Pi Day Exhibition at John Snow House


There are very few constants in the world today. One of them is pure math.

Today marks the once a century Pi Day.

Notwithstanding the conventions of dating protocol, starting with the largest number and working progressively smaller, Pi Day is a bit of an anomaly. However for this sake, and I am probably not alone in this regard – I will celebrate month/day/year for warm pie!!

This all is preamble to talk about an exhibition of craft-based work.

Like math, craft is another constant.

What is produced may change, but many of the building blocks of craft practice will remain. So in that respect it is like pure math, whereby new things are built, but the fundamental principles remain.

From talking to one of my neighbours a few weeks (maybe a month) ago, she let me know about a group exhibition that will be held for one night only at John Snow House.

Pi Party front (1)

Tonight the exhibition begins at 6:00pm at John Snow House.

I understand that there probably will be pie tonight, for those that attend, if they so desire.

I don’t know if I asked, but if I recall the conversation correctly that it may be some sort of craft based exhibition. It is also possible that it is a student exhibition from the craft media program at Alberta College of Art and Design.

I do know that the John Snow House also hosts periodic Craft Nights, where artists who work in craft-based media work on projects while also networking and probably a bit of drinking as well. It all seems very civilized. One day I will actually attend. It may also tie in with that as well.

PiParty Handbill back (1)

I am going from memory here, so I could be corrected on this. For a while John Snow House was used as a residence for some of the recipients of the Markin-Flanagan Fellowship Writer-in-Residence program at the University of Calgary. I believe now it is simply called the Distinguished Writers Program.

More memory here, sometime around 2007ish (maybe?) John Snow House made some sort of relationship with The New Gallery. I was on the TNG Board at the time it happened. Since then it has been an adjunct space for The New Gallery.

Nevertheless, the home has an interesting history. John Snow was primarily a printmaker. His medium of choice was lithography and he produced lithographs between the early 1950s to the 1990s. He also periodically produced block prints, especially in the late 1940s, that in my opinion are very strong. He also did paintings and sculptures as well. I have sold many works of his and had visited him in this house when he was still living there. He took a bad fall and had to move to a seniors residence for the last few years of his life. He worked professionally as a banker, but he was very involved in the arts community. His wife Kay was a librarian.

John Snow moved in the same circle as Max Bates and Illingworth Kerr (who lived around the corner from John Snow). Max Bates as an architect designed an addition to the house. Also in the basement is the large lithographic press that he salvaged and one which most of his prints were pulled (along with other artists).

With all that history. I am glad that the house has been saved and put to a use that recognizes the buildings history and occupants.

* * *

Postscript (2015 March 15)

I attended the event last night. Unlike yesterday when I initially wrote this, I can speak more intelligently about the show. It is a required project that students in the FINA 450 class at Alberta College of Art and Design must do. What this involves is all aspects of the exhibition from planning, finding the space, right through to execution of the exhibition, and everything required in between.

These are students in their final year from all disciplines. My perception that it would have a craft element was influenced by the knowledge of the program that the neighbour who told me about the show is in. Because I previously knew about the craft nights, I assumed that they may have been related.

It was an interesting show as most student shows are. The quality is uneven and that is the way it should be. Each artist brings one or more pieces that is representative of their individual practice to the group show. The works on view ranged from traditional painting to installation. From video work to fibre. It ran the whole gamut of disciplines. But they did a good job.

I had a long conversation with one artist in particular and I want to talk further about her work.

It is not as much about her work as it is about context. She introduced herself when we were standing beside each other in the smoking room (in the garden). Later in the evening we met up with each other and talked further. The artist is Michelle Smyth, and it was interesting hearing where her work came from and what she was trying to achieve.

I did not have my cell phone with me or a camera, so I could not take a photo of the work. Maybe it is just as well.

Memory is a wonderful thing.

The work was an installation. One of the elements was a old weathered, child-sized, rocking Adirondack rocking chair. Beside it were other objects such as a couple stretched canvases that in the words of the artist Michelle, were “meant to serve as a welcome to the house.”

As I mentioned above, the gallery I worked at used to represent John Snow. I have sold well in excess of a hundred pieces of John Snow’s works beginning when he was still living.

Because of that, I am going to go on a bit of a detour to explain why this was a well-conceived piece for the exhibition and space.

Long ago in one of my first jobs, I used to work with a guy by the name of Gordon. He and his wife Janet (I think it was more her idea than it was his) hosted an annual Christmas party. They split up (as many do) and I have never heard from him again. But I stayed in touch with Janet. She continued to invite me to her annual Christmas party.

Janet lived across the street from John Snow. The site where she lived has subsequently been torn down and is now an apartment-style condo complex.

John Snow was elderly and before he moved into the nursing home, he would attend Janet’s party as well. As a result, I got to know in a social context outside of a strictly business context. Janet and her neighbours looked out for John Snow, as he lived alone after his wife Kay passed away.

Long story short, at one of these parties I found out that in the summer months when the weather was nice he would often sit for extended periods on the covered porch of his house. He was very friendly and would wave to those who walked past and generally kept an eye on the neighbours, just as the neighbours did for him.

This brings me back to the installation.

Although this work was not a site-specific artwork, it does share an awareness of site-specificity in its placement – even if it was entirely clairvoyant in doing so. The elements used (a dried flower, canvases, the chair) channeled the spirit of John Snow and his artwork, even though I am almost certain it was not done with an awareness of John Snow.

I think he would have approved.

Walking Women, advertising and pop-art

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Advertising is an interesting field.

But before I get talking about advertising, I want to talk about “pop-art” first.

In the very near future we will be hearing much more about “pop-art” – not that we haven’t heard much before. That comment of course was somewhat tongue in cheek, as there was a recent sale (November 2014) of an Andy Warhol painting of Elvis Presley that sold for US $81.9-million.

Primarily why we will be hearing more about this is because Yale University Press will be releasing a long-anticipated book tomorrow (January 6, 2015) – Thomas Crow’s book The Long March of Pop: Art, Music and Design, 1930-1995. In this book, there will be some discussion surrounding the placement of pop art in relation to folk art and music – especially in the USA. There will be further discussion on pop-art outside of the USA as well, in places such as the UK which is a very important place for discussion surrounding this art historical term. I think this will be a very interesting discussion to have and hopefully expand the dialogue further.

There are currently two exhibitions of note, relating to “pop-art” that are currently on view elsewhere. I am sure that there are more than just two, however these two are located closest to Calgary, for those that are inclined to travel for business or personal pleasure.

  1. The Seattle Art Museum currently has an exhibition that talks about pop and its effect on artists that have produced or are currently working that takes pop art as a point of departure. It ends in little over a week from now.
  2. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Art de Montréal) currently has an exhibition of Andy Warhol`s advertising posters on view. As part of this exhibition two catalogue raisonnés have been produced – one dealing with Andy Warhol’s commissioned posters and the other his commissioned magazine work. I am sure that this would be a very interesting show to view as it probably covers a lot of ground that we don’t often see in a gallery exhibition. This show will continue until mid-March.

This last show of course leads me into advertising – which ties in well with “pop-art” as a general rule. For this reason why I believe that the MMFA/MBAM show mentioned above would be so interesting to see.

All businesses need to do some form of advertising if they want to stay in business. It is a fact of modern life.

Having owned a few businesses myself, I understand the necessity to advertise and create publicity for the business (having worked in corporate public relations beforehand, it was an easy sell). On the other side of the equation, I also understand the futility and frustration that comes with it as well.

It is a damned if you do, and damned if you don’t type of scenario.

This is primarily because measuring advertising effectiveness involves highly subjective criteria. It this way, partly because of how difficult it is to effectively evaluate, quantify and measure value; and measure the sales efficacy of the advertising dollar. In many ways spending money on advertising is always a bit of a crap shoot trying to determine what is going to work most successfully, because the ground is always shifting and what worked in the past does not always work in the future.

One of the oldest and most inexpensive forms of advertising is to simply place a sign outside of the business door – essentially to “hang out a shingle”.

Normally there is not much creativity exercised in these type of things. Outside of the main signage which is attached to the building or storefront, there is the possibility of a sandwich board, maybe some signage in the window, or some other variation on one or both of these themes. It is usually pretty straight-forward.

* * *

Yesterday, I walked past a piece of street advertising placed outside of a business door on Edmonton Trail.

I have passed this sign which is illustrated at the top of the post before. I suspect that it has been standing outside the door of this business for a number of years. How long? I have no idea, but it has been there as long as I can remember in recent memory.

