969) in Gregory Battock’s anthology Idea Art (1973). Kosuth argues that contemporary art should propose a distinct rupture with art preceding it, and privilege the artwork’s idea or conceptual basis through an often scripted process of making that may lead to creation of an immaterial or anti-object well outside of the then-established stylistic or aesthetic precedents. Don’s courses routinely offered students a number of opposing ideas to question and debate.
• In 1976, Don and his Sheridan colleague Frank Reynolds’ produced a handbook for a proposed program in Metal Glazing (Enamelling) at Sheridan. Courses in the program were to teach use of the medium’s traditional noble metal copper support as well as decarbonized steel and aluminum that recent innovations in fusing glass to metal made possible. The program was to encourage the production of “bold” two-and three-dimensional art and design, and did not envisage students would work with the precious metals silver or gold to produce jewellery. The handbook explores the history of vitreous enamelling, then provides technical information on current practices, and concludes with plans and an equipment list for a metal-glazing teaching facility.
Faculty were encouraged to develop a wide range of program proposals throughout the 1970s and 80s; while the Metal Glazing Program was not in the end adopted, metal glazing was taught in the Art Fundamentals Program for several years. Additionally, Don and Frank produced two metal-glazed murals together: one for the Sheridan Trafalgar Campus (1973) and the other for the Brampton Public Library (1973).
• Don conducted a 1984-85 survey of Canadian and international schools of art and design to discover if there was a future for computer-assisted technology in college and university-level graphic design programs. The collection contains a number of written responses to Don’s query: many were skeptical of the impact computers would have on graphic design practices. Following up on the survey, Don took a sabbatical year to visit a number of colleges, universities and businesses across Canada.
John Armstrong, Professor and Coordinator, Art and Art History Program, 2020