Mabel Killam was born in Yarmouth in 1884 to a prosperous family. She started her formal studies under John Hammond at Mount Allison Ladies College in Sackville, New Brunswick graduating in 1904. Following graduation she went to New York where she studied with the great artist and teacher Robert Henri at the Art Students League. In 1909 Henri established his own school of art with a handful of students including Mabel Killam, Edward Hopper and George Bellows. Henri’s modernist approach was reflected in his choice of subject-matter including the activity on the city streets around him and the industrialised world that characterised modern cities. In 1910 Killam married Frank Parker Day, a Rhodes scholar who had recently returned to Canada from Oxford to teach English at the University of New Brunswick. Two years later the Days moved to Pittsburg where Day became Director of Academic Studies at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. During the First World War Day served in France while his wife lived in England. They returned to Pittsburgh at the end of the war. Soon after arriving back in Pittsburgh Mabel Killam Day became involved in the artistic community in that city. She joined a group of women artists to form the Experimentalists who sought to incorporate change in their art. The group valued tradition and academic training as a starting point for their personal vision of the contemporary world. In their work they sought to place essence before object, expression before representation, and interpretation before imitation. In 1933 Frank Day’s declining health forced the family to return to Nova Scotia. Mabel continued to paint in her studio at the family property on Lake Annis in Yarmouth County. She died in Yarmouth in 1960.
Mabel Killam Day had a distinguished exhibition career starting with the acceptance of her work by the Montreal Museum of Fine Art in 1910. While in Pittsburgh she exhibited frequently in major exhibitions in the city and Philadelphia. In 1927 her work was accepted for the prestigious 40th Annual Exhibition of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Following her return to Nova Scotia she exhibited widely and frequently in that province. In 1937 a major solo exhibition of her work was organised by Zwicker’s Gallery. It was a retrospective exhibition, including a number of major paintings reflecting her distinguished artistic career. Tragedy struck when the interior of the gallery, and Mabel Day’s paintings were gutted by fire.
Day was a woman artist at a time it was unfashionable. Also, she lived a major part of her life in the Maritime Provinces, also unfashionable at that time. However, the quality of her painting and the significant recognition it received in the United States bears witness to the significant contribution that Day made to the artistic development of Canada in the first half of the twentieth century.