Every time I see it, I think of Michael Snow and his Walking Woman series of paintings, drawings and sculptures dating from the 1960s and 1970s (although I believe he may have done some in the 1980s as well, but not as frequently). They are iconic pieces of Canadian art history – drawing from both conceptual and pop roots in Toronto.


The painting above is entitled Four, 1963. It was exhibited (and presumably sold) through Isaacs Gallery in Toronto during the 1960s. Its present location is unknown.

Michael Snow was definitely at the leading edge of artists at that time and has continued to produce work of significance since the 1950s. He is now in mid-80s and his importance is acknowledged by his being named a Companion of the Order of Canada.

I have previously mentioned Michael Snow in conjunction with the large Canada Geese sculpture/installation that he did for the atrium of Eaton Centre in Toronto. Anyone that has visited that building would certainly remember it.

He is one of our more important artists. One that we rarely see exhibited in Western Canada.

Even though it is a hunch on my part. It would seem to be a safe bet to assume that the maker or designer of this sign borrowed heavily from the central image of one of Michael Snow’s paintings or sculptures of a Walking Woman – whether they were aware of his work, or not. Notwithstanding this, the concept of seeing signage that is either unusual and/or creatively exercised is definitely appreciated in this city, as most other signage is generally safe and conservative.

For this sign, it is the idea that counts.

New Edward Gallery inaugural exhibition


It is Christmas Day and I am home alone, missing my family, whom I haven’t seen in about a year. But I will soon.

So I figure I might as well pass the time writing something.

A few days ago I attended the inaugural exhibition of the New Edward Gallery which was held in an empty, basement apartment suite that is maybe 400 sq. ft.  in size. It was a three-day show that would rarely elicit mention in a written publication of any sort.

The show that was curated (I am assuming) contained an interesting accretion of works by various artists that I know are active in the community (even if it is marginally the case, due to work or family commitments). They are active either as participants or producing artists, but are definitely not “art-stars”. This should not be taken as a slight. For the most part these artists produce work that rarely gets past the gatekeepers that operate the commercial and publicly-funded institutional galleries.

The work that I saw at the inaugural show held at the New Edward Gallery reflected the pluralism that is not only the current art world, but our society at large. The work ranged from traditional figurative nudes, drawings, assemblages, sculpture, photo-based work and installation. This three-day exhibition (which has now ended) serves an important purpose – giving the opportunity for artists to produce work and present it to viewers who may not ever have the opportunity to visit the artist’s studio.

* * * 

As a society, no longer are we satisfied with the hegemony that comes with officially-sanctioned leadership that dictates what is important and what we should view. With increasing data mining, computer analytics, predictive choices in our TV viewing and internet surfing; combined with what we watch; and with whom we interact online – it is not surprising that individualism and pluralism is the new societal norm.

This fact of pluralism and individuality is surprising in the current art world on a certain level. This given the preponderance of the generally cheery content-free, powder-coated and mirrored surfaces that more often than not caters to the global collecting class, corporatization of art, and the art fairs that the collectors attend, from whence the “art-stars” are made.

* * *

There is a long tradition in the city of Calgary that the opening of this gallery recalls and reintroduces.

During the course of my multi-year research on visual art-based institutional culture in Calgary, I have found that there are numerous spaces and DIY initiatives that have operated in a similar manner since the 1970s (and probably earlier). It is certainly not a new idea that an artist operate outside of the conventions of officialdom to present their own work and/or their associates that they feel is worthy of merit.

One only has to look to the example of Gustave Courbet in conjunction with his refusal to participate in the French state-sponsored and sanctioned Exposition Universelle in 1855. In response to this exhibition he produced a show of his work in a tent on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Courbet, although influential was not alone. We also know that Jacques-Louis David self-produced a show of his work in 1799, as well. Others have done this as well, ranging from the Russian Futurists in 1915 in Petrograd to Damien Hirst in London, 1988 along with many, MANY more including our own Wreck City “artist-curators” in 2013.

The concept of artist-curators and alternative art spaces will probably not end soon in Calgary. Of this I can be relatively certain.

Unless local viewers are particularly active in the community or personal friends with some of these artists that showed at the New Edward Gallery between the opening on December 22 and the end of the exhibition run on Christmas Eve, most would never know who these artists are. Each of these artists could be seen at an art exhibition opening; or quietly serving one’s morning coffee; working the cash register at a retail store; occupying yet another faceless cubicle in an office; or as a labourer on a worksite, but yet their practice still continues. This show is evidence of it.

In the interim I will continue to keep my eyes open for more of these type of activities and document them as best I can to compliment my larger research project.

If you as a reader have had a similar type of exhibition space in the past (or plan one in the future). Please send me a message. Or if you have research material such as printed invitations or exhibition lists, etc. to these type of spaces in Calgary, I want to know more.

Eighth Avenue Place West Tower art and a related rambling post


This past Friday I wandered through Eighth Avenue Place.

For those that don’t know it is one of the more recent buildings to be built in the city. It is a two tower building with interesting architecture (for those that consider a giant glass box interesting). What makes it so, is the top which is intended to allude to mountain peaks. The first tower (east tower) opened probably three or four years ago and the west tower was officially opened this past October 16th, if I recall correctly what one of the security guards told me when I asked a few weeks ago when I first noticed new art being placed on the walls.

As I have probably mentioned previously, the building contains a well-selected collection of art that is visibly displayed in the lobby. In my opinion, and I realize it is a judgement call on my part, it is one of the better publicly viewable collections in an office lobby in the downtown core. Most office buildings in the downtown core have little, if any, publicly viewable art and when it is, it is more often than not – a single piece of sculpture. So it is not that difficult of a judgement to make.

The collection that has been accumulated so far is generally focused on Ontario, Quebec and BC art from the mid-century period. From the perspective of someone who has dealt in art for most of his adult life, I would suggest that the works selected are a good base to build a collection upon for someone looking at a modernist collection. So whomever the art advisor(s) they have used, deserves kudos on their choices.

What has been previously installed in the East Tower lobbies are:

  • Jack Shadbolt painting Wild Grass Suite – Quintet (1979)
  • Jack Bush painting New York 55, (1955)
  • Ray Mead painting Totem (1986)
  • Jean McEwan painting Le Climat Rouge (1957)
  • Jean-Paul Riopelle painting Oliviers (1966)
  • Marcel Ferron painting Chile (1973)

They are just about complete. Each of the elevator lobbies in the west tower now has a work assigned to it. So far they have placed four works which are:

  • a Jack Shadbolt painting from 1959
  • a William Ronald painting from 1955
  • a Jean-Paul Riopelle canvas from 1955 (see picture above)
  • a Marcel Barbeau painting located behind the security desk from what I would speculate dates from circa 2002

There is still one wall remaining (unless something was installed there this weekend. It is located on the north facing wall at the main entrance for 8th Avenue SW, which directly accesses the west tower. Whether it has been selected or not,

I am going to make an unsolicited recommendation, and I understand that it will probably have little (if any) bearing upon the outcome.

My recommendation is that I would strongly suggest acquiring a work by Rita Letendre for that space.

Here is my primary reason why:

In the entire lobby ALL but ONE of the works selected and installed so far, have been created by white, male artists. However the ONE exception is created by a token female artist – Marcelle Ferron. To select another female artist will help remedy this gender imbalance, and will reflect better upon the significant amount of practising artists that are female both living and deceased during the Canadian post-WWII period through to the end of the 20th century that the works selected for the building belong.

Not only was Rita Letendre a woman who held her own in a period of predominately male-centric dominance in the visual arts; she also won major non-gender specific awards in international shows and competitions; and received major commissions at the same time. One of these, the 1964 commission she completed at California State College, Long Beach prompted to move her work into a completely new direction away from the abstract-expressionist influenced work that riffed off work by major artists such as Franz Kline, Clyfford Still and highly influential, but under-rated Canadian/Québécois artist Paul-Émile Bordous (who in my mind should be included as well).

As an aside, before I go any further, I should explain why I made the statement about “male-centric dominance” in the last paragraph. I expect that someone will take exception to my comments. By stating what I did, I mean the period of time prior to 1985, which to my mind is important in this context of work being exhibited. This year of 1985, can be considered a benchmark year to mark when change to the status quo began. It was defined by the Guerilla Girls and the year that this group was formed. Through their vocal feminist activism and as a result of their fomentation, they were subsequently able to draw attention to the gender imbalance in New York City museums and their exhibitions at that time. This resulted in the desired effect of increased influence on future dealings with female artists and opened many doors that were previously closed to them, even though there were artists such Joyce Wieland, Emily Carr, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Jean Sutherland Boggs and others who were not fully constrained by gender barriers during that male-centric time.

