Helen Kemp Frye’s Writings on Art

Helen Kemp Frye’s Writings on Art

An E‑Book

Compiled and edited by Robert D. Denham

 

Iron Mountain Press

Emory, Virginia

2012

Introduction

 Before enrolling in Victoria College, Helen Kemp had studied at the Danard and Hambourg Conservatories of Music and from the latter earned an associate diploma.  The reviews of her performances while she was a conservatory student recognize her considerable talent as a pianist.  She was no less interested in art.  During her first year at Riverdale Collegiate Institute, where she received the highest standing in the first eight forms, she took part in the Saturday morning classes at the Ontario College of Art.  Before enrolling at Victoria, Kemp had entertained the idea of specializing in art.  This was an interest fostered by her father, who, early in his career, had been an associate of Arthur Lismer and Tom Thomson.  Kemp’s letters to Frye contain a number of whimsical line-drawings, but even the best of these hardly suggest the genuine talent she had as an illustrator, which is revealed in the sketch-books that have been preserved and in the map she drew of the University of Toronto campus.  The latter is a genuine tour de force.  Although she never pursued drawing as a career, art, especially practical art, remained a central interest throughout her life.  When she was a young woman, this interest developed in the direction of art education, and in the letters from the mid-1930s we see the role played by Arthur Lismer, who was educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto, in launching her career in adult education at the Art Gallery of Toronto.

At the initiative of Lismer, Kemp had become an assistant at the gallery in Toronto during the second week of October 1933.  He had learned that the Canadian Committee, established by the Carnegie Corporation to study the problems of Canadian museums, wanted to train recent university graduates for museum work.  The plan had two phases: students were to gain experience at local museums and then be sent to the Courtauld Institute at the University of London and to galleries on the continent for further study.  Lismer, recognizing Kemp’s potential as an art educator, hired her for the first phase at the Art Gallery of Toronto and then recommended that she continue her museum training at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

In January 1934, Kemp applied to H.O. McCurry, secretary of the Canadian Committee, for an eight-month apprenticeship.  Her application was approved, and in February she spent one week in Ottawa assisting Kathleen Fenwick, curator of prints and drawings at the National Gallery, in lecturing on an exhibition of nineteenth-century painting.  She then returned to Toronto, where she finished her thesis on “The Educational Work of an Art Museum,” and busied herself for the next month with the activities of the art gallery—lecturing on Holbein, conducting classes for a French exhibition, assisting Lismer with his Thursday morning study classes, doing clerical work, and in general familiarizing herself with the operation of the gallery.

In the fall of 1934 Kemp began her study in London at the fledgling Courtauld Institute.  The Courtauld had been founded at the University of London in 1931.  It offered courses for the B.A. honours degree and the academic diploma in both art history and archaeology, as well as for the M.A. and Ph.D.  The Courtauld had a skeletal full-time faculty—the director, W.G. Constable, and four additional teachers.  Most of the lectures and classes, in fact, were given by outside scholars, many of whom were from the museums and galleries in London.  Kemp had some difficulty adjusting to the British form of academic life.  “I don’t like the utter and absolute isolation of one group from another,” she wrote to Frye, adding that “there is hardly any social intercourse among the students.”   On the advice of Geoffrey Webb, her tutor, Kemp soon gave up on attending lectures, which she found exceedingly dull, and spent her time instead going to galleries, museums, and churches.  “I am beginning to get a pretty fair idea of the nature of Gothic architecture,” she wrote, but her knowledge came primarily, not from tutorials, lectures, or books, but from visits to Canterbury and Southwark, Westminster Abbey, and the Temple Church.

One little episode reveals Kemp’s typical attitude toward her program of study: in October 1934 she initially planned to attend a lecture by Bernard Ashmole on Egyptian archaeology, but when she discovered that Albert Schweitzer was the same night giving a lecture entitled “Religion in Modern Civilization,” she abandoned Ashmole, whom she knew was going to be dull, and rushed off to hear Schweitzer.  She sent Frye an extensive summary of his lecture.

On the whole, Kemp was rather casual about her course at the Courtauld.   She spent her first two months “fluttering about,” and when she did turn her attention to learning some art history, she became anxious about being able to accomplish the task in one year.  “I’m almost afraid of June coming the day after to-morrow,” she fretted in a letter to Frye, “and so much to be done.  But all one’s life is like that, and if they expect me to have anything more than the mere beginning of a taste for sculpture and painting in eight months, they are indulging in rather fond delusions.”  She had her moments of confidence, as when she reported that her papers “on a general outline of art history . . . would shame any yankee college for scope.”  When she finally got around to meeting with Constable, he told her that her work has been “excellent.”  But on the whole, Kemp’s year at the Courtauld lacked focus: she was doing little more, she writes to Frye, than “tucking in a fair amount of information in a quiet way, not worrying, because I can’t be bothered.”  Part of the problem was that she received no guidance.  Webb, her tutor, hadn’t the slightest idea of what she was doing, which made her skeptical of Constable’s praise, and she lamented the complete absence of any counsel: “We haven’t had any supervision all term and no essays to write as Webb is too busy or too lazy to read them and always postpones his session with us.”  Two weeks before her exams Kemp remarked that she is “at last getting some idea of what this course is about,” but by then it is too late for her to fill her head with the kinds of information her examiners wanted.

On 20 March 1935, Kemp set out with a fellow student for Italy, spending three weeks in Rome, Tivoli, Orvieto, Assisi, Perugia, and Arezzo and three weeks in Florence.  After returning to London in May, she devoted the next month to preparing, somewhat half-heartedly, for her exams, which she wrote on 17–18 June.   A month later, after an interlude in Brussels where she represented the Art Gallery of Toronto at a conference of the British Museums Association, she learned that she has failed her exams, and she wrote broken-heartedly to Frye: “Exam results came out to-day.  I failed.  It looks pretty grim, written like that, but there it is.  And I’m not doing any howling.  I feel like a general after a lost battle, but I’m all ready for the next one. . . . I don’t feel ashamed or degraded or any damned thing at all, for I haven’t time to waste now.  But I have wondered what you would think.  And that has been my worst disappointment.  If this makes any difference to you I shall just fade out of the picture so far as you are concerned.  It may be better that way.  I will not have you marrying a stupid woman.”  In his reply Frye proposed to Kemp that her “mental outlines don’t altogether fit those of an exam, which places such a premium on glibness and assumes that brilliance is the most valuable of intellectual qualities.  First-rate people don’t do things brilliantly, they do them readily; and I think that this will make you much more clear-eyed and self-assured and take a lot more of the flutter and splutter and gawkiness out of your work than the most meteoric examination success could possibly have done.”  The next day he cabled her, “FORTUNES OF WAR CHEER UP AND SHUT UP LOVE.”   Years later Frye remarked that Kemp “cherished [this telegram] all her life—I think of it as the best literary effort of my writing career.”

This sketch of Helen Kemp’s studio skills and her knowledge of art history and art education, especially the development of the museum as a center for art instruction for children and for continuing education for adults, is provided as a background for the writing on art that Kemp (later Frye) did for a period of more than twenty years, much of it for the Canadian Forum, after she graduated from college.

Material in square brackets is an editorial insertion.

Thanks to Larry Pfaff of the Art Gallery of Ontario for his help, more than twenty years ago, in locating typescripts of Helen Frye’s radio talks.

 

Helen Frye’s Radio Talks and Writings on Art

(in chronological order, no. 24, Helen Kemp’s thesis, excepted))

 

1  “The University and the Fine Arts” (1933)

2  “Loan Collections from the Art Gallery of Toronto” (1936)

3  “Children in the Gallery” (1937)

4  “The Permanent Collection” (1937)

5  “Children at the Art Gallery of Toronto” (1937)

6  “Yvonne Williams” (1938)

7  “Yvonne McKague Housser” (1938)

8  “Fritz Brandtner” (1938)

9  “Art for Everyman (1938)

10  “Art & Letters” (1941)

11  “Economy and the Arts” (1941)

12  “Societies and Society” (1941)

13  “Art in the Nineteenth Century” (1942)

14  “Portrait of the Artist in a Young Magazine” (1942)

15  “Manhandling the Arts” (1942)

16  “American Folk Arts” (1942)

17  “Design in Industry” (1947)

18  “Two Art Conferences” (1947)

19  “Canadian Handicrafts Abroad” (1949)

20  Review of Three Art Books (1951)

21  Review of A.J. Casson, by Paul Duval (1952)

22  Review of Emily Carr as I Knew Her, by Carol Pearson (1955)

23  Review of The Noble Savage: A Life of Paul Gauguin, by L. and E. Hanson (1955)

24  The Educational Work of an Art Museum.  Thesis, National Gallery of Art

 

1

The University and the Fine Arts (1933)

 

This article appeared in Acta Victoriana 57, no. 5 (April 1933): 5–10.

 

It may be said, I believe, that the cultural life of Canada centres on its universities.  There, in a region of relative detachment and calm, the students of the country congregate, some for the purpose of receiving a general education, others with an eye upon technical training in the professions.  It is supposed that the broad field of knowledge will be adequately represented, preserved and advanced in a university, which has the heritage of centuries within its keeping.  It is therefore surprising that so many universities almost entirely pass over two great traditions—that is, the arts of music and painting.  While most other sides of life are given serious consideration, these are left in the background as amusements for an idle hour, and are as disregarded as the portraits on the walls of a dining hall where musicians accompany the chatter of guests.  In the conception of a fully-developed cultural education each aspect of life should be given due importance. Thus the student may evaluate the different elements of life as he sees it, and as countless men through the years have seen it and given expression to their feeling in one form or another.  So it seems that there is a need in our university which should be met: that provision should be made for the study of music and art and full recognition given to them in the regular curriculum.

There are, broadly speaking, two types of training in the fine arts, that is, technical and cultural.  The former sort has been stressed more perhaps than the latter.  In accord with an age which makes a fetish of specialization and the production of prodigies, it has been the fashion to supply the budding artist with a training in which the emphasis was placed largely upon technical proficiency.  Little musicians, for instance, have been brought forward with a great deal of ostentation, children whose performance was remarkable for their age but whose work later showed no more maturity.  The student who wishes to become a creative artist or musician, or a concert performer, is faced with two alternatives.  In Canada, after high school, he may enter university or he may attend a conservatory or an art school.  Since ostensibly the university can have no appeal for him, he embarks upon an extremely technical and one-sided course which trains him in the one particular branch of study, but by too early a specialization it robs him of the advantages of a general intellectual background.  Here very often, he encounters adolescents who have gone little farther than the secondary school entrance, and who develop a bohemianism which lowers the intellectual level of the institution, stressing as it does erratic inspiration and revolt from discipline.  To the serious student, the advantage of combining the two aspects would seem manifest.  To enlarge the horizon of the student of art or music in his early years is of great value, for later on, the growth of his ability depends upon his sensitiveness to beauty expressed in art in one medium or another.

There is another aspect of the question when we consider the student who has no intention of becoming a creative artist, but who regards the study of art as an end in itself.  The Oxford method, in which a chair of learning is endowed, regardless of the number of students who will make that study financially a paying proposition, would seem ideal from the standpoint of disseminating knowledge.  But when we begin to think of ways and means in our own colleges, the financial question always enters, and we must consider what the economists call the demand side of the situation.  Here we cease to regard training in the fine arts from the viewpoint of the individual and think of the community.

An art training available in colleges should begin the work of creating an educated and discriminating public who will have intelligent enjoyment and a critical appreciation of the work of artists and composers and who will create a demand for their work.  In a community whose finer sensibilities are fast becoming atrophied by passive amusements, such as professional hockey games, professional baseball games, professional leg-shows and the clap-trap from Hollywood that passes for humour, such a group of enlightened citizens should leaven the mass somewhat.  The erection of public buildings, of advertisements, the selection of pictures for public and private collections—many elements of public life would be influenced immeasurably by the art education of college men and women who are, after all, looked upon as leaders in the community.

In music the same argument holds true.  A well-known musician remarked recently that the Canadian public is as innocent as a babe in regard to music.  The average business man who prides himself on his hard shell goes to a concert, and admires certain technical gymnastics, such as performers put on to impress an audience, but he sees and knows little further in music.  Without an enlightened and appreciative audience the performer is a lone prophet crying in a wilderness peopled by wolves and saxophones—and radios.

The student who wishes to study art and music in college should have had some previous training, for there is not sufficient time there to begin the painstaking groundwork required to play an instrument even tolerably or to handle a pencil with ease.  In the days before the advent of the radio and phonograph made many people think that the joy of making music oneself was not worth the drudgery required to learn, music lessons were given to most children.  It now rests with the public schools to provide the rudiments at least of a knowledge of music and art, on an equal footing with the customary subjects, so that a child may carry on more advanced work as he proceeds through higher grades.

In Ontario, when authorities have found that there is little good in attempting economy in education, the need for specialized training in the colleges which send teachers all over the province will gradually become evident.  The average art teacher in public schools has taken a short course in the painting of weeds and chalk-boxes at the normal school, and the high school teacher studies the same sort of thing at an art school or the college of education.  The teacher of music studies out of books and composes tunes by mathematical formulae and, after an examination, returns to teach others to play the same set of pieces and write the same kind of exercises to pass an examination in order to teach. . . .  Little attempt is made to train either of these teachers as systematically as for instance the teacher of English literature.  Private schools import well-trained people to carry on their work.  One girls’ school I recall has in charge of art instruction a graduate from Liverpool and The Slade School in London; another employs a musician of first rate continental standing.  Why should not the public schools also have the benefit of excellent instruction?  One must conclude that sooner or later our universities must establish faculties of fine arts in order to educate the teachers who go out to instruct the children of the province.

Already some elementary work has been attempted with children of primary school age.   This is most noticeable in the larger cities where there is a growing spirit of co-operation between art galleries, conservatories, museums and orchestras and the public and high schools.  For instance the Art Gallery of Toronto holds classes in art on Saturday morning.  The exhibitions of work of the children reveal a spring of natural talent which finds outlet in joyous and spontaneous expression.  The symphony orchestra giving concerts to school children also may be mentioned as one means of giving the younger generation a firmer grasp of artistic values than their parents ever had.  We find nowadays in this college itself perhaps a dozen people who have an A.T.C.M. [Associate, Toronto Conservatory of Music] degree or its equivalent, and these are the logical people to wish to continue the study of music in college, since they have found it quite compatible with other subjects during high school years.

Besides such individuals as I have mentioned who are constantly coming to the university with a fairly adequate musical or artistic background, already in the university there are activities which show the trend of student interest.  There is the sketch club at Hart House [student activity centre, University of Toronto], and there are various groups connected with literary societies of different colleges, and with the course in aesthetics, who attend lectures and exhibitions at the art gallery.  Collections of paintings are exhibited in the university residences and club rooms, and perhaps in the libraries also in the near future.  There is a growing number of students who attend the evening concerts of the symphony orchestra, who go to lectures at the conservatory prior to the concerts, and some are beginning to realize the opportunities possible in the establishment of a good collection of phonograph records available in the residences.  I am not concerned here with a discussion of ways and means, or of what sort of degrees to confer upon graduates from a Faculty of Fine Arts, or what standing should be accorded a student for proficiency in art along with his other subjects.  Surely such things could be arranged.  At the present time, of course, lack of money is an important factor in the inaction of the authorities.  The establishment of such courses has been considered for several years back, but owing to the usual procrastination nothing has been done.  It is rumoured that a fund is already available for lectures in art and that for the past year lantern slides and various other equipment for the use of the lecturer have lain stored up in the basement of Simcoe Hall.  When the Toronto Conservatory of Music was affiliated with the University in 1921 it was a step in the desired direction, and now the degree of Bachelor of Music is conferred upon certain students enrolled in the Faculty of Music.  But as yet students in the Faculty of Arts receive no credit for any work they may do in music.  In the year 1928 the calendar of the Ontario College of Art mentioned its affiliation with the University and its hope in the near future of entering into complete affiliation and including art in degree courses in a Faculty of Fine Arts.  Nothing has been done about it yet except to give male art students privileges at Hart House. [At the time, women were excluded from membership in Hart House.]  Consequently events are at a standstill, and probably no action will be taken until the authorities become conscious of the need and of the insistent demand of students for such instruction.

And in the meantime the students of this college generation may ask what is to be done, lacking any formal programme of planned study officially acknowledged in the curriculum.  The answer is, we shall go on practically as we are going now, with perhaps a change of emphasis here and there.  The obvious place is in extra-curricular activities.  The Literary Society of Victoria College this year held a series of bi-weekly lectures on music, illustrated by both piano and vocal music.  There is another group which studies the ballad.  The college orchestra does not receive a great deal of publicity, probably because an excellent concert requires more time and perhaps more skilled performance than such an organization can give and still do justice to other works.  The music club seems to be following out a policy of attempting a professional production which necessitates the development of a few stars.  If the chorus is to include most of the club members it becomes clumsy and unwieldy, and if it is to be an effective unit it must be ruthlessly pruned and highly cultivated.  Such a plan would seem outside the sphere of a college organization which should, I think, attempt rather to provide cultural amusement for its students.  This would emphasize and help correlate work in other arts, rather than serve as a delightful but distracting activity.  Perhaps choral and ballad singing purely for the fun of the thing, with a concert here and there is what I am thinking of, in which everyone can take part.  The French Club lately had a meeting in which a short talk on the history of French music preceded an illustrated lecture on French art, given by one of Canada’s leading artists.  Now I do not wish to seem in favour of people rushing hither and yon in an undignified and ultimately futile attempt to cram in “culture” by the yard.  But I am trying to show that study of one subject is heightened and coloured by a glimpse of a different viewpoint, by the bearing and influence of other arts upon it, and that the student should be given an opportunity of developing that catholic taste which is so desirable.  The amateur, in the sense of the lover, is the hope of the nation’s culture, and the sooner this is realized, the sooner shall we be on the road toward developing a civilized national life.  It is my belief that the intelligent amateur as well as the cultured professional would be encouraged by the establishment of faculties of fine arts in the Canadian universities.

 

2

Loan Collections from the Art Gallery of Toronto (1936)

 

This article first appeared in The School: A Magazine Devoted to Elementary and Secondary Education 25 (October 1936): 105–9.

