Bettina Somers

Fallen Flicker or Forest Requiem, 1950, Bettina Somers, watercolour, pen and ink on paper,  28" x 22", 1990.01.01. Gift of the artist's estatec/o Mike & Gwen Calverley.

Bettina Somers

Birth name: Caroline Bettina Calverley

Born: July 17th, 1904, Bloemfontein, South Africa

Died: Summerland, British Columbia 1987

"A quiet artist, who resided in Oliver, passes away a number of years ago and leaves a volume of sketches and paintings in an envelope. The envelope passes from hand to hand until it comes to rest in our archive. Her name is Bettina Somers.

As I flip through the watercolours and ink drawings, I am fascinated….who is she really? Tucked deep within the envelope are a few faded news clippings. Bettina first studied art in 1917 at Toronto Central Tech under the direction of Sam Findley. Her career as an artist was postponed by two World Wars and nurse’s training at the Hospital for Sick Children which she completed in 1928. I read that she had shows of her art in Toronto and Vancouver, and that her finest hour was the hanging of her massive water colour, “Hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Chicago Black Hawks” for the 1948 Olympics. It hung in Maple Leaf Gardens for many years.

But that’s not the real story! Bettina is the little sister of world renowned Egyptologist Amice Calverley.

Miss Calverley began cataloguing various glyphs in the Valley of the Kings in the Thirties under the patronage of J.D. Rockefeller, Jr. She was able to publish four volumes of her work in photographs, drawings and beautiful paintings.

Margot Fonteyn (Homage to the Queen), c. 1953, Bettina Somers, watercolour and ink on paper, 58 x 39 cm, 1990.01.02. Gift of the artists' estatec/o Mike & Gwen Calverley.

In 1940, Miss Calverley was sent back to Egypt by the British High Command to spy on the Germans in preparation for the invasion of El Alemein. Her intimate knowledge of the land and people proved to be invaluable.

But where is Bettina in all this, you ask? She was in England since 1933 and in 1940 was in the employ of the British Admiralty. She worked on the top-secret “Synthetic Data Generator”, the world’s first computer. She was able to send maps and data to her sister in Egypt using this encryption device.

The complicated device hid information in the background noise of various signals and the information were reconstructed when it arrived at its destination.

Her sister was chased out of Egypt in 1949 when the uprising against the British commenced and she ended up in the midst of the civil war in Greece where she was filming agricultural cycles in the north. Soon Amice was nursing wounded in the camps in Macedonia and filmed it all. She used the film to raise funds for the Patriots when she returned to Canada in 1951.

Les Patineurs, c. 1950s, Bettina Somers, watercolour, 1990.01.03. Gift of the artist's estate c/o Mike & Gwen Calverley.

Bettina, as I mentioned, took her art very seriously. She moved back to Canada after the War and remained a few years in Oakville to work on a house her sister had bought in the 20’s.

She then moved to Oliver to continue her work in the tranquility of the Okanagan. She remained a member in good standing of the Canadian Group of Painters her entire life.

She later moved to Summerland and upon her death in 1987, a permanent collection of her work was placed in the Art Gallery of the South Okanagan. The Okanagan Archive Trust Society was pleased to donate her sketch book to this collection.

Researched by Brian Wilson, Archivist, Okanagan Archives Trust Society"