Like Marcelle Ferron, Letendre was closely aligned with the group of artists in Quebec (Riopelle, Barbeau, Ferron, in particular; and McEwan to a lesser extent) that have been previously selected and installed in this building. She also has a connection to Toronto and its artists (such as the Painters 11 members Bush, Mead and Ronald) through her long-standing relationship with Kosso Eloul. Many in Calgary will be familiar with Eloul’s work from the elegantly simple and muscular sculpture standing in front of the former Nova Building (now the Nexen Building) only two blocks away from Eighth Avenue Place which is visible from the C-Train tracks.

In addition to that, Letendre is of aboriginal descent. So to give a major work of hers pride of place, is probably a smart idea.

Here is why.

As any person working in the resource extraction area in Calgary will know, there is a significant amount of oil and gas exploration by Calgary based companies, and pipelines that cross aboriginal communities. Many larger companies will have specialists who deal with aboriginal relationships. In addition, there is a significant amount of potential resulting controversy that goes with these ongoing relationships (think Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, the Lubicon Cree protest of The Spirit Sings exhibition at the Glenbow and more). Any person who reads or follows recent news will know that aboriginal issues are topical and in some cases need to be addressed.

So the fact that there is very little (if any) art on display in lobbies of Calgary office towers by aboriginal artists of note (and there are many) is extremely surprising. Personally I find this oversight somewhat shocking given this knowledge stated above. But I digress.

But what do I know. I am just an observer of this sort of detail – a direct result of dealing in Canadian art from pre-Confederation to present day for close to two decades. However, if someone reads this and wants a knowledgeable art consultant for a corporate collection that is more than just a one trick pony (like many art consultants and designers) – send me an email and let’s talk. I wasn’t elected as the chair of the civic art collection committee for a number of years without a reason. It would also give me a reason to do something that engages my interest and passion more than the predominately mindless retail banter I am currently engaged in daily which I expect to get laid-off from in exactly eleven days (immediately following Boxing Day, or of I am fortunate have my employment extended until New Year’s Eve).


On a related side note, I should give a quick shout-out to Brittney Bear Hat and the work of hers that was recently installed on a billboard near the intersection of Glenmore and Blackfoot Trails (see photo above). This work is part of the current iteration of the Calgary Biennial which began a few weeks ago and will continue through to February or March 2015. This is the type of dialogue I would expect to see more of in this city – a dialogue which should be encouraged and supported by both industry and the public at large. This is particularly true and desirable given the close working relationship between oil & gas exploration and current aboriginal issues. I may talk about either this work and/or the Calgary Biennial at a later time. It all depends on my available time personally to do so.

Of note, given this context, I should also draw attention to the recent four-day long Stronger than Stone: (Re)Inventing the Indigenous Monument conference which was held late last month at Alberta College of Art and Design and at Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery.

Ironically, this long-winded deviation was not the reason (or intent) for why I started this post. But now that it has been written, I somewhat like it, and now would like to keep it.

Initially, it was my intention to write about Jack Bush.

I guess I got distracted and got off on to a rambling tangent. Something I am prone to do from time to time. I guess I will have to finish the Jack Bush posting later. I will plan to do it after work this evening, although I know in advance that it will be a very long day of work (probably close to16 hours) for me including outside of the retail job I mentioned earlier, I also will be doing an art install in the regional offices of one the big five Canadian banks later this morning. So it probably won’t help that I was up at 4:00am to write this. I may as a result take an extra few days to do so.

Regardless of which artist is selected for this last remaining space, I am sure that it will be well-selected as have the other works in the past.

Celebrating Canada on Canada Day

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It is Canada Day.

What better way to acknowledge this fact on this blog than to post something that is prototypically Canadian.

Right now in one of the window spaces at the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts (ooops, I stand corrected the Epcor name has finally been dropped a few days ago after four years of keeping it without a naming sponsorship in place) is an awesome, over-the-top collection of vintage pop-culture Canadiana from the time period circa 1967. But maybe that is the point, as being slightly over the top can be one way of dealing with nationalism.

The seven window spaces on the +15 level between Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Martha Cohen Theatre feature a rotating series of exhibitions. They usually change on a monthly or semi-monthly basis. The quality of these shows is often uneven. The programming is coordinated by seven different organizations. As is to be expected in small spaces, the spaces are often used by recent graduates or programming that is more experimental in nature. It is always worth checking out. There have been some fascinating and thought provoking shows (and some that are not) presented in those spaces.

This show for the month of June/July is in the Truck Gallery space. The work presented is by Arianna Richardson, a recent graduate from the University of Lethbridge (BFA, 2013). She has described the accumulated collection of artefacts that comprise The Canada Collection as follows:

The artifacts that are collected under this project are everyday, semi-useful trinkets that bear iconographic signs of Canada (ie- salt and pepper shakers, shot glasses, records, games, plates, etc.) as well as decorative souvenirs representing Canadian sites and attractions. More often than not, items fill both of these criteria, existing strangely between both utilitarian everyday-ness and purposeless decoration. These objects are often reminiscent of the Canadian Centennial era: an integral point in the great push of Canadian identity with effects still resonating today. It is important that these items are collected from thrift stores, garage sales and alleyways; discarded and relegated to the backs of shelves, they are the refuse of our very own Canadian consumer culture. They are most often cheaply made and mass produced: not the sort of artifact that would typically be considered worthy of preservation by official purveyors of national identity.

In this exhibition various items have been stacked up on shelving units such as board games, puzzles, china, spoon racks in the shape of provinces or the country, deer antler cribbage boards, salt and pepper shakers, piggy banks, needlepoint seat covers, or any other assorted collection of knick-knacks and tchotchkes. One of the larger pieces mounted to the wall is a large map of Canada used to place hand tools. All variations on the usual detritus found in garage sales, thrift stores or neatly placed beside the back alley trash bin for someone to take away. Some of these items are hand-made and occasionally a bit quirky. It is this odd assortment of accumulated objects that makes this exhibition interesting as a snapshot of time.

This is the third iteration of this show, having previously been shown in the Forestburg (Alberta) Historical Society and Museum and the Mountainview Museum and Archives in Olds, (Alberta). As described in a small catalogue written by David Smith relating to the two previous shows, he states, “(the artist is) exhibiting . . . in the context of the museum (which) allows for a conversation about the similarities and differences between her artistic practice and the social function of the museum.”

Smith goes on to state, “museums play an important role in shaping national identity. By contrast, Richardson . . . bring(s) awareness about how national identity is constructed.”

This is an interesting and important dialogue to have.

We can see how important this dialogue is with the controversy surrounding the current federal government which announced in 2012 a renaming of the Canadian Museum of Civilization across the river from the Parliament Buildings to the Canadian Museum of History. Of course, as to be expected, in the political arena when this sort of thing happens, it brought accusations that the governing party is trying to rewrite or “manipulat(e) history for ideological purposes” as seen in this article.

In this exhibition the context is not a museum.

Rather it is a passageway between two destination points (presumably one’s vehicle and a performance space). The context changes, but not significantly. The Epcor Centre for Performing Arts being predominantly a performance venue so it does seem appropriate that included in this iteration are examples of vinyl recordings by Alberta Slim and compilation albums of songs celebrating Canada or its provinces and territories.

As a cultural venue these questions of cultural identity are important ones to ask.

Of course I must also mention the fact that many of these items are hand-made. This brings an interesting dynamic as well. Adding to this as part of this iteration, Richardson has created a pseudo-craft kit artefact for this show under the Hobbyist Brand. Here it is illustrated below. How appropriate for the city in the days leading up to the annual Cow Extravaganza at the Calgary Stampede.

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This is an interesting snapshot of Canada at a time when it was finally finding its own national identity. There were many factors which brought together the increased state of patriotism and optimism in Canada and its increased presence on the international stage – notably the baby boomers coming of age; the Quiet Revolution was happening in Quebec; Expo ’67 was held in Montreal; the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup; French President Charles de Gaulle declared from the balcony of Montréal’s City Hall “Vive, le Québec libre” followed by boisterous cheering; Lester B. Pearson stepped down as Prime Minister; and Justice Minister and future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously declared in a scrum in the halls of Parliament that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Pierre Burton in turn and after the fact wrote a book which was originally entitled 1967: The Last Good Year the title of which was subsequently changed in later editions to 1967: Canada’s Turning Point.

Needless to say, 1967 was an interesting year.

The 150th Anniversary of Confederation is soon approaching. I am happy that this exhibition was selected for the Truck window space. I also note that an organization which former CEO of the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts, Colin Jackson is very deeply involved with is called, imagiNation 150. It is located down the hall from the exhibition in the Burns Building. It will be interesting to see whether their projects will match the euphoria during 1967.