 

The other day an old college friend dropped in to see the Gallery and finally found her way to the writer’s particular corner.  She had come from Northern Ontario, she said, where for two years she had seen nothing more in the way of pictures than the covers of popular magazines and a few dilapidated reproductions.  There were a few people in the town who had travelled, a good many others who said they had liked drawing when they were young, and several others who wished that they lived nearer a city where they might visit an art gallery occasionally.  But it was in her own work in the classroom that she felt most strongly the need of some pictorial material with which to illustrate and clarify her lessons, for to many of her pupils a cathedral was merely a word and the cities of Europe non-existent.  Painting and sculpture and half a dozen other arts were unfamiliar, and the life of other countries nebulous in their imagination.  They had no idea of what the people wore whom they read about in history, how they lived, what they amused themselves with, or what their cities and buildings looked like.  It was a world entirely unknown and unexplored.  The writer explained to this teacher that the Art Gallery of Toronto had a good deal of the very sort of material she needed both for her pupils and for their parents.  It was not hoarded in storerooms.  Indeed, the authorities of the Gallery were more than anxious to lend it to anyone who could make good use of it.  For the past five years they had been lending original works, lantern slides, and reproductions of famous works of art, and this extramural service was continually increasing.

To show samples of what the Gallery could lend the writer brought out all sorts of drawings and paintings and a miscellany of objects made by the children in the Saturday Morning Classes.  There were grotesque masks and linoleum cuts, illustrations of Bible stories, coloured posters of Canadian history, large mural decorations, paper cuts and textile designs printed from potato cuts, puppets made of hardened sawdust and habitat groups in clay and plasticene.  All these were made by children of public school age, and a great many of such objects are borrowed by teachers who find it stimulating to show their classes what other children are doing.

Besides the work of Canadian children there is a collection of lino-cuts, colour prints, and framed posters from the Cizek classes for Austrian children in Vienna.  Contemporary etchings, modern Mexican lithographs in colour, coloured wood block prints by English, Austrian and American artists, Japanese prints, and Persian miniatures—all are available for special exhibitions.  For people alive to modern trends in art, there are English posters by some of the outstanding designers of the present day, reproductions of French painting of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and reproductions in colour and gold leaf from the designs of the Italian painter, Gino Severini.  There is a splendid series of mounted textiles of various kinds from all over the world.  For people interested in Canadiana there are colour prints showing the his­tory of Canadian art, and a fine collection of large photographs of early Ontario architec­ture.  For students of Old Masters there are reproductions in colour of illuminated Flemish manuscripts, and of drawings by Leonardo, Diirer, Raphael, Michelangelo, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Watteau, Blake, and many others.  Here is abundant material for art exhibitions which with additional information and a lecture or two on occasion supplied by the Gallery, has proved of great interest in the winter programmes of many study groups and clubs.

In addition to this material, which is usually loaned in sets, there are several thousand reproductions which are particularly useful in supple­menting school lessons.  The artist has given us pictures of the life of the past which cannot be translated into any other medium.  He is the contemporary witness of events and records them in the manner of his time.  History is written in every stick and stone and bit of paint that has been fashioned by the hand of man, and we must recognize the value of this material in trying to recreate for children the story of past ages.  History teaching throughout the whole school could be enlivened by the use of contemporary art.  The study of Latin, Greek, and ancient history, can be illumined by illustrations of the life of ancient times taken from buildings, sculpture, and vase paintings.  The pageant of mediaeval Europe with its chivalry and its richness of colour is still on record in the illuminations of manuscripts and books of hours, in battlemented castles, in the background of altarpieces, and in sculptures of the outside of cathedrals.  A culture as comparatively remote as that of China can be brought into the Ontario school lesson to give something of the flavour of the great Empire which Marco Polo made known to the Western world in the thirteenth century.

The reproductions owned by the Gallery cover pretty well the whole history of art in range, and teachers are invited to let the educational staff of the Gallery know what they need.  They can show their classes copies of some of the Egyptian paintings now in the museums of Cairo and Thebes, the temples of Karnak and Gizeh, sculpture of the great Pharoahs of Egypt.  From Greece the Gallery has the Parthenon and the Acropolis of Athens, the sculptures of Phidias, and statues of the gods of Greek mythology set up in the time of Pericles.  Temples and theatres and aqueducts of Rome are there; so too are miniatures from Persia and India, and sculpture from Assyria in the ninth century B.C.  The great bulk of the material, however, is illustrative of the different branches of the art of Western Europe from the early days of the Christian era to the present.  Among the many works of interest to the teacher of British history are the eighth‑century Gospels of  Lindisfarne illuminated in a Northumbrian  monastery,  the  contemporary Irish Book of  Kells, the Bayeux Tapestry embroidered in commemoration of the Conquest at the order of the Conqueror’s brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, and the Wilton Diptych now in the National Gallery, London, which shows Richard II with his patron saints, Edmund, Edward the Confessor, and John the Baptist, kneeling before the Virgin Mary and child Jesus.  In the later period of great activity in architecture and sculpture, photographs of such details as the angels from the Angel Choir at Lincoln and tombs from Westminster Abbey help to clarify in the pupils’ minds pictures of the buildings.  French Gothic architecture, as the origin of all Gothic build­ing, is shown in great detail.

With the Italian Renaissance there comes a tremendous burst of artistic activity which is shown in palaces and courtyards, fountains and statues, churches and wall paintings, and portraits of the distinguished people of the period by the great men of Italian art.  Reproductions of every phase of this glorious activity are available at the Gallery.  The whole of Europe was caught up in this movement, and we find Holbein painting Erasmus, the family of Thomas More, and the court of Henry VIII; Clouet painting the court of Francis I; Rubens, the English and French courtiers of the seventeenth century; his pupil, Van Dyck, immortalizing the ill-fated Charles I.  Goya satirized the court of Spain, while Watteau, Fragonard and Boucher blossomed in all the gay decora­tion of the court of the Pompadour and pre-revolutionary France.  Wealthy English landowners of the eighteenth century and the circle of Dr. Johnson still look down upon us from the canvasses of Gainsborough and Reynolds, and the social evils of the time are caricatured by Hogarth and Rowlandson.  The coronation of Napoleon and the Empire period is glorified by David, Ingres and Gros.  Decade after decade and century after century the great artists pass before us, and as we look at the work they have left behind, we realize how that work preserves a little of the essence of a whole culture, a whole epoch.  Reproductions of the work of all these periods can be borrowed and many more, for the collection includes works of art up to the present day.

These works are sent out to organizations in the city of Toronto and to schools, churches, study clubs, and libraries in any district in Ontario.  The Gallery must be assured that good care will be taken of valuable material, and in some cases insurance is required before the loan is sent out.  But the total cost to the borrower, merely that of insurance and of transportation, is very slight.  The cost of transportation is practically eliminated if the borrower is able to call for the material and return it by car.  For schools in Toronto and vicinity the exhibits are mounted on screens and delivered by truck ready to stand in hall or classroom.  For sending a packet of unframed pictures to any place within fifty or sixty miles of Toronto, the cost of transportation and insurance would be about two dollars, but the expense of shipping framed pictures would be some­what higher.  The material is carefully packed by men experienced in handling pictures, and their method can be followed to ensure a safe return.  The borrower is responsible for any damages or losses incurred.

Owing to the great demand for these exhibitions, the period for which each is available is limited to two weeks.  However, under certain condi­tions the time may be extended by special request.  Organizations wishing to borrow material should communicate with the Educational Department in good time, at least a week ahead.  As special exhibitions are often travelling for weeks in different parts of Ontario, borrowers must notify the Gallery well in advance, if they wish to have their organization included in a regular itinerary.

The aim of the Art Gallery in loaning this material is not to supply something for children to copy, but rather to furnish material which will help to develop in these children a knowledge of the beautiful works of the past, and to lay the foundation for a genuine appreciation of fine things which will bear increasingly rich fruit, as time goes on.

3

Children in the Gallery (1937)

A radio talk written by Helen Kemp and read by His Honor, Judge Frank Denton, on CBC Radio 30 March 1937.  The typescript, with holograph corrections in Helen Kemp’s hand, is in the archives of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

 

This evening I have been asked to tell you something of the children’s activities in the Art Gallery.  But before I do so I wish to remind you of several very interesting events of this coming week.  The third lecture in the series on the Art of the Middle Ages will be given by Miss Yvonne Williams, on Friday afternoon, April 2nd, at four-thirty.  Her subject will be the windows of Chartres Cathedral.  Some of the finest stained glass in the world is to be found in the windows of Chartres Cathedral not far from Paris, which is one of the most precious monuments left to us of the extraordinary artistic activity of the Middle Ages.  Its windows are of inestimable value because so little mediaeval glass has survived the damage done by centuries of exposure to the elements or the destruction caused by religious controversy.  The lecture will be illustrated by lantern slides specially prepared by a process which shows the brilliant colours with unusual fidelity.  Miss Williams, who is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and a worker in stained glass herself, has spent con­siderable time abroad studying ancient glass in the great cathedrals of France and in the churches in England where some still remains.

This week in the new East wing of the gallery there is an exhibition of the work of Emily Carr, which should not be missed by anyone who follows the development of Canadian painting.  Emily Carr did not begin painting seriously until she was well over fifty.  She lived in Vancouver and as her work took her among the Indians of the west coast she was overwhelmed by what she saw, the gradual decline of native craftsmanship and their old ways of living.  Old villages and picturesque customs were being destroyed, and ceremonial totem poles were rapidly disappearing.  Emily Carr began to work in an almost feverish effort to paint this Indian life which she saw vanishing before her very eyes, and in her mind there was first only an intention of preserving scenes of the life of the Indians.  Then the National Museum at Ottawa bought her pictures as valuable records, and through their combined efforts a good deal was accomplished in the restoration of the Indian towns and relics in British Columbia––even to the point of sending men to repaint the totem poles.

Up to this time Emily Carr’s work had been more or less experimental.  She had studied painting in Paris when she was younger, but suddenly she felt that she must go on seriously to work as an artist, not only to record the appearance of totems and log cabins and villages, but to express what she felt of the great forces of nature as she has seen them, living alone among the primeval forests of British Columbia.  Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson, the Toronto painters, and Marius Barbeau of the National Museum in Ottawa saw her work and gave her great encouragement and other painters in the east began to appreciate her singular gift.  It may come as a distinct shock to eyes accustomed to the landscape of Southern Ontario, these paint­ings of the luxuriant growth of the immense forests of the West Coast.  In looking at her work we feel the cities of men and all cultivated life fade away, and suddenly we are in a world of giant trees and rank vegetation and a world like that in which the dinosaur and mammoth roamed at will.

Next month’s exhibition at the Gallery opens to the public on April 3rd and will be the work of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art, The Society of Canadian Painter‑Etchers and Engravers, The Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, and the Toronto Camera Club.  Mr. [Martin] Baldwin, curator of the Art Gallery, will speak about the exhibitions next week on this series at the same time.

For the last week the classrooms in the basement of the Gallery have been a very busy place with tables piled high with drawings and paintings and pieces of clay-modelling and parts of unfinished murals standing about in corners, in pre­paration for the special exhibition of children’s work from all over Canada, arranged for Easter week during the Convention of the Ontario Educational Association.  The public is cordially invited to visit the Gallery of the Children’s Art Centre this week to see what is being done by children not only of Toronto and Oshawa and Aurora but St. John, New Brunswick, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver––all these are centres where creative work with children is being done similar to that in the Art Gallery of Toronto.

I wonder whether any of you have ever asked why there are so many children travelling on street cars on Saturday mornings all heading for one place on Dundas Street.  Have you ever seen a traffic jam at Dundas and McCaul Street around nine o’clock on Saturday?  There are hundreds of children all coming to the Art Gallery, some on foot, some on bicycles, some by street car, and some are so young that their parents have to bring them.  There they are, nearly five hundred of them coming regularly each week from every school in the city.  There are all sorts of children from every walk of life.  They file through the turnstiles at the front entrance, consult the plan which tells them where their class is to be held this morning, get their materials and start to work.  One member of the Gallery told me recently that it is one of the most thrilling sights she knows, and she never fails to bring any visitor to Toronto to the Gallery to see the children in the Saturday Morning Classes all intently working and full of enthusiasm, from the ones lying full-length on the floor doing large designs with paper and paints spread all around to the ones in the basement workshops doing clay modelling or wood carving or printing from linoleum blocks.

Ever since Professor [Franz] Cizek of Vienna began printing the work of his children’s art classes, people have been discovering a new interest in the art of children.  As a result of his work, the Vienna school system has been profoundly affected and teachers all over the world have been compelled to recognize the value of the reforms he brought about.  The London County Council Schools in England have been adopting new methods of teaching art.  American schools, always willing to experiment, have taken up and developed the new idea, and not only schools but museums and art galleries all over the continent have become vast experimental laboratories where new ideas and new materials can be tested and new techniques evolved.  In Cleveland, for instance, the children’s art classes have been active for about twenty years, and at the present time the museum is carrying on one of the most important experiments ever attempted in child art education in trying to tabulate evidence gathered over a period of years as to the abilities of some thousands of .children who have come under their supervision.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York has given financial support for the advancement of art education to institutions in the United States and in Canada, and has recently undertaken to help spread the movement to other countries.  For this purpose Mr. Arthur Lismer, Educational Supervisor of The Art Gallery of Toronto, has been given a year’s leave of absence in order to lecture to teachers and organize educational work in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.  Thus the classes begun by Mr. Lismer in Toronto and encouraged by teachers and gallery members are becoming internationally known, and the story has been told by Mr. Lismer in a booklet recently published which will be sent to anyone upon application to the Art Gallery [Education through Art for Children and Adults, Being an Account of Development, Experiments and Process of Educational Activities at the Art Gallery of Toronto during the Last Seven Years (Art Gallery of Toronto, 1936)].

This booklet, “Education Through Art,” tells how for more than six years well‑organized efforts have been carried out to give the children of Toronto and vicinity an oppor­tunity to express themselves creatively.

The procedure in these classes is freedom within a necessary restraint, but not by any means license.  The children are led towards experiments for them­selves.  There is no question of what they will become, no thought of making artists or art workers.  Their professional and vocational life is not our problem.  It is the business of the staff to encourage every latent idea in design, form and colour, to draw out the child’s ideas and to avoid the mere pounding in of theories and facts.

The Art Gallery of Toronto is a miniature world, one of the new world’s workshops, a growing expression of the future idea in art education for young people.  It is more than lessons in the development of a skill and professional careers in the making.  It is an effort to unleash the child’s own capacity to train a future population, in which art, both in its appreciation and practice, will take its proper place in the home, in industry, and in civic life.  And what is more important in the happiness and creative energy of the individual himself.

During the last six years, since the beginning of these Saturday morning classes, more than 6,500 children have come to us from the schools of Toronto and vicinity.  The discovery of special talent in children old enough to profit by further study at an art school has also been a part of our policy.  Under this plan about thirty‑six children each year have been recommended for scholarships in the junior courses of the Ontario College of Art.  In addition to this, the art department of every technical school in the city knows the Art Gallery children.  Their classes in art have a large proportion of students who received their early training and contacts at the Art Gallery classes.

As part of the curriculum of the Toronto Board of Education, every school day four classes of children from the public schools visit the art gallery and under the sympathetic guidance of one who knows both children and art spend a lively and instructive hour discussing the paintings in the galleries.  More than 27,000 children visit the Art Gallery of Toronto each year under this plan alone.

If the Art Gallery on Saturdays and during the week is the field of action, the Children’s Art Center is the laboratory where other and more intensive activities of child‑art are carried on.

The Art Center is housed in a building at the southeast corner of Grange Park on the property of the Art Gallery.  It is an attractive place with studios and workshops, a little library and museum collection, reception rooms and a nursery room––all decorated with gay pictures by the children themselves.  In the hallways and cloak room are fascinating mural paintings done on the walls by the young people.  The Center was founded originally to provide a place for the many young people who like to come in after school hours to draw and make things with all kinds of materials.

Here the children come to express all the things they wish to do in drawing, painting, and hand‑work.  Children of every age and environment are given an opportunity to find a means of releasing and give expression to that exultant form of creative energy that is called today Child Art.

The social life of the young people is encouraged by participation in the production of plays, in the execution of mural decoration schemes or the illustrating of a book.  Here is a group of twelve‑year‑old children making the heads and bodies of dolls and dressing these little individual types with national costumes.  Older children are designing stage settings and costumes.  Some are making masks and helmets, and many are drawing and painting freely whatever ideas come into their heads.  The older the children become, the more they are guided to develop their own ideas in good form, colour and design.  They may never become professional artists, but that is not their problem nor ours at this stage.

The value of such early contacts lies in the truth that the vivid imagination of the child should never be smothered but given the opportunity and desire to do more delightful things and to make fresh discoveries in a world that always has more beauty to unfold to those who go halfway to meet it.

There is an amusing story told of the nursery children––the youngsters of three to five years of age––who were taken to see a fire station.  Their teacher and their mothers went with them, and when they arrived, the firemen played host with great enthusiasm.  No one would go near the firemen’s brass pole, except one little boy, the two‑and‑a‑half old brother of one of the children in the class.  He kept sliding down so fast that soon all the others had to go down too, and the mothers could hardly get them to leave this new game.  The firemen put on their high boots and their rubber suits, and they showed the youngsters where they sleep, in recliners for a fire alarm, and the children had a go at holding a fire hose.  Altogether they had a wonderful morning and their mothers did too.  And if you visit the Children’s Art Center, in a corner you will see the big wooden fire truck the nursery class is making and many paintings which are the result of their morning at the fire station.  Nearly all children from six to twelve years of age have no thought for the future of their work, no conscious desire for success.  In this they are like primitive native artists of other lands.

About twenty-five different groups of children, young people and adult members come regularly to the Art Center each week for recreational study and participation in the experiences of appreciating and doing things, with art as the subject and enthusiasm as the motivating factor.

As a rule, Thursday is visitors day at the Children’s Art Center, but every day during Easter week, it is open for your inspection.  We hope that our listeners this evening will accept our very cordial invitation to come and see the children’s work at the Art Gallery and at the Children’s Art Center at number four Grange Road.  All who are interested in the educational programme of the Gallery should write to the Art Gallery of Toronto for the educational bulletin describing all gallery activities, or for Mr. Lismer’s booklet on the children’s work.

 

4

The Permanent Collection (1937)

A CBC Radio talk, broadcast on 25 May 1937.  The typescript, with holograph corrections in Helen Kemp’s hand, is in the archives of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

 

 

Announcer:  During the next quarter of an hour we will present the last of this season’s radio talks arranged by the Art Gallery of Toronto.  These talks have dealt with the different exhibitions held each month, with individual works of art shown in the Gallery and with the many activities of its monthly programs.

            This evening Miss Helen Kemp of the Educational staff will speak on the Permanent Collection of the Art Gallery.

            Miss Kemp.

 

As I came out of the front door one day last week, just as the Gallery was closing, three forlorn urchins were standing on the front steps, and I heard one of them say “The doorman says to come on Saturday.  Gee! I wish this was Saturday and we could go in now!  There are lots of wonderful things to see in there, and I’ve never been in before.”  So I told them that when they came I would show them all those wonderful things inside.

