Born in Toronto in 1932, Irene (nee Nemeth) Anderson became interested in art at an early age. Following the family’s purchase of a tobacco farm near Langton, Irene’s artistic skills were nurtured by a childhood connected to the rural, agricultural environment. By all accounts, she loved the daily routine and nearly all aspects of tobacco farming; especially planting season which would become a familiar theme in many of her sketches decades later.
Irene attended Simcoe High School, acquired her grade 10 diploma followed by courses at the Simcoe Business College. Her first job out of school and off the farm was for the British Knit at age 15. While there, she was tasked with sketching clothing for the company’s catalogue. Her talent caught the eye of co-workers who encouraged her to apply to the Ontario College of Art.
Upon accepting placement at the art college, Irene was formally introduced to the many spectrums of art and design with praise received from her professors; most notably her life-drawing. But Irene’s fondness for rural Norfolk was too great and she returned to the family farm a short time after. While at home, she met and married Don Anderson and started her own family.
Despite the many challenges of raising six children and operating her father’s tobacco farm, art remained a big part of Irene’s life. Time was found to draw and paint as well as sketch caricatures which she quickly capitalized on. Her personal understanding of the farming community and its political landscape meant that a strong, to-the-point voice could be heard through these satirical cartoons. What could not be printed in the newspaper could be captured and presented through drawings. Both farmers and politicians took note and Irene’s cartoons first started to be published around 1957 in the Tillsonburg News. Soon after, Ted Crandon, editor of the Delhi News Record and the Canadian Tobacco Grower Magazine offered her a free-lance job as official cartoonist for both publications. This began a four decade-long career in the media industry.
Aside from her cutting and comical political cartoons, Anderson engaged frequently in ink, watercolor and oil painting. These works often focused on the social and technical aspects of tobacco farming along with the multicultural heritage of the area. Irene was frequently commissioned by local farmers, companies, tobacco boards and associations for paintings. Today, these paintings and their respective prints are highly coveted for the depiction of a time now long-gone in Norfolk County.
Delhi News Record September 23, 1992:
“Anderson first gained fame for her biting cartoon and caricatures which appeared in local publications. She was compelled to do her first tobacco politics cartoon as a result of her own father’s experience in dealing with buyers in the barn buying days of the 1950s. […] Over the course of four decades she incorporated pen and ink, charcoal, watercolor and oils into various art form media to depict not only tobacco politics, but the way of life on a tobacco farm, tobacco history and culture. Her work often portrayed the injustices that she perceived in the tobacco business, be it government, leaf buying, companies or the tobacco board.”