The show closes on Thursday, July 17 between 6:00 and 7:00pm.

State of the Craft – Part 1

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Last month a new gallery space opened. This in itself is not all that newsworthy, but still worthy of mention nonetheless. This one was interesting only because of how it opened, its location, and the perceived focus of the space.

The gallery?

LoveCraft Gallery.

This all crossed my radar screen before it opened, most likely around the time it launched its fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. This campaign was intended to help with start-up costs and to facilitate fixturing of the company’s newly occupied space, in a newly built building.

I will get back to LoveCraft Gallery later (once I got there I realized it will be in a new article because of the length), as what I want to write about is not entirely about them. Their opening did however provide the motivation to write about something larger that I have been intending to write about for quite some time – craft.

* * *

During the past five to ten years – and maybe it is just me – there seems to be an increased awareness of craft in the city. Craft has been an integral part of the curriculum at the Alberta College of Art and Design since it opened for full-time instruction in 1927 while it was still a department at the old Provincial Institute of Technology and Art – now more commonly known as SAIT Polytechnic.

When we look back the Alberta College of Art and Design has consistently had a lot of strength in their craft-based programs. This is no doubt partly a result of having great early departmental chairs and instructors in the ceramics program who helped set it up for success – people like Luke Lindoe, Marion Nicoll, Katie Ohe and Walt Drohan. It was also a similar situation in the glass program which Norm Faulkner started at ACAD during the 1970s and this very stable ground has enabled the program there to be recognized as one of the best in Canada. I could continue with the fibre program, jewelry and others. Needless to say ACAD in particular has been very important in this whole area of craft in Calgary and area. Other institutions have played a role in city, but certainly not to the same extent.

We can see here that craft as an artform has deep roots in the city, going back entire careers for some that are now retired and in other cases even deceased. Some of these significant craft-based initiatives in the past, in no particular order are:

  • The magazine Artichoke which was active in (if memory serves me correct) the 1980s to 2000s period. It was primarily focused on fine art, but regularly celebrated craft in an art context.
  • During the 1988 Olympics, the Petro-Canada Art Gallery (yes, there was a corporate art gallery with scheduled exhibitions and curatorial staff in what is now called Suncor Plaza) in conjunction with the Olympic Arts Festival hosted an exhibition entitled Restless Legacies: Contemporary Craft Practice in Canada with a 100-page catalogue containing annotated essays and colour illustrations.
  • At one time there was a very serious attempt to create a public gallery focused on craft in the city that came very close to happening (something I am sure I will talk about in a different setting at some point in the future).
  • The Triangle Gallery (later MOCA Calgary and now Contemporary Calgary – or more specifically C2) often would show craft especially during the directorship of Jacek Malec.
  • For a very long time (probably 30 years or more) there was an artist-run cooperative at the base of the Calgary Tower in Palliser Square that regularly showed ceramics in particular – the Centennial Gallery. Their gallery was visible across the street from the 9th Avenue entrance of the Glenbow Museum. I believe that the cooperative running it closed a number of years ago, probably around the time of the redevelopment of Palliser Square. It was notable for giving some visual artists their first show or sales at emerging stages of their careers, in conjunction with the regularly available craft-based work which was their primary focus. On Edit  and Erratum(2014 June 20) I must apologize for this oversight – the Centennial Art Gallery is very much operational and is still located at the base of the Calgary Tower. It appears to have moved locations to a less visible space in Palliser Square during the renovations mentioned above. This is where my comments derived. My apologies. Their address is Suite 153, 115 – 9 Avenue SE and they are open from Monday to Saturday)
  • The Calgary Allied Arts Centre housed a large Luke Lindoe ceramic which was commissioned by the Canada Council in celebration of the Centre’s grand opening and resided inside the main lobby along with a large Sèvres Porcelain Vase on loan from a private collection. They also had an active teaching program in craft especially for children during the time it was operational mostly during the 1960s on 9th Avenue SW.
  • I would be remiss if I did not mention Audrey Mabee. She along with her business partner Betty Anne Graves during the mid-1970s opened a fine art shop called The Croft. It was located on 8th Street across from Mount Royal Village which focused exclusively on craft-based work, mostly featuring local artists with a focus on hand-crafted ceramics. It was within viewing distance to many of the leading commercial galleries during that period which also were located across from Tomkins Park and Mount Royal Village on 17th Avenue SW. She successfully continued that business until the late 1990s or early 2000s when it was sold to another party. A few years later the premises were expanded while keeping the focus on craft, when the new owners moved the business to the Mission area along 4th Street SW somewhere near 20th Street. I would assume they moved it probably around the time when the character of 17th Avenue as a gallery row had dramatically changed partly due to redevelopment. The Croft has subsequently closed, but was definitely influential in raising awareness of craft in the city. Audrey Mabee later was named an interim president of the Alberta College of Art and Design. She along with her son Rob Mabee started ArtSpace in the Crossroads Market probably a year or two after she sold The Croft. There were a number of independent small boutiques and galleries in ArtSpace, a number of which featured craft-based work as well. Around the time that the ascendancy of ArtSpace had passed, Rob Mabee moved on to Art Central working initially as the leasing manager charged with filling the newly-restored building. Around that same time Audrey opened a small studio for a few years and in time Rob opened Axis Gallery which focused on contemporary art. The gallery also would periodically show some craft, notably Bee Kingdom and a ceramist who created small human figures.
  • Talking about 17th Avenue and commercial galleries, there also was a small house that operated as a gallery on the other end of the strip from The Croft for about five years called Gallery San Chun. The couple who owned it were recent immigrants from Korea. She was a printmaker. They were a lovely couple. I believe her name was Mee and I forget his. They would often show ceramics and other craft-based work from Korea where there is a proud tradition of craft as art in conjunction with printmaking. They were very supportive of the local community and often would give recent graduates in printmaking their first commercial show. They in turn moved to the Lower BC Mainland when they closed the gallery around the same time as the character of 17th Avenue had changed for galleries. A couple years later in Art Central another Korean lady (I should know it, but forget her name) operated a small little shop called The Korean Gallery. She also had training in Korea and she brought in outstanding Korean ceramics. She also featured a young artist Diana Un-Jin Cho whose work referenced traditional fibre art from Korea. I championed her work, even though I never dealt with her, and was responsible for placing a large piece of hers into the Civic Art Collection.
  • A commercial gallery and bookstore called the Guild Gallery of Artists and Authors operated by a single dentist, Dr. Max Lipkind, who recently passed away and his long-time assistant. It was located on the main floor of what is now the downtown campus of the University of Calgary. It regularly featured ceramics and if I remember correctly glass as well. These craft-based works were shown in the context of an amazing and eccentric mix of artworks ranging from Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso graphics, to Elke Sommer paintings, to works by Jean-Paul Riopelle. He had a most interesting and wide selection of art with a focus on international graphics and mid-century art if I remember correctly. Much of the art and artists he handled I have long-ago forgotten. It was a gallery that was unlike any other gallery in the city. He needs to be mentioned, even though his gallery certainly was not highly influential in the traditional sense. He and his assistant both had a common man’s touch and made the work that they presented, accessible. In some odd and unusual ways, I probably could credit him and his gallery at least to an extent for introducing me to art in a professional setting, while I was still a young teenager. He would always find time to say hi and answer questions whenever I would stop in to look at and purchase comic books and make the visit to the gallery portion of his shop.
  • Art Central also housed a significant number of small businesses that presented craft. In some ways this was Art Central’s legacy. The size of the shops lent themselves more to smaller works and the lack of storage space in the building, meant most of the inventory had to be on display. It was probably for this reason a number of craft producers and businesses used the space as a retail or business incubator. There were many shops that showed craft,
    • some of which are still operational (such as Influx Gallery and depending on how one defines craft it could even include Studio Intent and others dealing primarily in fashion); and
    • others which are not operational (such as Dashwood Galleries, Collage Gallery, If Looks Could Kill Art Studio, Glass Cube Contemporary Art Space, The Korean Gallery, Interiors in Balance and Nova Scotia Crystal); and
    • there are also others whose current status is uncertain (such as Rox Gems and UP Studio).
    • Of course, it goes without saying that I am certain there are many others whom I have forgotten, and from those that I have mentioned many have moved on to other projects and quite possibly are still producing.
  • I am sure that I could continue with many, many more examples.

Because of all these things, it is not surprising that there is an awareness of craft in the city. There is a great tradition here.

* * *

This leads us to the present day. What is happening right now as I write this?