An art gallery is a modern treasure house: in it are stores which rival the fabulous cave of Ali Baba.  Within its walls are contained associations and memories of the past well worth cherishing and works of our own time interpreting, through sensitive minds, the age in which we live.  But this treasure house is not kept locked and barred; it is open for everyone to visit, and it is constantly changing its exhibitions so that there will always be something new to be seen.  The Art Gallery of Toronto offers to its members and the public a variety of exhibitions which has something to captivate the taste of every lover of art, from the student of Old Masters to those who wish to keep in touch withart movements of our own time.  Its records, its collection of books on the history of Art, and its reproductions of great works of art in the famous galleries of the world are all at the service of anyone who wishes to consult them.

Besides the work of Canadian painters, during the past two seasons we have had the good fortune to present a number of very important exhibitions.  We have had contemporary British painting, the work of the Mexican artist, Jean Charlot, and exhibition of Great Masters, which showed European painting from Renaissance to the present day.  This year we had two centuries of European painting, French painting in the 19th century, the Art of Soviet Russia, and the famous collection of Van Gogh paintings which awakened so much interest in New York and other American cities, and which came to Toronto, the only place it was shown in Canada, before being sent back to Holland.  Last December, a work of one of the greatest Florentine masters of the Renaissance was shown here, and that was perhaps the most important Florentine painting ever to have been seen in Toronto: the Botticelli Madonna, which came to us for the Christmas season.

The Art Gallery of Toronto has been foster father to many Canadian art societies and does everything it can to encourage the work of Canadian painters and sculptors and workers in the allied arts, and a year will see a great many exhibitions of Canadian art.  But very often, during all of the activity, many of the pictures in the Permanent Collection have to be kept in the vaults of the gallery storerooms for lack of space in which to hang them.  Now, at this season of the year, the Permanent Collection can be seen and will be on view for the summer months until September.

The fascinating story of how the Art Gallery of Toronto began thirty‑seven year ago as a small exhibition in a private house is one that reveals several generations of Toronto’s history.  Memories of old Toronto cluster around the doorway of the old Grange House in the park owned for years by the Boulton family.  One can see the fine carriages driving up from Grange Road during the last hundred years, stopping perhaps for a moment at the quaint lodge at the gates of the park where William Chin, the butler, lived with his eleven children, and slowly going along the road leading to the dignified Georgian entrance.  We can imagine the balls, the dignified assembly moving up the broad stairway to private theatricals in the room upstairs.   We can see the whole of Toronto society gaily conversing in the red‑carpeted drawing room with its crystal chandelier.  We can imagine the conversation in the stately dining room with its copies of Lely and Holbein gazing down on the many celebrities who dined there.

At the death of Judge [William Henry] Boulton, mayor of Toronto, the estate became the property of his widow, later the wife of Professor Goldwin Smith, who played such a prominent part in the world of letters and in Canadian public affairs.  No distinguished visitor came to Canada but was entertained in Toronto at the Grange, from famous scholars to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.  From that time many things have happened: the Grange was given to the City of Toronto as a nucleus of a public art gallery; generous patrons have helped to build room after room onto the old house, so that what the visitor sees now, approaching the Gallery from Dundas Street, is a fine modern building set in a spacious garden which extends for almost a whole city block all around the building.  This Georgian estate, always the centre of gracious hospitality, has become one of the sights of Toronto to which every visitor to the city still comes, and a community centre which, each year, welcomes more and more people top its doors.

Not long ago, I was glancing through the visitors’ book at the front door.  It began to look like the enrolment sheet of a world conference.  Glancing through it at random, I found names of people from London, Paris and New York, from Vienna and Japan and Honolulu; from Greece and Korea and Poland, from Shanghai and Texas and the British West Indies.  There had been visitors from Italy and Chicago and India, from Havana and Finland and Frankfurt-am‑Main, from Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw and Kapuskasing and California, Nova Scotia and Ireland and Jamaica––and when I asked about all this, the doorman said the book was just a year old.  He told me he was astonished one day to find Greta Garbo had signed her name to the book.  He could hardly believe his eyes, and he went all over the Gallery trying to catch sight of the great one.  But she hadn’t been in.  It was just a school girl from Port Credit. [This and the following paragraph have been cancelled on the typescript.  Perhaps Kemp was asked to pare down her typescript to fit her remarks into the allotted time for the radio broadcast.]

When the visitor turns to the right from the front door, he comes to the Margaret Eaton Gallery, which contains painting by nineteenth‑century French painters.  One of the most attractive works in the whole gallery is the picture Renoir painted of his little son Claude when he was a baby.  There is the young child, with radiant blue background and blue eyes, the light playing over the child’s white garment, and with that glow on the flesh, which only Renoir knew how to achieve.  There is a story of an exiled French woman homesick for France who came one day to see the Gallery.  Suddenly she saw the little Claude Renoir, and it was like a vision.  It made her so happy––just this one painting, for Claude Renoir was a neighbor of hers, living across the road from her home near Paris.

Rodin, who was perhaps the greatest sculptor that the nineteenth century produced, was a friend of Renoir and used to visit him in his country retreat.  He can be studied in Toronto, for we have three examples of his work––a terracotta head from the group called The Burghers of Calais, a colossal figure The Creation of Man, and his marble figure of Eve.

It is strange to see how old friends are united again after so many years, when we see two pictures in the Margaret Eaton Gallery which are quite unlike each other––Boudin’s shipping scene on a canal and the excellent example of a Monet landscape, one in subdued colours and smooth technique, the other showing the division of tones and the bright colours used by that group of painters who were called “impressionists” because they depicted the momentary aspects of nature and the vibration of light and air surrounding objects.  I have said these two were old friends, and so they were. For when Monet was a student trying to persuade his family to let him become a painter, he first studied with Boudin.  The Impressionists gathered around them a number of friends, and one who became identified with the group was an Englishman named Alfred Sisley, whose painting is shown in this room.  One of the greatest of the Impressionist group was Camille Pissarro, who worked at one time with Cézanne.  Like a true metropolitan Frenchman he was always keenly alive to every aspect of the world before him, as you see in one of the most recent acquisitions at the Gallery, The Bridge at Rouen.  The whole fascinating panorama of a city’s docks lies before us, people streaming back and forth over the bridge, boats going up and down the river, gay little splashes of colour making a note of emphasis here and there.  Works such as The Market Place Concarneau by a Canadian painter, James Wilson Morrice, are shown along with the modern French school because, while he was born in Montreal, he lived many years in France.

Perhaps the most valuable painting in the Gallery’s collection of Old Masters is in the Fudger Rotunda., The Elevation of the Cross by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish master who was not only, the foremost painter in Europe but a diplomat, as well as the trusted friend of princes and kings.  This picture, painted about 1630, has had an interesting history.  At one time it belonged to the portrait painter of the court of France, Hyacinthe Rigaud, then later to the Prince of Conti, cousin of Louis XV of France.  In the nineteenth century it came into the collection of Sir George Holford, Equery to King Edward VII and King George V, and at his death it was bought for the Art Gallery of Toronto.  There is a portrait here by Paris Bordone of a wealthy Venetian gentleman of the sixteenth century, and the magnificence of Venice is shown in the pictures of Guardi and Canaletto.  A picture of spring in the north of Italy is given in the painting by Bassano, the sixteenth‑century north Italian who was one of the first to regard nature as of equal importance to his figures in the composition.

Eighteenth‑century England looks down upon us from the walls of the octagonal room, with its Rowlandson water colour drawings of crowds of people boating on the Thames and strolling along Cheyne Walk.  Then there is the oil portrait by Hogarth of a little boy in a green coat––he may have been the younger son of the fifth Earl of Sandwich, for the picture was painted about 1756.  A painter whom all Englishmen are proud to call their countryman is John Constable, whose atmospheric effects were so much admired by the French Impressionists.  We have an early work Scene in Helminghan Park, Suffolk done with all the meticulous care and superb craftsmanship which were Constable’s, and a later painting called Coming Storm.  There are three fine portraits by the Scottish painter Raeburn of Dr. Reid and his wife.

The Fudger Gallery is hung with examples of the modern British School.  There are two Orpen portraits and two by Augustus John.  One is the famous titian-haired European beauty, the Marquise Casati, whose fascination and whose extravagant enter­tainments were the talk of every cosmopolitan gathering from Paris and New York to Venice and Milan and the South Seas.  Works by Duncan Grant and Ethelbert White are shown, and the Gallery is fortunate in having acquired a work by the late Roger Fry, who by his writing and lecturing has done perhaps more than any one man toward awakening an interest in art among the British public.  His paintings have been more rare than many of his admirers would have wished.  This work is regarded by his family as perhaps the finest painting that he did, and it was with regret that they allowed it to leave England.  { The last half of this paragraph has been cancelled on the typescript.]

At the present time three rooms are hung with Canadian paintings, beginning with the earliest work in the Square Gallery.  I wish there were more time to read you something from the book Paul Kane wrote called Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America, describing his travels across the continent in 1846 for the Hudson’s Bay Company.  It tells of Indians and missionaries and British army officers, of massacres and Indian legends and tribal customs––all the things he saw and heard as he made his way during those years of travelling thousands of miles by canoe, horseback and snowshoe.

In 1916 an English officer had written of York: “to a stranger it presents little more than a hundred wooden houses, several conveniently and even elegantly built, and I think one or perhaps two of brick.”  Just twelve years before Paul Kane’s wanderings Muddy York had changed its name to Toronto.  Kane’s book is a rare item of Canadiana, but we have other records of the life of those early days, for he was busy making sketches of Indian life wherever he went.  One of these in the present collection shows an Indian encampment on Lake Huron.  Just about this time Cornelius Krieghoff opened a studio in Toronto and exhibited in the Toronto Society of Arts Exhibition in 1847.  But his wandering troubadour spirit soon felt the urge to move, and he went to Montreal and Quebec where he painted some of the most animated and charming sketches we have of the life of the French habitant, as we see in The Settler’s Log Cabin.

Since those days Canada has changed rapidly in its national character.  Great cities have grown up and a cosmopolitan life has brought with it an encouragement of the arts.

In the Long Gallery and the Octagonal Room we find some of the famous names of Canadian painting.—Homer Watson’s Evening after Rain, Horatio Walker’s, Evening, Isle d’Orleans, J.W. Beatty’s Beechwoods, Albert Robinson’s Returning from Easter Mass, C.W. Jeffery’s Prairie Trail. [This paragraph has been cancelled on the typescript.]

Canadian artists are finding a style distinctly their own, and we see a great variety in the paintings shown in the Leonard Gallery.  Tom Thomson painted the windswept rocks of the Northland, [J.E.H.] MacDonald the Rockies, [A.Y.] Jackson and [Clarence] Gagnon went to Quebec for inspiration, [Lawren] Harris to the Arctic Circle, [Arthur] Lismer went to Georgian Bay and [Edwin] Holgate to the West Coast.  Emily Carr set about recording the deep forests of British Columbia and the Indian villages.  No place is too remote, no pathway too difficult for them to explore.  And so in these three galleries we have a survey of Canadian painting from the time of Paul Kane and his records of the Indians to the various movements of the present day.

In the new East Gallery are Canadian, American and British water colours.  From time to time during the summer the exhibitions in the Print Room and Corridors will change.  At present the Robert Holmes flower paintings are to be seen upstairs, and examples of the Gallery’s print collection and small sketches will be shown later on.

In the Gallery’s collections there is a limited number of reproductions of etchings by famous artists, and we will be glad to give one of these to anyone of our listeners tonight.  Just write in to The Art Gallery of Toronto, Grange Park, and we will send you one of these fine reproductions free of charge.

Thank you

 

Announcer: We have presented the last in a series of talks arranged by the Art Gallery of Toronto for this season.  Miss Helen Kemp, who spoke to you on the Permanent Collection, asks me to repeat again the request that you write in to the Art Gallery for a free reproduction of an etching and to send in any suggestions you care to make on this programme.  We hope that you will come to see the Permanent Collection which is on view during the summer months at the Art Gallery of Toronto, situated on Dundas Street at McCaul.  It is open all week, and is open free to the public on Saturday from ten to five and on Sunday from two to five.

 

5

Children at the Art Gallery of Toronto (1937)

This article was published in The School: A Magazine Devoted to Elementary and Secondary Education 26 (September 1937): 10–13.

 

Twenty years ago there were very few museum directors with the temerity to show the work of children in their galleries, and very few members of the general public would have considered that such an exhibition had much of interest for an adult spectator.  But many changes in point of view have taken place since that first decade of the twentieth century, and one of the most important has been the realization that the field of art appreciation is being constantly extended.  It must now take cognizance of the artistic expression of peoples outside the nations of Europe.  No tradition is closed to it.  In museums, works in pottery, wood, and metal from the natives of Benin, the Maoris, and the Aztecs are being moved from the anthropology section to showcases devoted to the fine arts.  And in this widened sphere of interest the art of children must take a prominent place.  The Art Gallery of Toronto now includes exhibitions of children’s work as a regular part of its yearly programme, and classes for children are not the least of its educational activities.

Art for children should not be treated as merely a training of skill in preparation for the time when they will give adult expression to their ideas.  The child has ideas of his own about his environment and, if let alone, will express them in his own way, and very often, in a way which no adult could rival.  To be sure, there has been a good deal of controversy with regard to the means of developing individual expression.  There are teachers who say that the child must be left completely alone with his materials and his imagination; that he should be kept free of all distracting influences, should see no movies, no museums, no pictures, should be scrupulously kept away from picture books and the like.  Such a theory may be very good for the youngest children, but it seems an unnatural restriction to the alert and curious observer of ten- to twelve‑year‑olds, and is impossible to carry out later even if altogether advisable.  In the children’s classes at the Art Gallery, the relation between teacher and pupil is an advisory one, more direct criticism and formal discussion developing as the child grows older.

The establishment of children’s classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto seven years ago under Mr. Arthur Lismer was part of the new movement in art education which began early in the present century and is spreading all over the world.   Some years ago there was an exhibition in Toronto of the work done by Viennese children during the war in the classes of Professor [Franz] Cizek, who has exerted so profound an influence on the Vienna school system.  Recent publications and exhibitions in London show that the London County Council schools are leaving far behind them the old pursuit of the inverted chalk box and the plaster cast.  Museums on this continent, such as those in Cleveland, Worcester, Newark, and Buffalo, to name only a few, stress art education for various reasons, not only to acquaint children with original works of art of different periods, but also to enrich their understanding by providing them the materials and opportunity for creative work.   The process of creation itself is what is considered of greatest value, for, in the words of Professor Cizek, it is not the finished product but the activity which went into creating it which is important.    A mother of a grown-up family said rather wistfully, not long ago, when looking at a group of preoccupied youngsters painting in the Gallery, “In my day we were given paints, but they were just a plaything to be used in the nursery.    When we began to study art we had to be serious and learn to draw an ellipse and a cone correctly, and no nonsense about it.”

In Mr. Lismer’s view, up to a certain age every child is an artist to a greater or less extent.  Every child loves to play at building, in one material or another.  To him each new day is full of the excitement of adventure and the thrill of fresh discoveries, and his growing curiosity with regard to the world in which he lives must find some means of expression.  In the Art Gallery classes, painting, modelling, wood-carving, and the rest are absorbing activities to which children come of their own accord, and keep on coming because they want to come.  There is no need for formal disciplinary measures, for the classes are too engrossed in their projects.  These they are allowed to talk over, and the group activity is helped rather than hindered thereby.  The classes are recruited from the public schools of Toronto and nearby country schools.  Owing to limitations of space and funds only a small number of children can be accepted from each school.  The principal recommends about half a dozen pupils who show an interest in drawing and painting and express a desire to come, and if these children pass the initial test set by the Gallery, they come without any further formality.  This year there was an average of four hundred and fifty children attending each Saturday.   High school students are not eligible, but the forty best of entrance age who have gone through classes at the Gallery may be given scholarships to the Junior Courses at the Ontario College of Art.  Attendance keeps up regularly, but if a child loses interest, he or she is at perfect liberty to drop out and the place is taken by someone amongst the hundreds waiting to come.

The visitor to the Gallery on a Saturday morning will see inside the main entrance a plan of the building showing where the different classes are being held.  He will see children getting their supplies and going quietly to their classes where the morning’s work is outlined by the teacher.   From then on they are left to work out the project as they wish.  In the Long Gallery the whole class may be stretched out on the floor painting on strips of brown paper.  Some may be designing mural decorations.  Another class will be painting their conception of the romantic desert island, bristling with man-eating tigers and cannibals, on which they have chosen to be shipwrecked in true story-book fashion.  They are making up the story as they go along and adding all sorts of details to the island.  Another group may, on this particular morning, be taking a trip to India and will be making drawings of what happens on the way and what they see when they arrive.  In the basement the fourteen‑year‑olds have been busy lately working on murals.  The subject is man’s use of coal as fuel and his use of wood for fuel and shelter, and the various industries which developed from these, such as lumbering, mining, and manufacturing.  Each member of the class submitted a design, and an entire room is given up to the work of the fifteen best designs.  These are being executed on large sheets of corrugated board which cover the wall.  The class works together on this, and with the colour scheme limited to blue, yellow, red, and a grey outline, the whole becomes co-ordinated in a remarkably effective way.

The Children’s Art Centre, an old house in one corner of Grange Park, which was purchased by the Art Gallery, is a sort of experimental laboratory where new techniques are being worked out, as many teachers found who registered for the teachers’ course there last winter.  Special groups come there, adults, members’ children of all ages, groups from the University Settlement and the East End Crȇche, students from the University, and so on.  In all there are twenty-four groups coming each week to the Centre.  Its activities are, however, somewhat beyond the scope of this article.

From the standpoint of expounding its collections to children, the Gallery is very active. Each day four public school classes visit the Gallery and spend a regular period with Miss Margaret Wilson in discussing the painting and sculpture in the Permanent Collection.  It is regrettable that, while the years in high school are the time in which children take a great interest in analyzing works of art, the high school classes are much less frequently in attendance at the Gallery than those from public schools. This year an interesting experiment took place when the Gallery was thrown open to six hundred and fifty students from York Memorial Collegiate for an evening.  Different groups were organized under members of the Gallery staff, who held informal discussions of pictures and sculpture, gave demonstrations of lino-cutting, textile-printing, clay modelling, and weaving with a large hand-loom. Students and teachers were very enthusiastic about the success of this evening, which had the advantage of not interrupting the school day.

Events of this kind are part of the regular programme at the Gallery, which extends to all schools and teachers a cordial invitation to view its collections.  This invitation is extended not only to groups in the city, but to those in schools all over Ontario, many of which are taking advantage of excursion rates to make a holiday expedition to Toronto.  Teachers are also invited to come to see the children at work on Saturday mornings.  Any who wish to arrange a conducted tour of the Gallery for their classes should get in touch with Miss Norah McCullough, Acting Educational Supervisor.