There still is a large selection of opportunities to purchase, exhibit or sell craft-based work. A number of art galleries have shown the willingness to crossover, and as seen in this article, craft-based work and ceramics in particular are noticeably present at the current iteration of the international art fair, Art Basel which opened within the last day or two.

Currently the Esker Gallery in its Project Room is featuring Yvonne Mullock. I am a big fan of hers and I find that she is doing some quite interesting things. I note with interest that the Art Gallery of Alberta earlier today announced a listing of 42 artists for the 2015 Alberta Biennial and see that her name is on this list. So therefore congratulations are in order. Getting back to the Esker Project Room, I had the dubious honour of being the “first male hooker” in her current project (or maybe there is no honour involved, because my wee contribution is probably the worst crafted part of the whole hooked rug, and as a result it is just dubiousness instead). Here she is working in conjunction with members of the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts and guests who like myself may take a stab at hooking an enormous (30” x 120”) hooked rug. This work entitled Hit and Miss which they are currently working on is a large rug that will eventually be located at the front door to the Esker Foundation. A photo (see below) that I appropriated from Yvonne’s facebook page earlier today shows it in a state of partial or near completion.

Yvonne_Mullock_Hit_or_Miss_Esker_ Hooked_Rug_2014_June_14

Also on exhibit at the Glenbow is a mini-retrospective of the Bee Kingdom group of glass artists curated by Mary-Beth Laviolette. It was a good choice on the Glenbow’s part in selecting the curator, as Mary-Beth has had a long interest in craft-based work. I also have a significant interest in this group as I proposed a successful acquisition of five pieces from the collective (one piece from each individual and a collaborative Mythopoet work) for the Civic Art Collection Committee when I was the Chair of that committee. I hear through the grapevine that one of their Mythopoet pieces from that acquisition, is currently residing in the office of the Mayor. There is an interesting backstory to this work as the Mayor was in the Bee Kingdom Studio when this work was being produced. I have forgotten the specific details, but I am sure that if someone was to ask, Mayor Nenshi would be able to complete the story and the circumstances why he was there.

As for the Glenbow show, if I was to express a criticism, it would be that there was no mention of the fourth member of the Bee Kingdom collective – Kai Georg Scholefield. Although he was only a member for a couple years between 2011 and 2013, it is unfortunate that there was no mention of him in the didactic panels or the simple inclusion of one their Mythopoet pieces from that period (the one in the Civic Art Collection would have worked). In my opinion, he did a lot for the group, more than he is probably given credit for including his time as the director of the short-lived Glass Cube Contemporary Art Space that pre-dated his involvement as the fourth member. I am sure that there was a valid reason for this oversight, but it is unfortunate nevertheless. The show is well worth seeing and it is up for the remainder of the summer.

While I am talking about the Bee Kingdom I should also plug another thing that is coming up very soon – in fact later today. It is an artist’s talk that they will be conducting at the Water Centre (625 – 25 Avenue SE) between 7:00 and 9:00pm. This talk is a result of a residency as connected to the UEP (the City of Calgary’s Department of Utilities & Environmental Protection) that that the three Bees (Philip Bandura, Tim Belliveau and Ryan Marsh Fairweather) are currently in the midst of. They spent most of their time connected to a couple water treatment plants. This artist talk is sponsored by WATERSHED+ in cooperation with the Public Art Program. It will be interesting to see and hear what came as a result of this project. I am definitely looking forward to it.

The UEP is amazing for what they are doing with artists and public art. One may recall the summer of 2010 when the UEP sponsored a summer-long public arts festival entitled the Celebration of the Bow River. What was particularly memorable for many was the warm summer evening when giant orbs of light were released from Edworthy Park to float down the river to Prince’s Island Lagoon. It was a magical public art event enjoyed by people of all ages which was created by Laurent Louyer and Creatmosphere. There also was a big launch of 100 small wooden boats containing mud from various parts of the Bow River and were released early one Saturday morning from Fish Creek Park designed to track water currents south and east of the city. This project was coordinated by Peter Von Tiesenhausen. This whole summer of art events won a major award for one of the best public art projects in North America that year. It was a very proud moment for our Public Art Program (and rightfully so). But once again, I digress.

Of course, we read in the articles and watch or listen to the news coverage about the one-year anniversary of last year’s flood which is coming up tomorrow. The almost non-stop rain for the past week or so has only helped feed the news. Just as it was the case last year, Sled Island is gearing up for its annual event. Although Sled Island has always had a focus of some sort on the visual arts, this year they have expanded that even further and have curated programming.

Last year Sled Island teamed up with Etsy and held a juried exhibition was hosted by MOCA Calgary where they featured the work of Bryce Evans in a project called The One Project—an online collaborative project founded by Evans to inspire people out of depression and into their dreams. The work included conceptual, abstract, and experimental subject matter with a focus on driving positive social change in the world.

I attended the opening the night that the flood happened. Since MOCA Calgary was in the flood zone, this show got very little press. This is completely understandable. It is possible that it may have only been available to view for that one night only, because of where MOCA was located and how long that area was evacuated – even though MOCA was not affected. I attended that opening and while there a friend texted me to inform me that my home was in the evacuation zone. I had been at work all day, and went directly to the opening, so was completely oblivious to what was going on outside of work. When I received the news, I had resigned myself to the fact that my home was probably under water – and there was nothing I could do about it – so I drank wine instead. As expected, I received an evacuation order on the way home. It was an interesting show and I had a great conversation with one of the Etsy staffers who flew out from Toronto for the opening. But I digress.

This year, just as was the case last year, Sled Island is teaming up with the Victoria Park BRZ to present another outdoor iteration of PARKSale this weekend in the Haultain Park. Last year this sale was cancelled due to the flood which had the area under water and was rescheduled during mid-August 2013 once the flood waters had subsided and life was starting to return to normal. The photo below is not particularly good, but it is one that I took at that sale. PARKSale is one of the regularly scheduled projects of PARK (Promoting Artists | Redefining Kulture) an organization that has been active as a non-profit organization focused on local artists, presenting sustainable and recycled fashion in a low-impact environment since 2011 (and possibly earlier).

Parksale_August_17_2013_Haultain_Park_Calgary (1024x683)

This year as they attempted to do last year, but was cancelled by the flood, Sled Island is also teaming up with East Village and the Hi-Fi Club to present another iteration of Market Collective. This iteration will be a mini-market and take place on the Riverwalk in conjunction with what is advertised as a Sled Island Block Party. Market Collective began in 2008 and of all the pop-up markets it has probably had the most number of locations where it has presented its periodical weekend long events. It is probably also the largest market in terms of vendors. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of the mini-fair as I don’t believe it was rescheduled last year (although it is possible). This event will also take place on the same weekend as the PARKSale. It is possible to make the trek from one venue to the other.

* * *

The above has been an overview of some of the notable organizations that helped set the current craft-based organizations up for success. I also included the current projects that are happening right now, mostly because of timeliness.

I had to break this blog post into two, because otherwise it would be far too confusing. Part two will talk about the various venues, markets and spaces that act as incubators, facilitators and organizational structures for craft in Calgary.


World Trade Centre, September 11, 2001 and the Calgary connection

Structural_Beam_from_World_Trade_Centre_NYC_Sept_11_2001_located_at_Military_Museums_Calgary (1024x683)

Tomorrow, (May 21) the National September 11 Memorial & Museum opens to the public.

As to be expected with a grand-opening in remembrance to a moment in time that has defined and will continue to leave a lasting imprint on our collective world-view at least for this generation, there has been increasing amount of coverage in various media outlets about this event and museum.

This of course reminded me that own Military Museums has an artefact from the World Trade Centre housed outside the front doors to the museum.

Before I get going, I must state right up front that there are two main opposing viewpoints surrounding the events that took place in New York City on the morning of Monday, September 11th, 2001. I choose not to speculate on something I know little, but I will summarize. 

  • There is the officially-sanctioned story that two airplanes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Centre.
  • With an event of this magnitude, and because the human mind is highly adept and continually tries to make sense of chaos, there is at least one major conspiracy theory which is contrary to the accepted story.

As stated previously, I choose not to discuss any possibility of what happened that fateful day. Rather, I prefer to talk about the Calgary artefact itself.

In the time leading up to the installation, a friend of mine was a curator at The Military Museums on secondment from the University of Calgary. This was a time when we would cross paths often, as we were working on a curatorial project together, so I would hear about the progress of this artefact and how it ended up in Calgary.

I was far enough away that I would only hear bits and pieces periodically. I was definitely not involved in the minutiae involved in this project. However, I was definitely interested in the process and progress.