6

Yvonne Williams (1938)

This biographical sketch appeared in the Canadian Forum 18 (December 1938): 272.  Helen and Northrop Frye’s contacts with Williams can be traced in their correspondence in the late 1930s.  Williams was in London during Frye’s second year at Merton College.

 

Yvonne Williams first became interested in stained glass at the Ontario College of Art.  Her interest was then largely literary.  Descriptions of medieval glass in the novels of Proust were what first attracted her attention.  At the Art School she approached stained glass from the painter’s point of view, and she remem­bers her first window, pieced together from mis­cellaneous splinters of glass, the creaky joints of which would make an army of ghosts walk in any church.

She then spent two years in Boston in the studio of Charles Connick, who designed the windows of Princeton Chapel and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.  All his students were set to work painting on several of the windows on which he was working at that time.  With Connick Miss Williams came to recognize the full expressive possibilities of her art.  It depends as no other upon climatic con­ditions; it responds to each variation of the sun’s rays; its form is living colour vitalized by light.  That is the attraction of what seems so slow and cumbersome a means of expression.  She chooses all the glass herself (sometimes the number will run into thousands of pieces for a single window), designs, cartoons, and paints directly on the glass.

Two years ago Miss Williams went to live in Chartres for a time, where she carefully studied the two hundred windows, the finest remaining masterpieces of the medieval glass-makers.  The Chartres craftsmen forestalled the modern im­pressionists by their skill in blending colours.  All the windows are made in the same restricted colour scheme, but the colours are mingled in such proportions that they give entirely different effects.  Close, up, it is obvious that a limited colour scheme was used, but at a distance each window has its own colour individuality.  Such variety can hardly have been accidental.  Modern artists, interested as they are in light and colour, have not been able to parallel this feat, and Miss Williams is working on this problem now.

The greatest demand in stained glass work is still for religious subjects, in which Miss Williams does not break with traditional iconography.  She sometimes gets some queer orders from prospec­tive customers: last year came a postcard asking how much a saddle-bag preacher on horseback would cost.  She answered she’d like very much to put a saddle-bag preacher on horseback but how big did they want the window to be?  They never answered.

Bewildered donors are constantly coming to her for suggestions, and only occasionally has the donor much idea of the subject he wants car­ried out.  The Good Shepherd and The Light of the World are not Miss Williams’ favorite sub­jects, even though they seem to be what the public mostly wants and would not mind seeing six times over in the same town.  She usually works out a scheme for the whole church so that the chief elements of Christian doctrine will be shown, as in medieval churches.  Too often stained‑glass designers disregard the architectural setting; rich dull windows are too frequently placed in a church the architectural purpose of which is airiness and light.  Miss Williams believes that the mood of the windows should be in keep­ing with the architecture, in order to avoid some of the mistakes so frequent in church decoration; such as Gothic glass in Renaissance buildings.

Modern building design opens up great possibilities.  Bright colours could be introduced intoschool classrooms, breaking the monotony of huge plain windows.  Subjects should be of interest to young students.  Stained glass might be used also in libraries, in factory workrooms where people are too busy to notice paintings on the walls, in nurseries, children’s playrooms and hospitals, a spot of colour would attract attention.

In modern decoration the glass designer can get away from representation of figures and simply work out an abstract pattern of colour; colour in turn can be set aside and the decoration may con­sist of drawings on glass in brown or black fired on white.  Strong colour does not suit all architecture, and a restrained use of colour in glass is assuming an important place in modern building, especially in the Scandinavian countries.

The two sketches reproduced opposite are from a series illustrating the Ancient Mariner, designed for the decoration of a library, in col­oured glass set in plain windows. Windows ex­ecuted by Miss Williams can be seen in the Pre­paratory School, Vernon, B.C.; the new Chapel of St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto; the new St. Andrew’s Church, Cobourg; St. Patrick’s Church, Hamilton; the Foster Mausoleum, Uxbridge; St. Andrew’s Church, Grimsby; and the Holy Rosary Church, Toronto.

7

Yvonne McKague Housser (1938)

 

This biographical sketch appeared in the Canadian Forum18 (September 1938): 176.

 

Yvonne McKague Housser was born in Toronto and went to the Ontario College of Art at sixteen.  There she came under the influence of such men as George Reid, F.H. Varley, J.W. Beatty, and Roy Mitchell.  By the time she became an assistant teacher, the staff included Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson, and J.E.H. MacDonald.  She was thus early in close touch with the painters of the Group of Seven who at that time were beginning the first movement of importance in Canadian art.  From them she deriv­ed fundamental ideas about the forms and shapes of Canadian landscape, the clarity and sharpness of Canadian atmosphere and colouring, the dram­atic possibilities of the people and diversified life of Canada, which have remained with her ever since and have sent her exploring Gaspe and re­mote towns in Quebec, Northern Ontario, Lake Superior, Whitefish and the country around Nipigon. The essential job of the Group of Seven was to present the Canadian landscape.  To those influenced by them was left the task of presenting the human settlement in this landscape.  As Mrs. Housser was probably the first to paint Cobalt and the industrial life of the northern mining towns, it is possible that she is less interested in analyzing the Canadian scene than in showing how human beings have adapted themselves to it.

One of her paintings, Indian Children at Whitefish, was made two years ago at Whitefish Falls, and the drawing which appears in this issue was done especially for The Forum.  In this, she says, she was trying to express the complex activ­ity of nature in contrast with the simple life of the Indians who lived there.  She tells of going north of Lake Superior amongst the Indians of Nipigon and of the difficulty she had in getting them to pose.  After she had engaged a guide eight times, he finally arrived on her doorstep, took one look at her and her painting outfit, and bolted.  There was another family which she did paint; all the children were Indians but their mother was a blonde Cockney.  Their father had joined the army during the Great War, and met his future wife in London. After she came to Canada and settled happily with him in Nipigon, her sister came out from London to visit her, and before long she, too, married an Indian from Nipigon.

When she went to Whitefish Falls she found that the Indians living there all had either French or Scottish names.  When she approached the cabin of one family in Whitefish, the father and mother stood in front of it looking at her, and one by one out came the children, until she began to think that the cabin was one of those trick houses in vaudeville where people run around to the back and pop out the front door again.  She made a quick sketch of the group assembled in front of the one-roomed cabin with its lean-to kitchen.

Like most Canadian painters, Mrs. Housser has studied in Europe, and in Paris in 1921–2 she was attending classes under Simon at the Académie Grande Chaumière and Maurice Denis at the Académie Ransan.  She also went on a sketching trip in Italy at this time with Betty Muntz, a Can­adian who has since become known in London as a sculptor of ability.  In 1930 she studied child art in Vienna under Groel and Cizek.

From the time when she was studying at the Ontario College of Art until the present, where she currently teaches, she has been continually active painting and sketching.   She exhibits reg­ularly with the Ontario Society of Artists and the Canadian Group of Painters.  Two of her can­vases, Cobalt and Rossport, Lake Superior, are in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, and South Shore, Gaspe belongs to Hart House, University of Toronto.

 

8

Fritz Brandtner (1938)

 

This biographical sketch appeared in the Canadian Forum 18 (December 1938): 272.

 

Fritz Brandtner was in Toronto for a week­end lately during his exhibition at the Pic­ture Loan Society, and gave us the choice of his whole exhibition for reproduction in The Forum. Unfortunately, we had to remember what would reproduce best, and had to pass over some of his brilliant oils and water colours which we would like our readers to have seen.  However,

 

Brandtner, The Other Side of Life

one important aspect of his work is shown in Fletcher Field, Montreal with its vigorous de­sign and subtle gradations of tone.

Mr. Brandtner, born in Danzig, was first a student and then an assistant of Professor F.A. Pfuhle in the University of Danzig.  There he studied painting, life drawing and techniques of the old masters.  In 1928 he came to Canada, and settled in Winnipeg where he worked as a house-painter and at various kinds of commercial art.  He went to Montreal four years ago and ever since has been painting, free-lancing as a commercial artist, conducting his own classes for children and producing some of the most vital work of any of the younger Canadian painters.

His classes for children in Montreal are recruit­ed from neighborhood houses and community centre, and they meet after school hours to draw and paint, as a healthy form of recreation and development.  Lately he has been working in a hospital teaching children with incurable dis­eases, for doctors find that this form of creative activity makes them happy and cheerful.

Mr. Brandtner is a tireless experimenter, al­ways trying out new techniques.  He frequently works in copper and wood.  On his first piece of wood-carving he tried to carve figures of people harvesting, but he did not know how to set about it, and the only tool he had was a screw-driver. Nothing daunted: he carved the whole group with the screw-driver!

He has painted in Canada from British Colum­bia to the Laurentians, from Vancouver and Hazelton and the Indian totems of the Skeena River to the country around Murray Bay, Quebec.  He has recorded the streets and buildings of Mon­treal with its factories and the ships along the water-front.  Among the inhabitants of the mod­ern city he sees the clash of social conflicts and the threat of monstrous warfare, and does not flinch from portraying them.  He feels that an artist should be universal in his outlook and should not limit his activity to flowers or the figure or to landscape alone.  Otherwise he be­comes merely a good craftsman.

He tells with amusement of his first exhibition in Winnipeg in 1928 when he was announced by critics as ultra-modern along with Matisse and Picasso.  In spite of his academic training he never changed his own way of painting to any great extent.  There are some critics who say he should not waste his talent painting the way he does, but he feels that imitation of old masters is not en­ough—at least not enough for him.  He must ex­press what he has to say about the world he sees in his own simple way.  Each new painting is an adventure, for art to him is not a question of rules of composition, it is a way of living.

9

Art for Everyman (1939)

 

A CBC Radio talk, written by Helen Kemp Frye and read by her on CBC Radio, 1 November 1938.  Published in Curtain Call 10 (January 1939): 13–14.  The original typescript is in the archives of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

 

In the past fifty years a complete change has come over our ideas of art and its development.  So much has been discovered of past civilizations: so much has developed in our own.  In the time of our grandparents, the art lover was certain that the greatest works of art which the world has ever known were those of Greece of the fifth century before Christ and the time of Raphael and Michelangelo in Italy.  Now so much of Greek art has been discovered that the works which are most admired by some critics are by Greek artists, but of another period entirely.  Modern scholars have brought many more facts to light on the history of ancient civilizations and their works of art which may be seen in many of our modern museums: sculpture from the walls of ancient Babylon; Persian reliefs; wood carvings of African negroes; the remarkable bronzes from the kingdom of Benin in Africa; the treasures of the Incas of Central America and the carvings of the Maori tribes of New Zealand; Chinese frescoes like the ones in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which date from 1238.  This was thirty-seven years before the sixteen-year old Marco Polo went with his father and his uncle on their wonderful journey from Venice to the court of the great Kublai Khan.  One day in the year 1879, a Spanish gentleman who was a student of prehistoric customs was walking on his estate in north­ern Spain with his little daughter.  Suddenly she darted out of a particularly low part of the rock caves they were exploring shouting “Bulls! Bulls!”  On the walls of the cave were a series of paintings put there by primitive men tens of thousands of years ago. Their discovery by the little girl and her father was one of the most important discoveries of modern times, for it showed that art of a high quality was produced by our prehistoric ancestors as they roamed the continent of Europe hunting for their food and clothing.

In museums and galleries and through countless fine reproductions we can see many of these works of art by men of other ages and countries.  Though separated from them by time and space yet we can communicate with them in one of the greatest of all ways: by entering into an appreciation of their art.  We can feel their fears, their hopes for an afterlife, their conception of the gods and demons which surrounded them; we can see the objects which they used in daily life, we can almost join them in their festivals and religious observances and household customs.  And through their art we can break down a little, a very little, of that wall of strangeness which keeps us apart from the people who have gone before us.

It is possible for us to know more about these remote times than our grandfathers did, through books and im­proved colour reproductions of all kinds.  And we are learning more about life in Europe during the Middle Ages, for instance.  We think of tales of knights and chivalry, of Richard the Lion-Hearted and the Crusades, and we picture walled towns and castles where many a fierce battle waged when invaders laid siege to it.  We know from pictures what the houses of the townsfolk looked like with their steep-pitched roofs, and their upper stories often jutting out over the street, far enough sometimes for them almost to meet over the roadway. We can see the tall spire of the cathedral dominating the horizon as the church dominated the life of the town.  With the mar­ket place, the cathedral was the centre of the community.  Thousands of people helped to build it.  Stories from the Old and New Testament and the lives of the saints were carved in stone on its doorways, and pictured in glowing colours in the stained glass of its windows.  When a great early Gothic church was finished, it was seen to be some­thing more than just the sum of all the talents that had been put into it.  It was seen to be inhabited by a new beauty that took all the beholders by surprise.  There is only one explanation. This art, because it grew directly from a deep religious purpose and feeling, was shared by the multitude.  Tens of thousands of people were employed in it, and all gave to it something of their inner selves; something that welled up unconsciously from their deepest instincts.

Everyone was aware of art in the mediaeval world.  People worshipped in the cathedral, they jostled elbows with men of other guilds in the marketplaces,.  They saw strangely dressed merchants come with rare and costly jewels and fabrics from the far-off east.  They saw mag­nificent processions of the dukes of Burgundy pass through the streets on the way to hold court.  They saw the mystery plays and the elaborate processions of members of the guilds dressed in rich ceremonial robes.

As Mr. Barton says in his book, Purpose and Admiration,

 

In the main, the greater artists of the past were at home in their own time.  The novelty of their personal contributions was pleasing to their contemporaries rather than shocking.  Nobody pretends that the Florentine man in the street could fully appreciate Botticelli, nor that Giorgione’s works caused excitement among the general run of Venetian business men.  But artists of their rank, and the brilliant circles that surrounded them would not have come into being at all unless a good deal of the true spirit of art had already been widespread among rulers, business men, and populace alike.

In the best periods of creative art, the sculptor and painter were by no means free agents.  Their arts were practised in strict connection with the dominant art of architecture. Sculpture was part of building, or else had to conform to a setting. The painters painted on the walls, or on panels that had to occupy a definite place in a church or convent or a civic hall.  The more imaginative artists were thus only playing their part in a larger scheme, like the mason and the carpenter, the glazier and the smith.

In fifteenth century Florence an important artist’s shop was no more unusual and not less commercial, than a big motor garage in a modern city. It was run on busi­ness lines, training apprentices and employing assistants. In no sense was it regarded by anybody as an artist’s studio is sometimes imagined to-day,—as a picturesque lair full of bric-a-brac, inhabited by an abnormal person engaged in a remote occupation. [Joseph Edwin Barton, Purpose and Admiration: A Lay Study of the Visual Arts (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1933), 33–4, 69]

 

And so we see that in the periods of great artistic achievement in the past art was firmly rooted in the life of its time.  To appreciate the art of the past is one thing: there still remains the challenge of what artists are doing in the modern world.  We cannot expect art in our time to revive practices of days gone by.  We cannot go back to the handcrafts of the Middle Ages and the arts of build­ing and decoration of later times.  Life in the twentieth century has produced new developments.  We find more of the finest artists working on the design of furniture and decorating ships.  We find artists designing posters for railways and advertising such organizations as the General Post Office, in London.  We find their hand on the sumptuous displays we see in our store windows, in advertisements, in stage design, in thousands of machines and products which we use every day.  Painters trying to interpret the busy life of factories, farming country, bust­ling cities and rugged landscape, often give us pictures which are startling, and different from anything we have seen in the past.  They are trying boldly to set down the vitality and diversity of twentieth century life.  This may be startling, but it certainly is expressive of modern times.

In the last few years one of the most hopeful signs for the artist is the interest which the public in the United States has taken in the projects carried on under the Works Progress Administration.  The most picturesque and dramatic of all the WPA projects is of course that devoted to murals, since they are most widely seen by the general public and most widely commented upon.  Murals in practically every part of the country have been completed for public institutions such as hospitals, schools, colleges and court houses.  Mural painting is a social art which cannot come from artists who are isolated from the community in which they live.  In mural decoration the painter embodies the experience, the history, and the beliefs of a community.  For the first time in American history there has grown up a direct and sound relationship be­tween the artist and the general public; the artist has a great audience and becomes aware of society’s need.  He works with a growing sense of the public demand for his work as he sees the number of requests for decorations in public buildings steadily increasing.  Another tangible result of this experiment in the encouragement of fine art is the fact that painters are no longer flocking to the larger cities, but are discovering a wealth of material in out-of-the-way places.  They are portraying little-known aspects of the vast expanses of their country.  And as the public watch a composition taking shape on the wall they find a great interest in the problems that confront the artist: the artist in his turn is developing a new concept of social loyalty and responsibility.

Another important development under the Federal Art Project is the Index of American Design, the first at­tempt to gather together information about the traditional folk art of America— work in arts and crafts done before 1900 by people living on this continent.  This project was started early in 1936 and in January of last year was going on in about 25 states.  Under this plan artists are preparing a series of portfolios of drawings which record such things as old woodcarving, ship figure-heads and Arts and Crafts of the Shakers.  The Shakers, a sect organized by Ann Lee, came from England to America in 1774.  The movement grew steadily in the nineteenth century in New England, and at one time there were eighteen colonies of Shakers.  Artists of the Index are making a record of Shaker furniture, architecture, textiles, and costume.  The accomplishments of the Shakers in arts and crafts resulted from their adherence to the doctrine of Mother Ann who said, “Put your hands to work and your hearts to God.”  So, believing labour to be synonymous with worship, they strove to achieve utility, simplicity and perfection.  In so doing they approached the functional spirit of modern decoration.  The arrange­ment of their buildings is akin to modern town planning, and their furniture shows essentially modern ideals, with em­phasis on simple forms and an exclusion of all superfluous ornament.  I am mentioning this as one example of a form of art which was being practised in America by some of our ancestors, of which we would never have been aware had it not been for the investigations being carried on by the Design Index.  Perhaps here in Canada there may be similar crafts among our people which are as yet hidden and unappreciated.

 

Canadian Art in London

 

A friend in England has sent us a catalogue published by the Tate Gallery descriptive of the Exhibition of Canadian Art held recently.  This is a beautiful souvenir illustrated with reproductions of the work of such celebrated Canadian artists as C. W. Jeffreys, Maur­ice Cullen, Homer Watson, Charles Comfort, A. Y. Jackson, J. E. H. Macdonald, Sir Wyley Grier and others.  The catalogue contains a foreword by the Hon­ourable Vincent Massey, in which he refers to the Exhi­bition as being a representative showing of Canadian painting and sculpture, including all schools and all peri­ods.  The catalogue contains biographical notes on all artists whose work is included in the Exhibition which adds considerably to its value as a work of reference.

[The friend in England happened to be Northrop Frye, who attended the exhibition “A Century of Canadian Art,” which ran at the Tate Gallery from 14 October 1938 to 2 January 1939.  Frye, who was in London between terms at Oxford, reviewed the show in the Canadian Forum 18 (January 1939): 304–5.  The Tate Gallery produced a 67‑page catalogue of the exhibit, which featured 263 works of Canadian art.]

10

Art & Letters (1941)

 

Review of Portinari: His Life and Art by Josias Leão. University of Chicago Press.  Published in Canadian Forum 21 (April 1941): 28.

 

Cȃndido Portinari of Brazil first got into Ameri­can art journals in 1935 when he won recognition at the Carnegie International Show in Pittsburg: since then his work has been shown in Detroit and New York.  But for most of us a book such as this, with its one hundred full page illustrations (eight in color), will be the most practicable introduction.  Rockwell Kent’s foreword is enthusiastic but it doesn’t contain as much information about Portinari’s life as the catalogue published in 1940 by The Museum of Modern Art.

His life sounds like a success story out of Vasari.  The son of a Florentine coffee planter in Brazil, he left as a youngster for Rio, ran errands, slept in a bath-tub, studied in art school and finally won a scholarship which took him to Europe for three years.  When he came back he seems to have developed two styles.  One was a sleek portrayal of the well-groomed figures of Rio society which he did for a living; the other was his more authentic record of another side of Brazilian life in his heartfelt studies of Indians and mestizos.  His portraits are sophisticated and cosmopolitan: their attention to detail must come partly from his early ability to beat the photographer at his own game.  (Portinari once had a job painting graduation pictures for less than the photographer charged.)  In his figure compositions there is a massive titanic quality, an impersonal reserve in the way he sets them down on canvas.  Here and there is a hint of the great Italians from Piero della Francesca to Michelangelo, and a trace of the melancholy of the modern Chirico.  His design is based on a series of angles and abrupt transitions which recall the art of the Indians.  Like Rivera, Chariot, and Orozco in Mexico Portinari came home from Europe with an ardent faith in his own country, its people and its traditions.  His is not propagandist painting in the sense that Rivera’s is; he simply paints what he sees and feels.  The receding perspective and weird figures in pictures like Football, Wedding at Brodowski, and The Scare­crow show that he has thought about surrealism; the tempera Composition with Figures, that he has studied Picasso’s classical period.

Portinari is no mere imitator: he is developing rapidly and significantly as one of the important painters of the Americas.  This book about him comes at a most oppor­tune moment, and I heartily recommend it to all those who would like to understand Latin-American art better.

11

Economy and the Arts (1941)

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 21 (July 1941): 116–17.

 

Economy is a moral principle as necessary to art as to all the rest of life: society can­not be economical if its art is a luxury.  In Canada we are still living in the backwash of Victorian economy with its laissez-faire philosophy, and by this the arts have been especially affected, geared as they have been to an expanding oligarchy.  Architecture sprawls on every side, planned lavish­ly and wastefully where it was planned at all.  Where such buildings have not had the good for­tune to be taken over as clubhouses or headquarters for the I.O.D.E. [Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire], their owners have long since departed, leaving them to become cheap boarding houses.  Architecture and sculpture seem to be getting out of this dependence on a tycoon class, but painters are either still working under the old conditions or have their eyes on an ultimate pur­chase by a museum.  Good posters like that of Murray Bay by A.Y. Jackson, published by the Shell Oil Company, are rare, and few painters are painting for Canadian homes.  Too many of them have to spend their time teaching for a living and painting pictures for exhibitions—exhibitions have come to be the affair of a small clique and the average man doesn’t go near them.

Because of this obsolete snobbery, much effort goes into painting which would be far better devoted to industrial design, to furniture, wood-turning, textile designing, or ceramics.  The prospective art student thinks of his future life as a cross between the atelier of Van Dyck and the slums of Montmartre.  Sculptors too think in terms of portrait busts or museum pieces, but since a bronze casting of a well-known French sculptor costs no more than a unique piece of Canadian sculpture, the Canadian receives little encourage­ment from the public collections and the public never even notices him.  Because one artist in ten thousand is a genius, we have tried to make all artists fit the genius stereotype: the result is a deadlock between the ordinary artist’s ability to design and produce and the public’s need of his training and experience.

The artist should fit into his community as one of its more useful members—he should get over the idea of being one of the elect, and so should the community.  I was reading lately a review of Dr. Nicholaus Pevsner’s latest book in which he traces the many different roles the academy has played.  At first the academy was a Good Thing: it was a centre for discussion, study, and experiment.  It attempted to give the artist a higher social status than he enjoyed in the Guild system.  In time the artist gained this, but lost a good deal of security, and by the 19th century, to fortify their members’ positions, the academies had to practise all sorts of lobbying to establish official styles, to control the sale of art, to control immigration of alien artists.  This was why there the cleavage in the 19th century between the academic artists and the bourgeois-baiters, and why “academic” painters today are dull and geniuses rare.

Victorian taste and the philosophy which went with it and still survives did absolutely nothing for the smaller-income groups.  There was every­where an inflation of household standards which can be realized in part only by taking the dust off a volume like Mrs. Beeton’s Cook Book and seeing what was considered au fait for the household of a good family—the walnut and mahogany, the crystal, silver and brass, the Turkish carpets, and above all the Dusting.  Mrs. Ramsbottom could only achieve a cheap imitation of all this grandeur, and kept Mr. Ramsbottom in the kitchen, while dark­ened windows and antimacassars concealed the fake Chippendale in the parlor.  Styles have changed now to Moderne with its aberrations of overstuffing and flamboyantly designed upholstery and machine-made carving to cover defects in con­struction––all this is the heritage of the lower middle class.  A simple honest article which shows exactly what it is and how it was made generally has to be made to order.

In Canada very few designers have been able to devote themselves to the problem of good design for a small price and for mass production.  Decora­tors can’t spend time telling the young bride that a gingham curtain may be used with striking effect instead of that four-dollar-a-yard drape she is con­templating—on the instalment plan.  When you ask most furniture people in the big stores whether they have any well‑designed furniture they assume that you mean good reproductions of period pieces.  It is only recently that Canadian manufacturers have begun to make unit furniture of a solid, simple design which sells for a fairly low price, units of which can be combined in a great variety of ways.  Paintings are too expensive for the majority of people to buy, and artists here say that what they need is a good business manager.  An experiment which proved very satisfactory in the United States has been the $5 print.  The work of the artists is purchased outright and a definite number of prints are made: reports say they sell.  The Picture Loan Society of Toronto, too, has been a praiseworthy effort to bring artist and public closer together, but it by no means yet brings pictures into the popular-price level.

Sculpture should get back more to the medieval idea of connection with architecture, and it is doing so.  Some of the most striking sculpture shown at a recent exhibition was done for a new highway, a filling station, and a new brewery.  Interior decorators and furniture designers might well work along with the architects in planning a house from the beginning.  WPA experiments in the United States have made painting become a definite job done for special requirements as it was done in the time of Giotto.  A New York decorator recently reversed the usual order of things and commissioned leading artists to paint pictures to go in a room of his designing.  Most people think the abstract artist is expressing himself in a vacuum.  In connection with this, I remember a conversation with Ben Nicholson in London in which he showed us one of his latest abstractions and described the room it was to go in as something essential to the picture.  Michelangelo himself was the product of a society which provided jobs for artists, good and mediocre.  Painters then were not trained as geniuses but as craftsmen.  We suffer from a lack of social planning which does not absorb our artists, and too often we send for American designers when we want a really good job done—like the woman who asked me once to recommend a good design for a solarium because she was having a New York painter come up to do the job.

Economy in building has to do with stripping off much what-nottery.  It gets rid of gables, turrets and half-timbering; it even does away with cellars and verandas and the dining-room.  Why not use honest pine for furniture; a beautiful grain can be brought out by quite a simple treatment.  And what a multitude of impedimenta we can do without if we give up the formal dinner with its imitation Sheffield plate and cheap lace tablecloth (or years spent yearning for them).

In the early days of the Canadian Forum the Group of Seven made Canadians see the bold, strong color of their own country.  We can retain this, but we need along with it that sense of function in design which comes from the international art movements of the last twenty years.  The popularity of the word “streamlined” shows how deep-seated the desire is for it.

Articles  of good  design,  then,  should  be  made available to a small-income group, who should be given a chance to know of them through advertising, radio, Women’s Institutes, art clubs,   and, above all, schools.  Then perhaps people would think more about their surroundings and of the figure they cut in them: then perhaps we should not see so much wearing of satin to school, dancing slippers in the rain, and ear-muffs on the forehead.

12

Societies and Society (1941)

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 21 (August 1941): 150–1.

At Kingston in June there was a conference of artists from all over Canada who came together to discuss methods of technique, developments in the United States such as the mural projects for public buildings, and the problems which confront the artist in Canada. [This was the Conference of Canadian Artists, organized by Charles Comfort and others.  See Andrew Nurse, “Artists, Society, and Activism: The Federation of Canadian Artists and the Social Organization of Canadian Art,” Southern Journal of Canadian Studies 4 (June 2011):  1–24.]  This is the first time such a conference has been held, and it may lead the way for important future developments.  A greater intimacy among artists separated by hundreds of miles was not the only outcome of the various discussions: it was hoped that a preliminary step had been taken toward solidarity in defining their aims in a changing world.

Consideration of the place of the artist in Canada is long overdue.  For one thing, take the number of different art societies, with which, I venture to say, we are overstocked.  Each with a worthy original purpose to maintain, groups of artists have banded together one after another, from the Royal Canadian Academy to the provincial art societies and the societies formed for the exhibiting various mediums such as water-color, graphic art, etching and so on.  Limiting exhibitions to certain mediums keeps unity in a gallery, but dividing into sectarian groups keeps unity out of artist circles and weakens their main expressive purpose.  In keeping these different societies going, artists have lost sight of their common aims, whether merely to make a living, to teach and propagate new set of artistic principles, or just to have their hobby seen and appreciated.

Singularly enough, to my knowledge there is no organization among commercial artists and industrial designers, although a few years ago there was a short-lived commercial artists’ union formed.  Yet this large group of people in the country who make a living through art, the people working for advertising and engraving houses, is not represented formally: their only connection with an existing society occurs if they belong to an art society, or have been in gallery exhibitions.  Yet through countless channels, for good or ill, our commercial designers influence public taste in general more than any ten painters I can think of.  We have a Canadian Handicrafts Guild, but we have no group definitely interested in design for mass production. But then, we have too many groups already; possibly another one which will attempt to unify things, as was discussed at the conference, may help: it remains to be seen.  At any rate, discussions of the raison d’etre of certain groups in view of the enlarged frontiers of art in the twentieth century can surely do no harm.  The important thing, as I see it, is for artists to get closer in touch with each other and with the people for whom they produce their art.

Unless art is understood and absorbed everywhere by men of good will of all classes, it will not have much influence.  Talks on appreciation are not enough: we shan’t get far with lectures on zabaione—the proof of any such pudding is in the eating, and so it is with pictures.  People should try a little painting now and again, experiment with color in dyeing fabrics, or try weaving them.  It is amazing how quickly their ideas develop.  It is far more important to try directly some experiment with color, form and texture, than to listen passively to lectures for any number of hours.

A painter must have something to say or he won’t be a painter, whether it is about the beauty of the world he sees, or the things he imagines in terms of color and design, or organized forms as in architecture. Service to society and expressiveness of medium are surely to be taken for granted.  Many artists have been hurt by the public’s lack of comprehension of their aims.  Some withdraw from any effort to explain their meaning further; some assume the public too dumb to grasp the finer things of life, so that a whole profession has grown up in museums of people who explain pictures, thus helping to remove art a step further from the public, in many cases.  But on the whole American art has been traditionally realistic, with a keen eye for genre studies and a sense of the importance of social response.  Mural designs for public buildings, which are a logical outcome of this, have brought closer contact between artist and public; for the artist worked out pictures the public could understand and dug up stories traditional in their localities.

I was talking recently to a musician who spoke of Canadian music students and how they were lured away from Canada by tempting offers in the States.  When they had been given scholarships, opera tickets, tuition, and every other advantage, they no longer wanted to go home.  They would stay in the city, making very little, but clinging desperately to the fringe of the great world.  Their training and talents are badly needed as teachers, as organizers of music in their own communities, where very often they can exercise more influence than they can hope to do in the larger centre, and can obtain a better position for themselves.  The same thing is true of art students: the position of the art teacher, say in a high school, should be important: he it is who can organize exhibitions, work on library committees, interest people in child art, in art productions of their own locality to be shown at county fairs, go in for art programs which stress problems the people face in ordinary life—housepaint, interior decoration, garden lay out, parks, the designs of new public buildings.  And if the library manages to buy an art book once a year he might leap at the chance and give a public lecture on the subject of that book: who knows, it might induce the committee to buy another one sooner.  Work such as this must be done in many communities before we can hope to have a sound basis for developing more people who make a living as painters or art historians or critics.  The art galleries in larger centres and several of the art societies will send exhibitions out to small towns, but unless there is a lively local interest this means nothing.  I have talked to university students of art who long to do what they call research, or graduate work in art: to my mind most “graduate work” in art in Canada ought to be the sort of pioneering I have outlined, for the desire to do research in such a country as Canada is likely to be only a desire to stay in the big town.  We need many small experimental efforts springing up all over the country, such as a group of amateur painters which met in Toronto for the last two years to work together in their spare time; we need more people like those who got together in Saint John and transformed an old observatory into an art centre, or those others who decided to establish an art magazine in the Maritimes and did so, complete with original prints and excellent articles, a fine cooperative effort; or experimental groups of architects working in Montreal and Toronto; or those artists in Vancouver who staged an Art Week in the gallery.  We need more of these experiments by small groups of enthusiasts.  This does not contradict my feeling about art societies: so long as they maintain a vigorous relationship between artist and public they will perform a useful purpose: otherwise they might as well fold up.

13

Art in the Nineteenth Century (1942)

 

Review of The Story of Modern Art by Sheldon Cheney.  Macmillan.  Originally published in the Canadian Forum 21 (January 1942): 316.

 

This book is an attempt to explain the last century of art to people who are still struggling with such canons of appreciation as “likeness to nature, literary cleverness, and smoothness of finish.”  On the whole, it is about as successful an attempt as any I have seen, and it will certainly supersede a great number of other books in its field, including a few of Mr. Cheney’s own.  It is better illustrated than most other low-price books on the subject, it is both catholic and readable, it sustains an admirable balance between anecdote, contemporary, setting and technical criticism, and it makes the artists it deals with credibly human.

Keeping his audience in mind, Mr. Cheney begins away back with the French Revolution and the pseudo-classical dictatorship of David.  The fact of central importance in art since then he regards as the development of non-representational elements in design as a protest against a crude and unimaginative theory of imitation.  Pure impressionism, as practised for instance by Monet, is thus to some extent “an interruption of the development of modernism,” and the first-rate impressionists outgrew their own theory.  This would imply that the book was concerned largely with French art and that it would spiritually, conclude with the expressionist and post-impressionist movements of the early decades of this century.

To some extent this may be true, but the amount of space Mr. Cheney gives to German, American, and Mexican art helps to make his book unusually interesting.  Too many books on modern art have stuck to Paris: Parisian art has been oversold and overadvertised; the inflated prices it commands are a dealer’s racket; third-rate Parisians are better known to the world than first-rate painters of other countries.  It is not the fall of France that has made this state of things obsolete, but the fact that the Parisian tradition of decorative art for a luxury trade cannot meet changed world conditions.  The tendency in America, and in Germany before Hitler, is toward the integration of painting and sculpture with ordinary living, cooperating with architecture and with technical and commercial design, with its eye ultimately on centralized social planning.

Mr. Cheney’s broad and sane perspective does something to make this clear. The American Whistler, for instance, who insisted on redesigning entire rooms to form a background for his painting, takes on a new importance in his book. But as he is tracing out primarily a decorative tradition his treatment of artists pre-occupied with the social function of their art is bound to be somewhat perfunctory. He is also very chilly toward the English, and it is high time Canadian reviewers began to complain about the omission of all reference to Canada and in all books on modern art.

Books in this field, particularly American ones, are apt to be riddled with a vaguely arty jargon which is the product of confused thinking and bad writing.  Mr. Cheney on the whole escapes this charge, though it may be suggested that the few bits of jargon which have been allowed to remain (as when he says that Goya “definitely orchestrates the several plastic means”) will only confirm the plain reader he is trying to reach in his prejudices.  But the book is one of the best of its kind, and I highly recommend it for general use.

14

Portrait of the Artist in a Young Magazine (1942)

 

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 22 (May 1942): 53–5.

 

Twenty years is a long time or a meteoric flight, depending on your point of view, but in any case a twentieth birthday is an important occasion.  Twenty years of art from pages of the Canadian Forum makes fascinating reading: it serves to make one more cheerful in these days and realize what progress Canadian art has made since the magazine was first founded.  All the changes were not recorded in it, for it was not a news magazine: it was not even consistently critical, for it missed a good many of the contemporary squabbles.  But no one in search of light on Canadian art in the past two decades can afford to neglect the back files of the Forum.

In 20 years the National Gallery has amassed a splendid collection and fostered the arts all across the Dominion; the Art Gallery of Toronto has grown from a house in a park to a fine building with a long tradition of public service; the archaeo­logical collection of the Royal Ontario Museum is of first-rate importance for all students of the arts; the Art Association of Montreal has acquired a new spirit.  Galleries have grown and public interest in art has been awakened from Vancouver to the Maritimes.  In Saskatchewan, McMaster, Toronto, Queen’s and several Maritime universities, courses are offered in the fine arts, and during these twenty years lectures and exhibitions have been made available all over the Dominion through the National Gallery.  In Toronto the Royal Ontario Museum, even in wartime, has record crowds visiting its collections.  Schools visit many of these all over Canada as a regular part of their routine.  Curriculums in the arts are changing in a way which would have seemed unbelievable twenty years ago.

In these days when war activities eclipse art, when commercial artists and painters dependent on sales are hard put to make a living, when the art quiz takes the place of lectures, when patrons buy bonds instead of pictures, and are preoccupied with war work, when funds for spectacular exhibitions are non-existent, still it cannot be said that people lack interest in the arts.  Art classes for children are thriving, and will bear fruit in more wide-awake citizens.  Perhaps the new generation will manage to convince their parents of the fun there is in modern art: one gets very tired of battling with daguerreotype prejudices.  But these too will pass.  In Saskatchewan during wartime there has been a livelier interest in art: loan exhi­bitions in Toronto for the Red Cross and in Montreal for the navy drew huge crowds: in over­crowded Ottawa the National Gallery attendance is increasing each year.  Last year Queen’s Uni­versity conferred an honorary degree on A.Y. Jackson; this spring Dalhousie similarly honors Arthur Lismer as an artist and an educator.  Both were frequent contributors to the Forum in these twenty years.  Times are changing so fast that we may even hope for sensible architectural planning of our cities before we die.  But back to the birth of the Forum.