Somewhere along the way, someone involved at The Military Museums found out that some of the artefacts from the World Trade Centre attack were available for donation in appropriate museums or settings by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As I recall most of those were placed in the USA. Regardless of where they all ended up, it was a long process to get the work here. If I recall correctly it was probably at least a year, possibly a two or three year project as there was a number of logistical challenges along the way. From my perspective, this was not overly surprising.

In addition, there was a fundraising component of some sort that The Military Museums initiated leading up to the installation. From what I understand, this was for the design, engineering and feasibility studies and other related expenses to safely suspend the 15 foot, 1270 kilogram twisted steel structural beam.

This tribute was unveiled at its present location, on the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Centre attack on September 11, 2011.

Reading the New York Post this past weekend and my visit to the TMM this afternoon, it is thought-provoking to observe the differences between the two museums and how they have commoditised (or not commoditised) the 9/11 event.

The related issue of how museums survive and funding of them is a topic for another day – if I ever get around to it on this blog. It is a very complex issue with all sorts of tangled macro- and micro-political sentiments and theory involved. Quite frankly a blog might not be the right forum for it.

I realize that on a certain level we are comparing apples and oranges, and from pictures I have seen in the Globe and Mail this past weekend, the 9/11 Memorial will no doubt be a very interesting tribute to those who died that day.

This New York Post story which I mentioned above, talks about the 9/11 gift shop, although there is a link to more about the museum inside the body of the article. Here, in Calgary, the 9/11 artefact stands alone as a silent sentinel which allows the viewer to bring their own memories of that day without even having to enter the museum to encounter it.

On edit (2014 May 30).

Further to what is stated above, I read a recent article which was posted on the Huffington Post by Robert Klitzman, M.D. whose sister died in the World Trade Centre attack, that a number of these steel girders are incorporated into the 9/11 Museum. However, that is not the reason for the edit. In the article Klitzman proposes that the museum could:

inspire us not only to remember the deceased — which it does well — but to ponder these broader issues more, adding to its narrative of victims and heroes, by exploring these larger contexts and dilemmas, broadening our understanding, and moving us to consider far more fully these larger questions about the nature of belief, religion, tolerance, evil and hatred, and ways of perhaps preventing such atrocities in the future. The exhibits would not be able to cover these these issues exhaustively, but could provide a unique and important opportunity to have us reflect on these larger questions. Doing so, could potentially help prevent future such attacks and promote peace, even if in small ways.

Just some food for thought. The issues he raised might have broader applications, than just at the 9/11 Museum.

Art, garbage and food for thought


This morning (or yesterday if you read the date), I heard an interesting conversation on CBC Radio with Anna Maria Tremonti. The conversation was about public art and trying to make public art that people don’t hate.

That whole concept is rather curious in itself – art that no one hates.

I for one would think that anything that fits into that category is probably somewhat impossible to do.

If it comes close to being that safe, it probably is not challenging, is insipid, banal and devoid of any personality. Why would we want art like that?

The interview referenced above had interesting commentary from Councillor Drew Farrell relating to the Family of Man sculpture created by Mario Armengal which was made for the British Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal and is now located in Calgary, on the grounds formerly occupied by the Calgary Board of Education. It was relevant to the discussion as she also talked about the Blue Ring (Travelling Light) sculpture too and the controversies surrounding both pieces.

* * *

This whole concept of public art, is an area that I find increasingly more and more fascinating. There is a lot of interesting dialogue currently occurring around this whole topic. In fact, I would suggest that some of the more interesting dialogues at this time relating to the visual arts are happening in this sphere of public art – however it is defined.

With that in mind, one of the pieces that was discussed in the radio program was a work by a young Saskatoon-based artist Keeley Haftner.

Briefly, she installed a series of two shrink-wrapped bales of recyclable materials as part of a publically-funded, public art project. These bales were in turn “vandalized” (although I would say that is a bit of a strong description) by a Saskatoon resident and in turn were removed. This ,as expected resulted in a fair bit of controversy and coverage in the media. The commentary in this article is interesting, similar to reactions when Calgary installed the Blue Ring, except it did not take place during the middle of an election campaign, like it did in Calgary.

It created a dialogue however. Dialogue as it relates to art is almost always good. It is an important thing to undertake and engage in.

This whole concept of installing waste as an artwork in the public realm is a very interesting one.

Just the process of having a public body pay for, install and then remove a publically-situated artwork – all within its own jurisdiction in a matter of a somewhat short period of time, is in itself, rather fascinating. This whole process took seven months as explained here.

Personally I find the work rather intriguing. From the images I have seen I quite like the formal elements of the bales, as an artwork. How it would stand up over time is the great unknown. It is quite possible that factors such as degradation of materials, because of humidity, light, and wind, may potentially have meant that it was never intended to be a permanent installation.

If t was never meant to be completely permanent, this then makes part of the discussion – moot.

Regardless, I am glad that whoever sat on the selection committee and chose this work exercised a fair bit of bravery and courage in doing so.  I think it is an important discussion to have and the use of public art is a viable and legitimate way to introduce this discussion.

* * *

There are a lot of questions and discussion which should take place around the whole concept and issues relating to how we determine our relationship with garbage, recycling and a culture of visible and sometimes conspicuous consumption. This discussion has a lot of relevance to modern life and especially to those that live in an urban environment where we encounter and interact with refuse daily, no matter what our role in society may be.

There is a most interesting Q and A with the artist relating specifically to this work which can be read here. It is well worth the read.

The artist also has created a blog whereby she gives some background to this work. From what I understand, this blog and the artwork were meant to be supportive of each other. In that blog she not only talks about the work, but also the people whose livelihoods come from processing this same material she used to create the sculpture.  You can read it here.

All this and the links provided should give some food for thought.

an interesting print – Thomas Worthington Whittredge / L. Hunt signed

Thomas-Worthington-Whittredge-attributed-and-L-Hunt-print-of-thatched-roof-barn-sheep-and-sailing-ship (1024x711)

Grab a beverage if you decide to read this. I warn you in advance, this will be a long one.

I spent all day working on this between dealing with clients and attending a panel discussion. I want to get this out before I go to bed, so will proofread it tomorrow. Then I ended up getting interrupted all day.

* * *

I have had this lithograph for quite some time now. It comes from an estate and when I got it I was quite candid in saying it would probably need to be reframed, as the plaster had been chipped off the frame in places. Quite frankly the frame looks a bit long in the tooth. This was something that they agreed with.

It is an attractive piece and I accepted it on its own merits. It is in generally good condition although it does have one small place where foxing is evident in the sky. This is to be expected as the backing is not acid free. It is also not matted and is behind old glass.

I received it shortly before I resigned from Image 54 and as a result, it sat in a box in my ex-girlfriend’s spare bedroom for the remaining two and a half years that we were together. When we separated, it was moved to a gallery shelf waiting in the queue to get reframed. Sadly, it was generally ignored as a result. There was always something more pressing that come through the gallery as a result of an active exhibition schedule.

I finally put it up about a week ago because it is a nice piece. During that time, it has consistently attracted attention, especially from those who grew up in the Netherlands. There was a familiarity to the image that appealed to them and they would usually tell me why and leave without buying it, for whatever reason.

Enough of the preamble

This work is signed in pencil. I read the signature as L. Hunt.

So who is L. Hunt?

That is a good question. Hunt is a relatively common name. In my search to find out more about who this Hunt artist might be, I kept coming up against a blank wall.

This work has two signatures. The one in pencil and the other in the plate. This is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, especially with older works.

The other signature in the plate is better known – W. Whittredge.

Thomas Worthington Whittredge is an artist of significant note.

He is often associated with the American art movement called the Hudson River School. The Hudson River School was a group of New York City based artists who painted landscapes actively during the period from approximately 1850 through until around 1880.

Hudson River School

This art movement was highly influential and its impact on North American art production is still felt today. Through the artists connected to the Hudson River School the early views of the vast wild, unexplored and virgin wilderness of Western North America and Niagara Falls helped define how these areas were viewed.

This movement also had a significant influence in Canada. Cornelius Van Horne who was at one time the superintendent of the Chicago and Alton Railway, later became the president of Canadian Pacific Railway.

Van Horne (an artist in his own right) and/or the Canadian Pacific Railway actively commissioned artists during the 1880s until around the early 1900s to paint the landscape of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. As the Hudson River School had currency with artists at that time, there is often a certain awareness of this movement in how they portrayed the opening of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and how it was viewed to audiences elsewhere.