The story begins with The Rebel, which lasted until 1920, when the Forum was born.  In Volume II, November, 1917, J.E.H. MacDonald wrote of his friend, Tom Thomson, drowned in Canoe Lake that summer.  MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Barker Fairley and A.Y. Jackson looked after the artistic end.  We read: “The O.S.A. [Ontario Society of Artists] is now exhibiting a collection of small pictures and sketches in the Grange House (off McCaul St.).  The collection is well worth a visit.  It is a matter of a ten‑minute walk and no entrance fee.”  Jackson, who was thinly disguised as “Ajax,” kept fulminating from Flanders against the Dutch—over here, not over there—the Dutch pictures bought by wealthy Canadians who overlooked all Canadian painters.  Thereafter, whenever he got a chance, for twenty years Jackson urged that private collectors and galleries should buy Canadian pictures.

In the Forum’s first issue the editors announced their intention of making black and white illustra­tions by Canadian artists a distinctive feature of the magazine.  For fifteen years there appeared draw­ings by MacDonald, Jackson, Lismer, [Frederick] Varley, [Lawren] Harris, and other artists who exhibited with the Canadian Group of Painters.  There were decora­tions and cover designs by Thoreau MacDonald, and caricatures of Canadian celebrities by Jack McLaren.  After Dent’s gave up publishing it, it never reached such a consistently fine standard of layout, design, and page decorations.  For a short period later it was so broke that it had to limp along using old cuts.  Of late years the tendency has been to illustrate articles with photos, but wherever possible pen or brush drawings have been used.  The art section has definitely suffered, however, as of course political and social move­ments have had to take precedence.

The Forum staunchly supported progressive art movements in Canada and elsewhere.  It upheld the Group of Seven from the early days when encouragement was of most value to painters subjected to epithets like “The Hot Mush School,” cheered them on their way when their first show went to the States, and purred when after the Armistice the Conservation Committee of Sarnia used the remainder of their Red Cross wastepaper fund to buy Canadian pictures.  It printed adverse criticism too, one critic complaining about Lismer’s thick paint as a dust collector.  In 1921 the first show of American art was held in Toronto.  American artists were as unrepresented in private collections here as were Canadian.  In March 1921, Jackson writes of a sketching trip to Algona and says:  “Probably no country has a great a wealth of intimate detail than has the north in the  autumn, and no nation has made less use of its own natural forms in decorative design than Canada has in  textiles, wallpapers, jewelry, and  other branches of applied art.”  This is still true.

In 1921 they praise an exhibition of Swiss art at the Brooklyn Museum, and a collection of the work of “that great eccentric” Van Gogh, which was lying about in New York and could be had without difficulty.  It took us twenty years to get around to having a Van Gogh show in Toronto.  J. Pijoan contributed on “Art for the People” and analyzed designs of current Canadian bank notes, which sound pretty terrible.  The opening of the Ontario College of Art was welcomed as beginning a new era.  In this year too there was discussion of W.S. Allward’s war memorial at Vimy, which was not completed until a few years before the present war broke out.

In an editorial on the fiftieth anniversary of the O.S.A. there are some lugubrious statistics prov­ing that sales of pictures during that year and others back to 1911 were lower than in 1873 when Toronto’s population was 60,000.  Robert F. Gagen’s article on the first years of the O.S.A gives some interesting sidelights on those early days.  He speaks of a certain John Fraser, a self‑opinionated man who had done everything from painting kitchen chairs, scenes on buggies, landscapes of the eastern townships, and finally portraits over photographs.  He wound up in Toronto and with Daniel Fowler, Marmaduke Matthews, Gagen himself and others founded an art society and held exhibitions where the King Edward Hotel is now.  They had their critics too: the dandy Gilbert who taught art to the debutantes of the town, and Spooner who ran a tobacco shop with a picture gallery at the back where people met to gaze and gossip about Mrs. Gilbert’s latest concert (she played the harp) and her latest escapade (Gagen said no doubt she smoked).  Some of the pictures had such titles as “Flash of Light in the Dark,” and “Glint as from Flint and Steel,” but according to Gagen, none of the artists whose work survived “used poetry.”  Mores evolve slowly in Toronto: sixty years after this lurid Bohemianism, in 1931, a nude by Bertram Brooker was accepted for an O.S.A. show but was not allowed to be hung.

Important first-hand information appeared about Canadian painters from Mrs. [Jehanne Bietry] Salinger, Don Buchanan and Robert Ayre: then Graham McInnes did some spadework in his series on contemporary Canadian artists all across the country which helped to break up the Toronto bias to which the magazine had tended.  The Canadian show in Paris was reviewed by Eric Brown; Marius Barbeau wrote an authoritative article on the art of French Canada; and A.Y. Jackson contributed a picturesque account of his trip to the Arctic Circle with Dr. [Frederick] Banting.

There were rows, to be sure. There was the time Lawren Harris and Franz Johnston each wrote their impressions of a big abstract show in Toronto––the first that ever hit us, evidently.  The post-war abstract artists of Paris—it must have been quite a knockout.  Anyhow Harris, who was beginning to lean toward abstraction, wrote an intelligent and penetrating account of the abstract movement.  Not to appear biased, I suppose, the Forum printed beside it Franz Johnston’s account which was criticism of the visceral school, full of words like “leprous.”  Then there was the time in the late twenties when someone wrote up the paintings of a Canadian expatriate named Henrietta Shore and started a correspondence involving among details whether she was completely free from sexual obsessions when she painted rocks.  Freud came into everything in those days.  There was Elizabeth Wyn Wood’s timely support of Eric Brown’s policy when newspaper publicity has been given to an outrageous assertion that 118 artists were about to boycott the National Gallery.  In another article he defended the painter’s right to paint trees and rocks every year whatever the world situation was.  This was after several articles had appeared by John Fairfax, Humphrey Carver, and then one cheeky piece in another publication which talked of false hair on the chest . . . .

I notice, however, that this idea runs through the Forum from the earliest issues: that Canadian art should widen its scope and see man and social conditions instead of only man and nature.  Even J.E.H. MacDonald implicitly objected to the later tendency to romanticize Thomson in a somewhat erratic history of Canadian art which he reviewed in 1926.  He complains of the account of Thomson: “the friends of Tom Thomson do not recognize him in these stagey lightings . . . the young man suddenly appearing out of the northern woods with his wild art slung behind him.”  Editorial stirrings complained here and there too about the insularity of Canadian art, about the O.S.A. being mostly Toronto artists: that was in 1931 after the depression, when life was getting dull.  They said: “We look now toward Montreal for a new stimulus in art and hope Ontario will see the danger of an over-satisfied mind.”  In that year the Toronto Art Gallery had a very narrow escape, for there was considerable newspaper discussion of moving the city hall portraits there.

Painting has always been most emphasized.  There was no critical writing on architecture, for instance, until E.H. Blake in 1933 wrote a vigor­ous protest against our tendency to embalm ancient style in modern buildings.  In Europe the post-war period struck out to solve architectural problems in a simple, economical, and reasonable way: we stuck to our fake Tudor and kept on turning over the pages of Banister Fletcher.  There was a bril­liant series of articles by Humphrey Carver, too, on housing and subjects relating to the visual arts.  Lately we’ve been concerned, like the rest of the world, with the artist’s place in society, handicrafts and industrial design, museums and their public.  Let’s hope soon for a better world and more art in it.

15

Manhandling the Arts (1941)

 

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 22 (June 1942): 82–5.

 

Early in May Toronto saw two very signifi­cant events.  One was the exhibition of Arts and Crafts of Canada arranged by the Ont­ario branch of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild in Eaton’s auditorium.  The other was the first annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Artists.  Popularly thought of as eccentric misanthropes, artists don’t often get together amicably to bury the hatchet.  But when 900 craftsmen respond to an exhibition, when official societies representing painters, sculptors, potters, spinners and weavers, interior decorators, helped by Canadian authors and musicians get together to offer what Elizabeth Wyn Wood described as a united front of the arts (with unfortunately the exception of the architects) and put on a show, it is something to think about.  Also, when artists, teachers, writers and amateurs meet as a united group to discuss common problems in developing the arts in Canada, it makes us con­scious of how what Robert Ayre called the unifying impulse draws a nation together in an emergency works miracles in the arts as well.

The show was not organized regionally to display pottery from Ontario or linens from the west, but to show objects in use, so there were table settings of handmade silver, pottery, hand-woven linens, wooden bowls, decorative glass, displayed on some fine examples of Canadian made furniture and with good commercial glassware.  There was ecclesiastic­al embroidery, a striking altar design with hand-woven rug and draperies, room settings with exquisite textiles; there was some early French provincial furniture from Quebec, puppets, and homespun used in clothing, and a blessed minimum of scenic rugs, carved habitants and barking dogs.  There was fine bookbinding and illuminating, and a camouflage exhibit to bring you back to current events.  Some things might have been different: the rotunda didn’t seem big enough for the sculp­ture and the paintings needed better lighting.  Some of the pottery on display made us think ruefully of all the miles of five-cent soup bones we’d have to consume before we could manage the handsome soup bowls and tureen set at fifty dollars.  But that doesn’t matter, except to remind us that these lovely things are still in the luxury class for the bulk of the Canadian population.  The important thing is that the show happened, and people found out a lot of things, they hadn’t realized before.  We’ve got natural resources of wood, metals, semi­precious stones, clay, fibre flax (the location of these was graphically displayed on a huge map of Canada), all necessary to the craftsman and designer, and we have good designers in Canada, and excellent craftsmen.  And, by the way, in this show the craftsmen were allowed to emerge as individuals with their names attached to their work, which struck me as a good idea.

About sixty-five years ago in England the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was founded in revolt against the constant elevation of oil painting in gilt frames to the supreme position of honor by the Royal Academy.  No other branch of art had anything like the prestige.  The rest of England might live in a chaos of illogical design and positive ugliness but the Royal Academy went on enlightening the upper crust with stuffed-shirt portraits and elaborate studio pictures in the correct manner.  Handicrafts had been revived some years before by William Morris and his followers, and although we may get a little bored now by the Blessed Damozel, we must admit that she reclined (before her translation) on furniture more akin to the modern spirit of functionalism than did Victoria the Good.

For the last hundred years or more there has been a fight between machine production and the work of the handcraftsman: the fight still continues.  But before the war in some countries, in Sweden and Denmark, Austria and Germany, and in England through the Design and Industries Association, the two were becoming reconciled.  In Sweden, for instance, during the 1920s the combination of artist-designers and mass production methods made Swedish glass and ceramics world famous.  The Swedish Society of Arts and Crafts, under government support, launched a campaign to improve the whole home furnishings industry by using artists as designers; mass production and low prices made their products available to all classes. They stressed simplicity, harmony of color and design, beauty of materials, fitness to function and twentieth-century needs.  Highly skilled cabinet makers were still employed in industry for model pieces, hand weavers in studios for sample weaving and experiments with new materials.  Loans and advice on tasteful buying were given newly married couples.  At the same time traditional craftwork was organized by districts, and work of good design above what she needed for her home could be sold by the farmer’s wife.  The country organization of the society gave instruction and supervised quality and design of the work which could be sold in city shops.  This program was linked up with a government building plan which supplied low income groups with modern housing.  (Incidentally a show of Swedish architecture was also on view in Eaton’s at this time.)

After the Canadian Artists Conference in Kingston last June, study groups were formed in Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Montreal.  From these, delegates came to the first annual meeting in Toronto: Lawren Harris from the west coast, George Gates from Edmonton; Ernest Lindner from Saskatoon, Byllee Lang from Winnipeg, Arthur Lismer from the province of Quebec, and Walter Abell from the Maritimes. The three main speakers were Prof. Abell, Prof. F.R. Scott of Montreal, and Dr. Arthur Lismer, and the following is a summary of the ideas they stressed.

The war of our time is a challenge to creative living; under humanism the individual was important in himself; war challenges the artistic life, endangers it externally and internally as well.  Art may not seem important now, yet opportunities for a new aesthetic development are very great.  There is an awakening public interest in art, certainly in Montreal, judging from the 76,000 people who came to see the exhibition of paintings arranged in aid of the merchant seamen.  Great danger breeds great opportunity: out of the individualist period we are now entering a more integrated social period, and in this the state emerges at once as one of the major agencies through which the arts are to develop.  As the rich man declines as a patron, through such measures as Roosevelt’s ceiling on incomes in the States, we find the state becoming more important as the expending body, for it is just as true now as it was in the past when “Where the treasure was, there the artist was also.”

A new relationship is needed for artists, a collection of groups related in a social pattern.   Existing art societies in Canada have regional functions, or national, or deal with only one art.  The Federation of Canadian Artists met in Kingston because the time was ripe for it: the spirit of nationality is arising among artists; functional unity among artists is necessary, and may be  compared with, industrial unions versus old craft unions.  We’ve had the craft stage in art societies and must get away from these separated organizations and unite in a larger group which is more suited to the needs of our time.  For the first time we shall have a large authoritative body which can deal with the government as representative of the arts.  Architects and designers and artists should have a voice in public affairs, in public works programs, in the education of children and adults for more creative living; artists must do research into the possibilities of machine production, into methods of teaching and of learning.  Our handicrafts cannot be; carried on on the system of “when  the potato crop fails, get out your hooked rugs.”  Artists have for too long a time starved gracefully and said nothing, have supported art galleries and exhibitions and quietly taken their pictures home again while the public have gone to galleries only on free days when it is raining.  The artist has a right to a living place in society, to a place which recognizes and serves the needs of all classes of people, a place in which he is respected as a useful and necessary member of the community and rewarded accordingly.

Possibly the great days of painting as communication of one artist to the wealthy individual who pays for it are over; possibly some less precarious means of livelihood can be worked out for the artist who can’t sell his work and the commercial artist who so often gets paid by the shop seasonally, and then only on piece work.  Whether handicrafts can be put on a financial basis entirely satisfactory to the craftsman remains a question; even William Morris sweated labor.  Possibly a larger vision of the role of art in society is at hand when it may be a normal occupation of many more people than the professional artists.  Perhaps a great deal of fine craftsmanship is a standard which should be reached by the amateur for his own enjoyment, and use, and not for purposes of buying and selling. Immense problems open up on every side; but the fact that those problems are beginning to be discussed by serious, responsible people is hopeful for the future.

16

American Folk Arts (1942)

 

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 22 (December 1942): 276–7.

 

As editor of the Index of American Design, Constance Rourke directed the collecting and recording of the old weathervanes, ships’ figureheads, rug designs, embroideries, fur­niture, toys and other things designed in America by ordinary people for their own use.  These never got dignified by the name of art in their own time, for art was considered a luxury, something that a rich merchant imported from abroad, something you could buy but not something you could make yourself.  Besides, the arts were divided into strict categories.  If people in early America thought of them they said, with Ben Franklin, that they had more use for schoolmasters than poets.  Jefferson seemed to think there should be a closer connection between the arts and the world of affairs, for he appointed the poet Freneau to a post in the government, not as a sinecure to help him write poetry, but because he thought a distinguished man of letters could make a valuable contribution to government.  People of a later time, like Fiske, said that there was a cultural lag in America: if enough culture could be transported from Europe, then something of value it was thought might be developed; meanwhile, everything on this continent was considered a pale reflection of various elements of European culture.

Constance Rourke didn’t believe it.  Herder had said that folk forms were essential in any commun­al group, that fine arts sprang out of the folk arts, and that one had to look to these to find the source of any culture.  She felt that people had distorted his ideas in a search for ye olde quainte, and she insisted that America had its own natural inheritance.  She spent thirty years looking into all sorts of places to find evidence of it.  The Index of American Design is a revealing enough record of the handicrafts, but she went further in her research.  The culmination of her work [The Roots of American Culture and Other Essays (George J. McLeod Ltd. Harcourt, Brace and Company)] was to have been a history of American culture, but this was not completed when she died last year.

She hoped to show that art forms spring up in simple communities and that they produce a wealth of material that could be a basis for future artists.   She was no jingoist: she was open to everything that Europe could give, but she felt that Americans had a tradition too, should know it and be proud of it.

Few people in these over-specialized times have the nerve to venture into what is not their field.  But Constance Rourke dug with gusto into all soils of forgotten American lore.  First came “Trumpets of Jubilee,” the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Horace Greeley and P. T. Barnum.  Then came “Troupers of the Gold Coast,” “American Humor” and “Davy Crockett,” this last a hero of more tall stories than anyone except Paul Bunyan.  “Audubon” told of the man who as a boy remembered the tumbrils of the French revolution and who spent his life on his remarkable record of the birds of America.  “Charles Sheeler” is about a contemporary American artist and photographer who, she felt, was getting into a real American idiom.

Throughout her various essays runs the idea of an American expression which is a combination of commonsense, a delight in the beauty of simplicity, and a logicality of construction approximating the modern idea of functionalism.  For instance, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was a piece of practical writing; Franklin’s publications of the Indian treaties were fine examples of printing; Annapolis was a planned town.  The Shaker communities had their own crafts, music, formalized dances, written records of their community, and autobiographies.  New Lebanon, where they lived, was worked-out farm land, so they turned to seed cultivation—even the seed packets showed their ability in design—and to furniture manufacturing.  “Put your hands to work, your hearts to God” was one of their teachings.  Symmetry had a religious significance: economy was one of their main principles.  They made ingenious inventions to help with their manufacture of clothes and tailoring.  Thus functional art forms were evolved, in some cases as the result of republican sentiment, in others as a religious impulse.

Rourke tells of the early forms of drama: the seventeenth century chronicles of Indian treaties which listed the dramatis personae, the dialogue, the peace-pipe smoking, the choral singing and dancing, the exchanging of gifts.  Fifty of these were published: Franklin sent some to England as literary curiosities.  Then there were the dramas of Susannah Rowson, actress, writer and feminist, who wound up as a fashionable Boston schoolmistress.  There were masques and pageants and the triumphal arches of post-revolutionary days.  The Puritans, she says, in spite of their suppression of formal theatricals, lived a drama all the time in which man struggled between God and the devil, and the characters had magnificent parts.  Even Puritan dress was dramatic; dark costumes and towering hats made them dominate any gathering.

Rourke tells of wandering actors of the western showboats who pulled them along the river hanging onto shrubs by the waterside, and stopped at will to fish or to play Shakespeare to the straggling villages.  Of Junius Brutus Booth, the great tragedian, who came to America seeking liberty in the wilderness: he leased a tract of wild forest in Maryland for a thousand years and lived there with his family in a log cabin, but not for a thousand years.