This Hudson River School influence is still relevant in current artistic production in Canada. We see this in artists as diverse as Jeff Spalding’s paintings of Niagara Falls; Shelley Ouellet’s installation based on a painting of Lake Louise by Frederic M. Bell-Smith exhibited at the Nickle Arts Museum a few years ago; and the aboriginal artist Kent Monkman amongst others. In David Liss’ Fall 2005 feature article for Canadian Art he states the following about Kent Monkman:

The Toronto artist Kent Monkman has recently been gaining acclaim for beautifully painted, ornately framed canvases of sublime landscapes that recall early colonial artists such as Cornelius Krieghoff and Paul Kane and the Hudson River School. Set within backdrops of majestic mountains, steep cliffs and expansive valleys are exquisitely detailed, diminutive human figures, dressed in the attire we associate with that period of history. Cowboys, Indians and soldiers appear engaged in the kinds of activities that most of us in North America were taught took place upon contact between the first settlers and Aboriginals. . .On closer scrutiny, however, it becomes clear that Monkman’s figures are engaged in encounters of an entirely different sort.

Thomas Worthington Whittredge [1820-1910]

After my minor deviation I must get back to Worthington Whittredge.

Whittredge was born in Springfield, Ohio and lived there until he moved to nearby Cincinnati at the age of 17. In Cincinnati he worked as an apprentice house and sign painter. He then went on to operate a daguerreotype store in Indianapolis.

In 1843 he decided to take up the career of an artist, came into contact with, and was influenced by the prominent American artist Thomas Cole [1801-1848] who influenced a generation of artists who became known as the Hudson River School. The year after Thomas Cole’s death, Whittredge travelled to Düsseldorf, Germany to further his studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.

As a bit of a diversion (because of course no path is entirely straight, all the time) we know that Whittredge stopped in France on his way to Düsseldorf. We know this because William H. Gerdts wrote in the notes to his essay The American Artists in Grez which is found in the book Out of Context: American Artists Abroad where he states the following:

Thomas Hicks probably also was in Barbizon in 1849 while studying with Thomas Couture in Paris, for he displayed A Cottage in Barbison (sic) . . . in New York in 1850, perhaps the earliest exhibition of a Barbizon scene by an American artist. Worthington Whittredge of Cincinnati, on his way to Düsseldorf in 1849 stopped in Barbizon . . . but only recalled meeting Virgile Narcisse Díaz de la Peña.

Getting back to the Kunstakademie, this fact is significant as the Academy had a profound effect on artists connected to the American Hudson River School. The Kunstakademie was also closely aligned with the German Romantic Movement from the early to mid-1800s. The German Romantic Movement (or German Romanticism) was rooted in the Sturm und Drang movement from the 1700s. The instructors at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf had taken this concept further by the time Whittredge began his studies. By this time they had begun to advocate for plein air painting which had taken root in France with the Barbizon School and the artists connected to it who regularly painted the landscapes in the Forest of Fontainbleu. This Barbizon School influence (in particular plein-air painting) also played into the new Hudson River School artists.

In Düsseldorf, Whittredge met Emanuel Leutze [1816-1868] and modeled for him as one of the characters in Leutze’s heroic-scaled painting that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection entitled Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1850. On this note, and a bit of a digression, another artist connected to the Nazarenes and director of the Acakemie in Düsseldorf, Wilhelm von Schadow [German, 1789-1862] also modelled for the Leutze painting in the Met collection. There is an interesting story relating to von Schadow here in the Globe and Mail from earlier this month. The Globe article primarily talks about repatriation of a painting to the Max Stern estate, but it is worth reading in this context as it relates to the discussion about the connection between the Hudson River painters and the German Romantic tradition in Düsseldorf.

During his time in Düsseldorf he lived for about a year with Andreas Achenbach [German, 1815-1910] who was an influential painter connected to the school. Whittredge went on to become one of the teachers at the school and one of his students was future Hudson River (and Rocky Mountain School) painter Albert Bierstadt [1830-1902]. They obviously stayed in touch as the two of them spent the summer of 1856 sketching in Switzerland together. That fall both Whittredge and Bierstadt moved to Rome where they were joined by fellow Hudson River School artists Sanford Robinson Gifford [1883-1880] and William Stanley Haseltine [1835-1900].

From some sources it is potentially quite possible that all four of these artists travelled together as a group from Düsseldorf, spending the summer together sketching in Switzerland. They then moved together and established themselves in Rome. Please Note: This paragraph has some speculation in it and requires further research, to confirm correctness, although for our purposes it is not material to this piece.

From Rome, Whittredge moved back to the USA around the same time as the others in 1859. Upon arriving in New York City he joined Gifford and Haseltine who had left Rome the year prior. All four were back together in the newly-built studio building, the first studio building in America which opened in 1858 and was conceived with visual artists in mind – 10th Street Studio Building located at 51 West 10th Street. This building was designed by the young American architect Russell Morris Hunt [1827-1895] who had just finished overseeing the major renovation of the Louvre for Napoleon III. This building housed a virtual who’s who of American artists during the time it was used as a studio building.

As Tom Miller wrote about this building:

The building was without question the most famous studio building in America. On October 10, 1887 The Evening World described it succinctly.  “The Studio Building, West Tenth Street, is a painter’s Bohemia. The studios are working places, without much bric-a-brac, or tapestries, or old carved wood.”

Whittredge quickly established himself into the fabric of New York City’s artistic community. In 1860, the year after he arrived in NYC, he was elected to the National Academy of Design and two years later in 1862 he became a full member.

Not only was he a member of the National Academy of Design, but he later served as the president of the National Academy between 1874 and 1877. This was an interesting period as the year after he assumed the presidency, the National Academy opened the doors to its first permanent home at the corner of 23rd Avenue and Park Avenue South in New York City. It was subsequently demolished and is now an office tower.

William Morris Hunt [1824-1879]

One of the artists to study in Düsseldorf around the same time as Whittredge was another American artist William Morris Hunt.

William Morris Hunt after attending Harvard College for three years left his studies shortly after his father had passed away. In 1844, he, along with his wealthy mother and three other brothers went to the south of France and later moved to Paris so that they could get a European education. This was followed by his attending the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1845. No doubt at this time William M. Hunt came into contact with Whittredge who was still studying there.

Dissatisfied, William Morris Hunt left the Düsseldorf Academy at the end of his first year of studies.

The following year William Morris Hunt was in Paris. There, he became a student of Thomas Couture [French, 1815-1879] between 1846 to 1852. Thomas Couture according to a page in the National Gallery of Canada website was “one of the most celebrated painters in Paris during his lifetime and was renowned for his bold technique and sensational subject matter.”

During this time W.M. Hunt subsequently fell under the influence of Jean-François Millet [French, 1814-1875]. This resulted in him moving to the Barbizon to continue his studies with Millet.

William Morris Hunt returned to the USA in 1854, presumably to Vermont where his roots were. Two years later he settled in Newport, Rhode Island where he taught art and in 1862 settled permanently in Boston. He continued to teach in Boston. He taught not just painting, but also lithography as well. He was a life-long proponent of art and artists from the Barbizon School and Millet’s work in particular. He was a collector of Millet’s paintings and sadly a number of them were destroyed in a fire that burned his Boston studio to the ground.

He died off the coast of New Hampshire. There is some speculation that this may have been a result of suicide.

Nathan Flint Baker [1820-1891]

Nathan Flint Baker was born in Cincinnati. He started working in clay around 1840. His family sent him to Italy with letters of introduction, two years later in 1842. He was to study with the neo-classical sculptor Hiram Powers [1805-1873] in Florence and other sculptors in Rome. He stayed in Italy until about 1846 when he returned to Cincinnati. He produced a sculpture of John James Audubon [1785-1851] which he exhibited at the National Academy in NYC in 1847. In the same year, he also produced a major eight foot high marble sculpture of Cincinnatus for the Cincinnati City Hall. This work became the object of neglect and vandalism and was subsequently moved to storage. It was rediscovered in 1928, but its present location is believed to still be unknown.

In 1845, the German artist, Emanuel Leutze painted a portrait of Nathan Flint Baker. This work is in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Nathan Flint Baker returned to Italy and there appears to be two different versions of this story; 1.) he was previously living in Italy; or 2.) he planned to meet up with a family friend in Italy to travel to the Middle East. Either way, it doesn’t matter, he was known to be in Rome during the Spring of 1851. He spent the next two years travelling with his family friend throughout Europe and the Middle East.

During this two year period he was one of the early photographers of the Middle East, including places such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and the Holy Land. These photographs are very important and very rare. Most are in institutional collections such as the Library of Congress.

After this trip he returned to Cincinnati. It is noted that a local newspaper, as quoted in the Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900 book, stated that in July 1853 that “he had washed his hands of art altogether, having, he declares, almost forgotten how to hold a chisel.” Outside of a few trips to Italy, (one trip being between 1859 and 1861) he lived out the remainder of his life in Cincinnati. He did produce some work, but his production was significantly reduced.

Leavitt Hunt [1831-1907]

William Morris Hunt had a younger brother Leavitt Hunt. Like William Morris Hunt he also went to the south of France with his mother in 1844 and received a European education.

Leavitt was a scholar. He attended Harvard Latin School, then attended a Swiss boarding school, followed by earning a law degree from the University of Heidelberg in Germany and military training in Switzerland. He later in his life returned to Harvard University and received a second law degree.

In 1851, he met up with a family friend in Italy. The family friend was Nathan Flint Baker. Together they travelled in Europe and like Baker is considered to be one of the early photographers of the Middle East, including places such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and the Holy Land. Generally the two of them are considered to be the first American photographers of the Middle East.

In Will Stapp’s entry titled Hunt, Leavitt (1831-1907) and Baker, Nathan Flint (c. 1822-1891), American Photographers found in the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, he states the following:

Only a handful of Hunt’s and Baker’s prints have appeared on the market, and they are amongst the rarest and most desirable early American paper print photographs.

Most of his photographic images are held in institutional collections, primarily the George Eastman House, the American Architectural Foundation and the Library of Congress. He is known for his early views of the Middle East, including the first known photographic image of a Middle Eastern woman.

After his “grand tour” with Baker it seems that neither one of them showed any interest in the photographic medium. He returned to the United States and began his legal practice in New York City.

Will Stapp once again describes Leavitt’s professional practice from the same source cited earlier:

He practiced law in New York until the Civil War broke out, when he enlisted as a lieutenant in a New York regiment; he served on General Heinzelman’s staff, and was brevetted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel for gallantry in the Battle of Mulvern Hill. Invalided out of service in 1862, he returned to his law practice in New York, but retired to Weatherfield, Vermont in 1867, after his wife inherited her father’s estate there. Hunt spent the remainder of his life as a gentleman farmer, living in a house filled with exotic souvenirs of his travels.

His father-in-law William Jarvis [1770-1859] was a diplomat, financier and merchant who imported Merino sheep from Spain. After moving to the inherited farm he purchased another nearby farm where he became particularly interested in rare breeds of Dutch cattle and propagating white pine forests.

He did however maintain a life-long interest in art and wrote poetry. He also was an inventor with a number of patents to his name.

Russell Morris Hunt [1827-1895]

Russell Morris Hunt has already made an appearance in this tale I write. He was the third brother to William Morris Hunt. He was an architect and like his brothers received a European training.

He plays a very minor but interesting supporting role in this story. This is outside of his role as the architect of the 10th Street Studio Building in NYC where Worthington Whittredge had a studio.

Having said that, he did have another role to play which was to accompany both his brother Leavitt Hunt and Nathan Flint Baker on their trip down the Nile in 1853. On this trip, like some other architects he produced artwork. These were included in an exhibition held at the Octagon Museum in Washington, DC in 1999. These works were included with the photos Leavitt Hunt and Nathan Flint Baker had taken in 1853.


We can see that Worthington Whittredge was definitely aware of the four sons of Jonathan Hunt [1787-1832]. It is quite possible that he knew them all. Three of the four from this prominent Vermont family are listed above. The fourth was a medical doctor who lived in Paris. .

I must admit that I am overly familiar with many of these artists, outside of reputation, names and a general awareness. They are outside of my usual scope of dealing in Canadian art. How close were they to each other? Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.

The first major question is a three-part one:

  • 1.) Is this an original subject matter for the print; or 2.) is it a print produced after a known painting by Whittredge; and 3.) regardless of which of the two options above is true, what significance did L. Hunt have as part of the process?

Notwithstanding the fundamental question of authorship, based on the above noted timelines and situations that we can safely infer two reasonably certain assumptions as being highly possible, namely that:

  • All five main individuals (Whittredge, three of the four Hunt brothers, and Baker) must have crossed paths with each other at some point.
  • We can assume that all five primary individuals probably had some dealings with each other in some capacity, somewhere along the way. As is always the case, some will be closer than others.

Based on these reasonably safe assumptions we will extend this further and ask some questions with no answers given. They are:

  • Did Whittredge and Baker know each other in Cincinnati?
  • It would seem possible that Whittredge and Baker may have crossed paths in Düsseldorf when Leutze painted Baker in 1845. It is also quite possible that Leutze may have painted the portrait in Italy during 1845 instead. Either way, it would seem likely that each other’s name would have come up in conversation. Did they actually meet in that year?
  • Did all five of these main individuals meet in Rome during 1851 at the beginning of the Middle Eastern photographic or at the end of the photographic tour in 1853?
  • Given how close the Netherlands is to Düsseldorf, did Whittredge produce any work in Holland?
  • Is this a Dutch scene?
  • We know from publicly available artworks that Whittredge painted a number of images of the Newport, Rhode Island area. Were these produced during the two year period that William Morris Hunt lived there. If so, did they cross paths with each other there?
  • Given that Leavitt Hunt raised Dutch cattle, and being a gentleman farmer, did he try to re-create a Dutch farm on his property?
  • We know that Leavitt’s father-in-law imported Merino sheep. Is it possible that this print was based on a painting of the father-in-law’s property?
  • How close were Whittredge and William Morris Hunt to each other?
  • Did one of the Hunt brothers collect Whittredge’s paintings?

There are so many questions involved with this work. These are just a small sampling of some that come to mind as a result of what I have written above.

The biggest question of all

We know that William Morris Hunt taught lithography. We also know that Leavitt Hunt must have been a tinkerer because of the patents he held for inventions of farm equipment.

Was the L. Hunt in this print Leavitt Hunt?

Making an assumption that it is possible yes, did William Morris Hunt teach his little brother Leavitt how to produce a lithograph? If so did he use one of Worthington Whittridge’s paintings (possibly of his farm or a work he owned) as subject?

Sorel Etrog sculptures in Calgary

Sorel-Etrog-Sadko-And-Kabuki-at-Bow-Valley-Square-Calgary-August-18-2013 (1024x683)

Late last month the Toronto-based sculptor Sorel Etrog passed away.

There is a story I have been wanting to write since last summer when the Art Gallery of Ontario hosted a major retrospective of his work. Sorel Etrog is an important artist to Calgary and the public art that is shown here. His importance to the Calgary community has been largely overlooked – which in my opinion is unfortunate.

Because of the obituary I read in the Toronto Star (I don’t think any other major news outlet covered the story outside of something in Canadian Art), I started writing something about Etrog’s importance to Calgary as I have stated above. The piece I have used to illustrate this blog post has been previously added to the map which was part of the Art Gallery of Ontario show, which is an excellent resource.

It was going to be a quick 500 words (maybe 1000 if I got long-winded, which I sometimes do). But then I got busy. Was hardly home for over a week straight. Then when I got down to writing something I realized that it needed to be much more scholarly than what I originally planned.

Either way, I see that my blog has been going this way lately anyways, with annotations and notes on many of my more recent entries. It means that it is much more work than just a simple blog post. I guess it is just the way I am. I had a former boss who criticised me once by telling me that I am working in a commercial gallery, not a museum. The work I have always shown has always been this way. I have always tried to show work of merit and quality, and not always work that is easily salable. But I digress.

So I have been thinking what to do about this. My original 500 words is now 3000 words and I am not even close to being done. It will probably end up being in the neighbourhood of 5000+ words.

This all has started to foment thought. It had already begun earlier when I wrote about Jordi Bonet mural; the Amazon sculpture; Anne and Patrick Poirier’s sculpture; even the Banksy mural story; and a few other shows of note. So it got me wondering.

Why blog?

Especially when making a research-based post, which may just go away if the host changes or whatever. Why not publish instead? So that is where I am thinking I will be taking this story about Sorel Etrog, Calgary public art and his influence on it – or whatever the story ends up being – based on my research findings.

This will allow me to take my time that I will require to make a thoughtful and well-researched essay. Then I can focus on the other smaller things that pique my interest like Yvonne Mullock’s show at Pith Gallery; Douglas Bentham’s show at C2 (Contemporary Calgary at the old Triangle/MOCA-Calgary space); or the many other shows of merit that have been happening around town lately. Or maybe even something completely different instead.

I will blog again with more information when the Sorel Etrog publication is ready (in whatever form that may take).

It probably will be self-published in some form. I hope to have something in the next month or so.