Fifes and drums, the marching songs of the new republic, the hymn tunes written by unlettered people, choral concerts organized in Philadelphia, and the growth of congregational singing in churches with shape-notes to simplify the notation of older modes than the modern scale—all these show that music was springing from the new society in all parts of the country.

Then Rourke writes of a painter called Voltaire Combe who had a passion for gentility but painted the bums on the Erie Canal with devoted care: he discovered the American scene long before the “ash-can” painters of the early 1900s.

Rourke doesn’t come to any particular conclusions.  Her work was not finished.  But there is a real feeling of a creative power welling up from common people, arising in part from her belief that the peaks of art and the work of genius alone are not the only consideration: that art springs from humble sources and from many people, some sophisticated, others not, from people who produce the forms of expression which meet their common needs.  She never loses sight of the human being behind the artefact.  I can’t imagine anyone, not even Eleanor Roosevelt, having so rich a sense of the panorama of this continent.  As Canada is part of the continent, this book contains its own moral for Canadians.

 

17

Design in Industry (1947)

This article appeared originally in the Canadian Forum 27 (April 1947): 12–13.

 

Few people realize the work involved in organizing an exhibit, particularly of objects, and especially when it is to travel across Canada.  Design in Industry has been seen in the east and is now travelling through to the west coast.  It is an excellent show arranged by the National Gallery of Canada, the Department of Reconstruction and Supply, the National Research Council of Canada, and the National Film Board.

It is the result of a survey* last year of the designs of ordinary objects for common use which are manufactured in Canada.  The inquiry emphasized simplicity, fine proportions and fitness for purpose.  Good design for mass production was the criterion: the handcrafts were not emphasized, but it was suggested that some artists in this field as well as architects might well be employed as designers for mass-produced articles.

Evidently some progressive manufacturers realize the competition which Canadian products will encounter from those made in countries where designers are employed in the whole process of manufacture.  This does not mean turning out gift-shoppe glassware smeared over with oil-painted flowers.  It means a new type of art training in which machinery and an expert technical knowledge of manufacture are an integral part.

Some Canadian designers have been working with the National Research Council on various products.  But on the whole, the survey showed that manufacturers did not know where to look for help except to American designers.  Personally, I don’t think they could have tried very hard, considering all the efforts made in recent years to put the idea of design in industry across in Canada.  The fact remains that a liaison between manufacturers and our art training centres is badly needed.  A few centres for industrial design have been established in this country but for the most part manufacturers still need to be coaxed into paying much attention to them.  The catalogue hints too that a stumbling block in many plants is the overcautious attitude of buyers who feel that people want only what has been on the market for years.

Desperately needed now is simple furniture at a common-sense price.  The show includes sectional furniture now on the market, plywood and metal used in various ways.  New designs for plywood stacking tables and chairs and radio are shown.  Some of these are meant for use in new auditoriums; others are for the household.  Houses are getting smaller, but most of the furniture available, or considered socially acceptable by many people, is of a monstrously overstuffed design which crowds people out of their bungalows like the Arab out of his tent.

Good glassware and kitchen equipment are being produced.  The modern railway coaches are excellent in their simplified detail.  Lighting fixtures for the most part were still found to belong to the era of candles and gas but some attention is being paid to this.  Plastics, molded pottery, various metals, are all shown in a variety of forms.

Some of the better department stores are doing a good educational job, but a nation-wide campaign for education in good design should be undertaken if the buying public is to get the idea.  An exhibition such as this is an excellent beginning.

 

*  Design for Use––a survey of design in Canada of manufactured goods for the home and office, for sports and outdoors.  Donald W. Buchanan.  January 1947.

18

Two Art Conferences (1947)

 

This article appeared originally in the Canadian Forum, 27 (May 1947): 37–8.

 

There has been a certain amount of confusion about the relations of the Federation of Canadian Artists and the Canadian Arts Council. Originally the former represented professional bodies across Canada: it was formed at the Kingston Conference in 1941. Last year the Canadian Arts Council was formed, made up of professional societies of artists with the addition of groups on the drama, music and literature: sixteen altogether. Which group, if either, was to give place to the other was a question in some minds.  But last month in Toronto a national conference of each was held which helped to clarify policy.

It was the first time the Federation had met nationally since Kingston, and it was the first meeting of the Arts Council since its delegates had returned from UNESCO meetings in Paris.  The Arts Council has emerged as a body of societies working nationally for the promotion of the arts in Canada; the Federation of Canadian Artists is a national society with regional development.  Each region is now to be independent with a national executive which looks after national problems only.  The Federation is the only society in the country devoted to the visual arts which includes both artist members and interested non-professionals.

As we mentioned recently, a National UNESCO Commission with an arts panel was to have been formed by the Department of External Affairs to work with UNESCO.  The chairman, Herman Voaden, said that nothing has been done about this at all in Canada although there is great activity in the United States, and 1,000 delegates attended a conference in Philadelphia at the end of March to discuss UNESCO.  In addition, the Council feels a National Arts Board like CEMA [Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts] in England (now the Arts Council of Great Britain) should be formed immediately to carry out the UNESCO program in Canada.

The job envisaged for the National Arts Board is twofold: to deal with the arts in Canada, and to have them help represent Canada abroad.  There is the great problem of cultural distribution in this country where well-trained artists have to earn a living in other ways and where at the same time there is great need of their services.  The feeling is that the arts should have more place in all recreational programs, and that we should see to it that new towns should have the best professional advice on architecture, town planning and landscaping.

There is no doubt that cultural activities are expanding all across the country.  In the West the Federation has always been active.  In his speeches at the two conferences, Lawren Harris outlined the rapid growth of activities in Vancouver in the last few years with its provincial art gallery open five nights a week, lectures being published, exhibits sent to interior towns with the help of the university extension, a crafts workshop established by the IODE [Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire], the Vancouver Symphony’s success, plays in Stanley Park and an enormous enrolment in the art school.  B.C. Binning of Vancouver drew up a plan for the future in community arts in which he stressed travelling shows, lecture tours, help to students by exhibition of their work and scholarships, and public mural projects.  Lawren Harris hopes to see branches of the Federation in every university in Canada, in art colleges and normal schools.  He remarked that the Federation can put its weight behind national projects in a way which in a professional society might be considered special pleading.  Professional societies are necessary; their aims are either professional or the furthering of a particular medium. But there are whole regions in this country where the arts are kept alive by amateurs alone and their influence should be enlisted.

H.G. Clyde of the University of Alberta spoke of the extension department which helps music students all over the province, and the courses in art instruction given in small schools from the Peace River to the border where several teachers are travelling over the province.  The enormously successful Banff summer school started out as the first community art school and last year had 224 in attendance.  He also told of a Calgary mansion now turned into an art centre and of how $6,000 was collected in three months with the city now giving it rent free.

Ernest Lindner of Saskatoon told of the night classes in art and the new art school they hope to get soon in Sas­katchewan.  One thinks rather enviously of the enthusiasm of communities where the university is an important part, where the premier is easy to talk to, where the mayor comes to art classes and sees to it that the art gallery gets a city grant, and where they make $1,200 in one evening for an auction of pictures in aid of the gallery.  The Federation is active in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina and North Battleford.  They hope to have a big art education conference to plan a reform of the art curriculum in the schools.  Miss [Wynona] Mulcaster of Saskatoon who told of all this is on the Normal School staff.  She was recently given three months leave by the Saskatchewan Government to study in Montreal at the Art Association with Arthur Lismer.  The Saskatoon Star Phoenix has co-operated in publicizing art with its photos and news stories of rural art clubs.

Exhibitions, lectures and sketch groups can be found in some of the most out-of-the-way places.  The Federation aims “to unite all Canadian artists, critics and related pro­fessional workers in promoting common aims; to express the artist’s point of view in the national life; and to encour­age public support for galleries, museums, and organiza­tions connected with art.”  In Nova Scotia shows are cir­culated to villages; in New Brunswick there were 1,000 entries for a children’s exhibition; in Montreal there are 168 members of whom about 80 meet each week for draw­ing, painting, pottery, and creative writing, and they will soon begin going out to towns with shows and speakers. In Ontario a new branch was formed in Sudbury.  Mrs. [Alison Houston Lockerbie] Newton of Winnipeg described the plan of the Board of Trade to buy original works of art for the schools.

Sir Ernest Macmillan at the CAC [Canadian Arts Council] stressed the need for recordings of Canadian works to be distributed to Canadian embassies, for the exchange of musicians through the CBC to carry on cultural propaganda, for a bureau of information on Canadian music to help circulate Canadian compositions to music clubs.  Brazil, for instance, now knows Canada through the Alouette Quartet, which did not leave before it had many a Brazilian village singing Alouette.

The crowds coming to see the Hogarth, Constable, and Turner exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto are break­ing all records.  The opening of this show happily coincided with the conferences.  Some of the finest paintings in the British national and royal collections were sent by special act of Parliament to New York, Chicago and Toronto. This sort of sharing, and more of it, in all the arts, is, as I see it, what the conferences were all about.

 

 19

Canadian Handicrafts Abroad (1949)

Published originally in the Star Weekly, 12 February 1949: 8

 

All across Canada people have become interested in handicrafts, and recently New Yorkers saw a show of Canadian work sponsored by the dominion government.  In it were Eskimo bone carvings and Indian baskets and those big comfortable sweaters the B.C. Indians make from sheep’s wool they grew on their own farms.  Besides that, there were useful things for the household from all parts of the country.

In remote places in New Brunswick a teacher goes out to help people start making things at home in their spare time.  The provincial government is supporting this plan to raise the standard of homecrafts, which can be sold in craft shops.

Weaving takes first place here, and hooked rugs with a salty maritime look about them are made by the south shore fishermen.  Nova Scotia is famous for hooked rugs, and the women who make them are now working closely with designers in Ontario and Quebec.  They find simple designs most effective.  So they use a leaf, a square or other repeated pattern.  For dyes they often use a trick our grandmothers knew and make their own from tree bark or some other plant to produce soft, glowing colors.

For the past fifteen years the Quebec government has given generous grants to encourage crafts.  There are cooperatives working, such as the pottery factory that makes bowls and mugs and pitchers.  People are well past the hobby stage there, for the demand for some of the weaving they do at home in their spare time is developing into a big business.  Recently one order alone from a big department store was for $25,000 worth of handwoven draperies.

In Manitoba the Ukrainians have worked hard to keep alive their traditional skill in embroidery.  Handed down from one generation to another are beautiful designs they use for holiday costumes.  Now they put some of these patterns to other uses, such as lovely wheat ear designs on napkins and tablecloths.

The rural districts in both Alberta and Saskatchewan are organizing, and Calgary is currently putting on a big drive to open up a craft centre.  Men are also taking to crafts as a hobby, and the New York show had some of the lariats and other things then men had made for themselves to wear at the Calgary stampede.

In Ontario many busy housewives are streamlining dinner and hustling off, leaving father with the baby these nights to get to newly opened handicraft centres in time for their evening classes.  Typical of the centres are the classes held in a building that once was an old Presbyterian church behind a publishing house on Avenue Rd., Toronto.

Everything goes on in the one large room.  In one corner they are making small purses out of brown or light calf leather, thonging and fastening the pieces together.  Some are learning to tool initials and simple designs on leather.  At the other end of the room where a drawing class is in progress, the students are drawing simple shapes like the cube and the cylinder, just to get the hang of how to drawn a barn and a silo later.  They hope to get in some oil painting before the course is over, too.  In the middle are weavers and some fifteen good‑sized looms.  As the classes are kept small, each person has a chance to work at one loom.

You might think that all this going on might result in bedlam, but it doesn’t at all, and there is a very sociable atmosphere in which people may wander from one class to another and see what the others are doing.

There is quite a sprinkling of gray heads here, for grandparents are turning to crafts for recreation now that their children have set up homes of their own.  A young mother signed up for the winter course because she wants to learn something to teach her children in their own basement workshop, something the whole family can enjoy doing together.  There are maids who come on their afternoons off and nurses who like some company when they get out of the hospital.  One nurse on night duty turns up for a morning weaving class fresh as a daisy without having slept at all.  One husband and wife signed up for the course in painting because they wanted a new interest in life, and they thought this would be something to do in their old age.  People living in cramped quarters like to get out to a big airy workshop, and they are finding it a fine place to make friends.

Women are coming from Aurora and Hamilton, from Weston and Markham and Milliken and Milton––in other words, from towns all around Toronto.  The women must be carrying home such enthusiastic reports that the men are wanting to come along, too, and so the Guild plans to run courses later for men only.

Miss Ruth Home, who is organizing the workshop, is small and dark and animated, and when I talked with her was wearing a beautiful soft blue handwoven tweed suit.  “Canadians were good craftsmen until around 1810,” she said, “in woodworking and furniture and many other crafts.  But there came a break in the tradition about that time, and we suffer from it yet.  The whole trend has been contrary to hand work in this country after that time, and we find even new Canadians forgetting the ancient skills they came here with.  For instance, the younger generations of Ukrainians are forgetting how to do their traditional embroidery.  You cannot fully appreciate fine things just by looking at them; you need also to know how they are made and experience the thrill of making things yourself with your own hands.”

Miss Home should know what she is talking about, for she has lectured to thousands of Canadian women on house furnishings and period designs at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Now, as secretary of the Ontario region of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, Miss Home has organized the craft workshop, a long‑cherished project of the Guild.

The classes are for beginners but old hands are coming to brush up their skills, too, and later the looms, for example, will be available at a nominal charge to those who have had some experience.  This helps out the problem of the weaver who hasn’t space in the average house for a loom.

Naturally, some hope to get past the stage of making things only for themselves, and if their work is good enough it will be sold in the Guild shops.

Hand block printing is very popular.  Mrs. Kenneth Kidd, who teaches this, told me that they are learning how to draw and cut designs on linoleum; some are making up their own patterns as they go along, from simple motifs.  Many members of the group designed their own Christmas cards.  Now they are trying their hand at printing designs on cloth, for aprons or curtains.

Anyone who thinks weaving is a job for weak sisters should see some of these classes in action.  Fifteen looms are going strong, with people at different stages.  Some are making eight-inch samples of plain weaving, trying to get the tension right.  That seems to be quite a trick, not only in the way you hold your mouth but how you swing your hands as the shuttle goes through the threads.  One girl had to rip hers out and start again because she got it too tight; another came from the office all exhausted after a hard day’s work and found she couldn’t weave worth a cent that night and had to rip all evening.  Miss Althea Edgar, the instructor, and a recent graduate of the Ontario College of Art in weaving, explained to me that you just have to be feeling fit or everything gets all snarled up.

The present revival of crafts is here to stay, according to Miss Home, and she confidently expects that it will spread to other centres.  If so, we will rediscover some of the fun our grandmothers had in using things in our own homes which we have made ourselves.

20

Review of Three Art Books (1951)

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 31 (December 1951): 213–14.

 

The Growth of Canadian Painting by Donald W. Buchanan.  Collins; pp. 110.

Canadian Art by Graham McInnes.  Macmillan;  pp. 110.

Francisco de Goya by Jose Lopez-Rey.   Longmans, Green; pp. 16, plus 30 pages of illustrations.

 

Donald Buchanan has selected 40 Canadian painters ranging from pioneers to artists now working. He has done a fine job of biography, of getting artists to tell in their own words what is most important to them in the world around them and in their painting.  This is a book written about individuals, their training, how they make a living, how they reacted to the depression, the war.  It deals with different attitudes: some painters see the country in terms of strong colors and flat pattern; some want to paint subjective conceptions in subtle colors and abstract designs.  The writer has chosen a variety of highly original and creative artists and has included 16 reproductions of their work in color and 64 in monochrome.

Graham McInnes gives in the space of a little over a hundred pages a compact summary of activity in the arts in Canada from early backgrounds to expansion into fields so varied as museums, galleries, films, architecture, painting, and industrial design. It might be useful to the reader unacquainted with the Canadian art scene to have more details about the make-up of our public collections which are so important for students training in the larger centres. This is a welcome re-issue, revised and brought up to date, and well-illustrated, of a useful handbook.

Dr. Lopez-Rey sets Goya against the background of contemporary events, analyzes his paintings in terms of space relationships and the rococo art ideas of his early period as outlined in the treatise of the Spanish painter Palomino.  He shows how Goya went on from his earlier conceptions of aesthetics and design, the idea of the sublime and the beautiful in art, to that of the picturesque.  Illustrated in black and white and color, it is an intelligent and readable short introduction to the painter.

21

Review of Paul Duval’s A.J. Casson (1952)

 

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 32 (June 1952): 72.

 

This simple and readable short monograph by Paul Duval outlines the career of one of Canada’s best known painters and commercial designers.  It tells of his boyhood, his practical-handed hobbies, his enjoyment of outdoor life, his identification with Ontario and particularly Southern Ontario.  At fifteen he was an apprentice in a lithographing house, and he became later assistant to Frank Carmichael who helped him greatly and with him founded the Water Color Society.  He was painting in oils as well, became a member of the Group of Seven in the twenties as well as The Ontario Society of Artists, and is now President of the Royal Canadian Academy.  Mr. Duval reflects our changed attitude to art and everyday life in showing how Casson the painter was also Casson the commercial art director who has had great influence as an art patron by using working Canadian artists in advertising.  It is regrettable that printing costs make the price of this attractive little book so high [Ryerson, $4.50].

22

Review of Emily Carr as I Knew Her by Carol Pearson.  Clark, Irwin. 162 pp. (1955)

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 35 (April 1955): 24.

 

Twenty years ago, when Emily Carr’s pictures were get­ting to be known in exhibitions in Eastern Canada, wisps of rumor suggested a crotchety recluse who lived with a house full of animals, so poor she had to paint on brown paper, but still the woman who painted the Indian villages and the primeval trees of British Columbia.

Since her death her paintings have been given recognition in this country and outside of it too: her books have been published, and a good deal of her warm and complex personality is being revealed.  Now Carol Pearson adds to the story.  She lived with Miss Carr for years, first as a pupil and a child, then as a god-daughter and close friend.  It is a tender and sensitive account, simply told, for Miss Pearson lays no claim to being a writer; and her quick observation makes us see the studio in 1917, Woo the monkey, the Belgian griffons, the parrot, the cat, the white rat, and even the field mice housed (outside) in the winter in Miss Carr’s old shoes.

“Any fool can copy, child, if he tries long enough; what you are to do is create, get the feeling of your subject and put that there,” Emily Carr would say, in the art lessons.  Carol Pearson tells how they gathered pottery clay from cellars workmen were digging and took it home in a baby carriage, how they packed up their household and went camping and painting sixty miles north of Victoria; how Emily Carr devised a trailer studio for going into the woods when her weak heart forbade camp life.  It is an intimate little book, with a fine introduction by Kathleen Coburn, and one feels grateful to them both for it.

 

 23

Review of The Noble Savage: A Life of Paul Gauguin by Lawrence and Elizabeth Hanson.  Clarke, Irwin (Chatto and Windus); 286  pp.  (1955)

 

Originally published in the Canadian Forum 35 (May 1955): 43

 

Paul Gauguin’s life has always excited a great deal of curiosity.  Why would a man throw up a prosperous career on the stock exchange in Paris to take up painting?  How could he have deserted his wife and family after ten years?  And what was he looking for among the less sophisticated people of Brittany, of Aries, and finally among the islanders of the South Pacific?

This book fills in his story with detail drawn from correspondence not available before in English.  It begins with a dramatic device: his meeting with the Danish girl, fresh from prosperous Copenhagen, whom he presently married.  She told him about her family and he told her about his: two stories so incongruous that you wonder how they ever imagined they were compatible at all.  She probably hoped to reform him, even then, from his half-savage yearnings (he always played up the half-savage in his ancestry), and he wanted a regular home, indeed all his life he promised to come back to his family—but he didn’t tell her that he wanted to paint.

For ten years he was a devoted family man, prosperous, an amateur painter whom the Impressionists welcomed to their midst because they badly needed a patron.  They were chagrined when he threw up his job and became a painter like themselves, needing someone to buy his pictures.  For his wife had to go back to Denmark, to teaching, and he gradually gathered followers around him, formulating new theories about painting.  His unfortunate time with Van Gogh is described, and the detailed progress of his life, his sponging on sympathetic pension-keepers and constant friends.  He is presented as a man whose imaginative absorption in his fantasy of his Inca and Peruvian ancestry made him search for the good life in primitive peoples farther and farther away from Paris, winding up in Tahiti and the Marquesas.

While the authors succeed in giving a remarkably absorbing and detailed narrative about Gauguin’s life, they also manage to give information about his painting, how he broke with the Impressionists over their divided colors and used color that was flat, vivid and pure; how he was interested in stained glass and the flat design of Japanese prints.  It seems to me a remarkable account of a European who followed his imaginative revolt from bourgeois Europe, no matter how far a journey it took him.

24

 

The Educational Work of an Art Museum

This thesis was written by Helen Kemp during the summer of 1934 when she was at the National Gallery in Ottawa, having embarked on a training program for museum work.  At the initiative of Arthur Lismer, who was educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto, Kemp had become an assistant at the gallery in Toronto during the second week of October 1933.  Lismer had learned that the Canadian Committee, established by the Carnegie Corporation to study the problems of Canadian museums, wanted to train recent university graduates for museum work.  The plan had two phases: students were to gain experience at local museums and then be sent to the Courtauld Institute at the University of London and to galleries on the continent for further study.  Lismer, recognizing Kemp’s potential as an art educator, hired her for the first phase at the Art Gallery of Toronto and then recommended that she continue her museum training at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. 

            In January 1934, Kemp applied to H.O. McCurry, secretary of the Canadian Committee, for an eight-month apprenticeship.  Arthur Lismer wrote to the Canadian Committee that Kemp was a “a most acceptable and fitting person to enter upon the necessary training here and abroad, with the aim of becoming a useful and well-informed member of museum or art gallery staff in Canada” (Letter to H.O. McCurry, assistant director of the National Gallery of Canada, in the National Gallery of Canada Archives.  The letter is mistakenly dated 3 January 1933: it was written in 1934.)  Her application was approved, and in February she spent one week in Ottawa assisting Kathleen Fenwick, curator of prints and drawings at the National Gallery, in lecturing on an exhibition of nineteenth-century painting.  She then returned to Toronto and busied herself for the next month with the activities of the art gallery—lecturing on Holbein, conducting classes for a French exhibition, assisting Lismer with his Thursday morning study classes, doing clerical work, and in general familiarizing herself with the operation of the gallery.  Kemp actually wrote most of the thesis after she left Ottawa and returned in June to Toronto.

            The thesis draws some material from Kemp’s essay, “The University and the Fine Arts,” which appeared in Acta Victoriana 57, no. 5 (April 1933): 5–10 and is reprinted above.

 

 

The conception of an art museum as having some obli­gation to the public in general is a modern one, like that of teaching more effectively by means of visual experience; therefore the art gallery or museum of art is assuming a place of major importance in community life.  As an educational force, it is growing outside the formal institutions of education; and in the field of child art education it is adopt­ing principles and methods which are both progressive and experimental.  Also, to a constantly growing number of the general public, the art museum is proving itself to be more and more a source of joy and spirit­ual refreshment.

What an art gallery is, and what it is for, are questions which would have received widely different answers even a decade ago.  But now, while it may differ about some of a gallery’s subordinate activities, informed opinion agrees on certain fundamentals of purpose and policy.  In an art gallery, the art treasures of the past are pre­served with knowledge and care, where they may be studied by the scholar and the art lover who wishes to penetrate the mystery of their creation.  There too, without confusion, the more casual visitor may see a few objects grouped with discrimination and artistic taste, and shown in the manner best suited to attract his interest and to arouse his love of beauty.

An art gallery should serve the people in the way that a library does.  Just as the library preserves the traditions of the race in its collections of books, so also does the gallery help keep alive the flame of artistic tradition down through the ages.  A church tries to give its people the comfort and inward strength of religion, but it does not train theologians nor does the library try to produce essayists and poets.  In the same way, the art gallery exists to further the interests of art among all the people.  Its function is a positive one, its purpose a definite and creative effort to quicken their spiritual understanding, and to lead men from the false gods and ideals of materialism which, in our age, lead inevitably to the disruption of civilization.  But at the same time it must leave to the schools and teachers of art the responsibility of training creative artists.  Much has been said and a little written about the line beyond which a gallery should not go in the field of education.  But so long as our schools and colleges continue to neglect the true value of the fine arts in education, the gallery must exert itself to the utmost.  It is the representative of a great tradition, and in this day and age, it must be to the arts what the great patrons were in the Middle Ages.

Writers have been attempting recently to co-ordinate conceptions of general principles underlying various aspects of creative activity.  They have come to realize that the arts cannot be put into separate categories, but are inter-related, and are different manifestations of a spirit fundamental in the nature of mankind, pervading the whole range of human action and vision.  Art is not something to be made an isolated subject of study, as most of our schools still regard the “teaching” of poetry.  Mr. Barton says: “The poet and the artist are the divinely appointed prophets of life, who inspire us with a deeper sense of life’s value––The technical rules of art are only means to an end.  Art itself is intelligent vitality, communicated to us from the vitality of others who are richly endowed with the gift of living, feeling and seeing––a dynamic spirit, inhabiting all healthy works, purposes, and sciences of mankind” [J.E. Barton, Purpose and Admiration (London: Christophers, 1932), 15].

Good art should not be a method of escape from normal life any more than our religious life should be an escape from everyday life.  Art in the broadest sense enriches our life and gives us a deeper understanding of it.  Interpreted in this way, it goes naturally hand in hand with the growing ideal of social service.  It tries to convert men from sordid aims to unselfish and more beautiful living.  The art gallery, which shares its treasures with the public, tries to lead the way toward a cultural goal, to stimulate and direct the public taste along fresh and enchanting paths of experience.

“The public art gallery is a creation of the nineteenth century.  Unconsciously, it is an assertion of the collecting instinct of the community; consciously, it has been designed to instruct the public, to educate artists, to encourage contemporary art by purchase, and to provide material for historical research” [“Museums and Art Galleries,” Encyclopaedia Britannica]

When the Louvre opened its doors to the general public after the French Revolution, it was a beginning of the modern ideal of a museum for the people.  Not only did connoisseurs, artists, and cultivated people of the leisured class visit it, but also growing numbers of workmen and artisans.  Closer acquaintance with objects of beauty must have had a beneficial effect also on the industrial arts, for we find museums of art springing up all over the country.  But the old idea of a museum as a treasure house to be kept under lock and key still remained in England, as indeed vestiges are found even to this day in the policy of some conservative-minded museum officials.  Sir Frederick Kenyon described the state of affairs in the British Museum at the end of the eighteenth century.  For a long time after the Sloane Collections became the British Museum it was only with great difficulty that an ordinary citizen could gain access to the collections.  One had to visit the porter’s lodge and give reasons entitling one to the privilege.  If a favourable reply was forthcoming, it was necessary to come back some other time and ask for an entry ticket.  Then followed several months of waiting for notice of one’s turn.  When the great day arrived, the visitor was rapidly conducted across the galleries with a dozen others.  The guide was expert in discouraging all requests for information.

It remained for the museums of the United States to lead the way in educational work.  They were not hampered by the traditions which bound so many European institutions, run as storehouses, and hobbies of the staff.  The directors of art museums in the United States had an opportunity to create a new avenue of public education and recreation, and they made use of it.  Interest in the arts was growing after the international exhibitions of 1876 (Centennial Philadelphia) and 1895 (World’s Fair, Chicago).  Wealthy men became great patrons, and their bequests aided the arts tremendously.  The World War brought an exchange of ideas and showed the masterpieces of the Old World to many for the first time.  Since then more people have been able to travel, seeing works of art not only in Europe but in the increasingly important collections on this Continent.  In recent years the arts have been taking a more prominent place in the schools and colleges of the United States.  Their value is gaining recognition in industry and in recreation.  All these factors influence the general growth of art museums which continue to develop their activities in response to the needs of the public.  In a general way, the art museums of this continent have been making a greater effort to interest the public in the advantages which they have to offer.  As the necessity of art in its various forms becomes accepted on all sides, the art museum may have some of its present educational duties taken over by other institutions.  It has not done as much as it should have with its collections, in the way of research, but unless it has the interest, the backing and intelligent co-operation of the public at large, the too-introspective museum will deteriorate into quite as senile an organization as some of the European Science Museums of the eighteen-fifties did.  It is no longer possible for museum experts to shut themselves up like monks in a monastery and pray for the artistic souls of their fellowmen.  A museum of the present day is judged by the aggregate of its activities and influence upon the community in general.  It must work with and for the growing number of people of all classes who are its supporters and patrons.  Years ago the leisured class constituted the chief patrons of the arts; nowadays everyone has more leisure.  What to do with this leisure time and with the vast amount of potential creative energy that goes with it, is going to be one of the greatest problems of both the present and the coming generations.  In close cooperation with other cultural organizations in each community, the art museum must do its share in helping to solve this problem.

In the United States, the era of pioneering, which depended on the opening up of new lands, is about over.  We may call this a material pioneering.  In Canada there are still vast lands to be opened up and vast natural resources to be developed, and thus we differ from our neighbours.  But in the pioneering which tackles the problems of the spiritual world, our situation here is similar enough to make the adoption of many of the principles of education that have succeeded in the United States not only advisable but necessary.  Education will be a vital matter for many years to come and the art gallery holds a strategic position in a community from the standpoint of art education.

 

 II

 

Now in our discussion here let us remember that we are not considering any particular art gallery or museum.  In this essay we are devoting our attention rather to the work of an art gallery in a general way, its educational activities and its subsidiary functions.  Our conception is “the modern art gallery.”  It embodies those methods of service to the public which have been found effective by the experience of many galleries that have undertaken the work.  An art gallery must keep its educational programme flexible and capable of being adapted at all times to community needs.  For only by maintaining the spirit of willingness to co-operate, to seek better methods, and to try to meet some of the spiritual requirements of the people whom it serves, will a museum of art prevent itself from becoming a mere static institution with its work just a matter of routine.  Newer organizations can always make adaptations from the work of a larger institution to suit their own needs.  But with the gallery movement at its present stage in Canada it would be wise to develop a few institutions to a point of maturity and great efficiency, in order both to serve as an experimental laboratory for others, and to convince the general public of the validity of museum work as a whole.

Most museums have a great deal to learn in the matter of showmanship.  The modern large department store is far ahead of the ordinary museum in the way it displays its objects to the public.  Expert window dressers are often artists in their own right.  They can create a thing of beauty from a few yards of fabric, some pottery, a jewel or two, a simple background, and a judicious eye as to proportion and balance.  The art museum would do well to adopt some of the principles used by the department store in making its collections attractive.  It is certain that a far greater number of people go again and again to the downtown stores “just to look around” than ever find their way to the museum of art for that purpose.

The principle is simple.  A good display is made up of one or two examples of each object, grouped to form a harmonious ensemble.  Most museums and galleries are crowded for lack of space, or because the architecture of the building was faulty in the beginning.  A dozen objects, as Clarence Stein says, placed in harmonious setting, would give the public more pleasure and instructions than all the kilometers of crowded galleries of the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum.  The public should see a limited number of objects, instead of having to pass in boredom over the whole collection.  This would mean that displays of artistic objects would be put out in a number of small rooms.  The visitor would be able to see what he wished, if helpful posters and directions were given him without having his interest shot to pieces travelling through endless rooms of other material before he arrived at his destination.  This scheme of course depends on the ingenuity of the director and his assistants, and it also depends upon the architect who designed the building in the first place.  According to Mr. Stein, the building should provide separate galleries for the public, in which objects of special appeal to them would be shown.  The greater part of the building would be taken up with collections for the further use of the student, arranged in an easy order for study, since, in this case, it is not a question of attracting or retaining attention.  One method of showing a painting is to place it in an alcove with special lighting.  Another is to make it an integral part of a room furnished according to its own period.  Both of these methods are desirable, but also expensive, especially from the standpoint of using valuable space.  The whole problem is occupying much attention at present and need not be dealt with at length in this article.  Good showmanship is a first essential in any form of educational work of a gallery.  The arrangement of its collections is an expression of the artistic ability of the director and the public will fail to comprehend the collection if the arrangement is faulty.

Mention has been made of posters and labels.  This branch of the work could be assigned to younger members of the museum staff, to students gaining experience, and to students of courses in the history of art.  It would always be kept under the supervision of a member of the museum staff, but its advantage to the student would be very great.  He would gain experience in the use of art periodicals and text books.  He would add to his knowledge of art history and processes.  In writing descriptive labels from the definite standpoint of interesting the general public, he would gain much clarity in the use of terms; and he would add to his general fund of knowledge in preparation for future lectures.  From the beginning the gallery worker should be given definite tasks in this way which would discipline him in methods of research, while his interest and enthusiasm for such work is keen.  The need for descriptive labels in most galleries is only too apparent. In some museums, no indication whatever is given as to where one finds certain collections.  There is no directory of the building.  Often when one comes to view collections, especially science museums, one is overwhelmed by the flow of technical, and (to the uninitiated reader) unintelligible language.  Art galleries sidestep this difficulty by putting up no labels at all, or if they do, they give simply the title and the artist’s name and when he lived.  Some galleries print catalogues of an exhibition, giving almost nothing else but this scant information, and charge the public for the service!  The modern gallery might adopt the method of using posters, found in every well‑run library. The poster board would contain notices of current events in the gallery and notes about processes involved in the work shown, also a bibliography of books dealing with the subject.  There is no reason why the public should not be told a few things about what they are looking at, by means of such posters.  This would quicken interest and break the ground for the museum docent who could begin a discourse from a slightly more advanced viewpoint.  Objection has been made to labels on the ground that they distract attention from the aesthetic qualities of a painting and appeal to the intellect alone.  For all that, an inconspicuous label could be combined with further information contained in a gallery leaflet.  Such a leaflet would be issued free to the public and distinct from the souvenir booklet which is sold.

The question of the training and background necessary for the museum docent and lecturer is still a matter of discussion.  But that a writer in an article on docentry should feel it necessary even to mention correct grammar and a good accent as a requirement seems rather amusing until we consider that most of the European guides learn a set speech written by someone else, and that often in our own museums it is the policeman on guard who does the talking to visitors.  Docentry and museum lecturing is an entirely new profession and the need for good lecturers is growing much faster than training can be given them.  The highest standards should be required in the work of such lecturers, for their work is quite as important as that of the lecturer in a university.  A lecturer in English would not get very far with having read some book reviews and second hand opinions of the major poets.  A trip to Italy and a patter of enthusiasm should not constitute an art lecturer’s sole stock in trade.

Scholarship and knowledge of art history, and first hand acquaintance with works of art are essential to the lecturer who must consider that an audience is often made up of an increasingly great number of well-informed art-lovers.  The day of keeping one jump ahead of an audience in the matter of lecturing must soon disappear.  We could well dispense with some of the types mentioned by Mr. Cyril Kay-Scott in an article on “Bad Lectures.”  These are the scholarly bore who makes no attempt to interest his listeners; the pep-talker with his rather misguided enthusiasm; the debunking self-advertiser who is an iconoclast and a smart-aleck; and the art crooners, the hushed voiced weepers and yearners over the holy of holies of art.

The writer is well aware of the attitude which maintains that a museum docent need not be, and should not be, a specialist in order to give a stimulating half-hour’s talk.  One is inclined to ask just how much this opinion is influenced by the idea that inquiry into a subject after a certain point must necessarily grow dull and encumbered with dead facts.  To liven it up we must make use of a little intellectual soda-water––all pop and little else.  Without a co-ordination of research with practical needs a docent loses freshness and enthusiasm.  But the docent and lecturer who knows what she is talking about, who has a vivid literary sense in building up a logical comprehensive structure of thought and a pleasant and audible voice in presenting this to her listeners, is almost invaluable.  By a lecturer with imagination and a creative sense, one aspect of art and crafts can be related to others in everyday life and surroundings.  With ingenuity and forethought, even a second-rate collection can be made attractive and useful to a community.  It is in making a small collection continually of interest that a docent is especially necessary.  It is not so much what you have, but what you do with what you have, that counts.

A lecturer usually speaks to an audience seated in a hall and uses lantern slides as illustration.  This type of lecture is more formal; often the lecture is read instead of being delivered from a few notes.  No audience continues to be interested in a read lecture unless the person who is delivering it has developed an especially good approach and can make them forget the manuscript.  Every lecturer should study voice production and learn how to speak without strain and fatigue.  Only with a trained instrument can an idea be perfectly expressed. The peripatetic lecture or gallery talk is much less formal and is quite effective.

When school children are given gallery talks they usually sit on stools around the lecturer.  So far, the project method has not been used much in the Art Gallery of Toronto except in some of the drawing classes for talented children.  There is little doubt that the Socratic method of teaching is more effective in retaining the interest of young children than the straight lecture or story technique filled with anecdotes and discussions.  Children will answer questions and are more accustomed to this method, but adults are generally too self-conscious to co-operate with the lecturer in a discussion.  All such courses should be kept simple, and the less the teacher talks the better.  If, in talking to children in groups, a docent cannot impart to them something of value to their general development, she had better leave it to the teacher who knows the children to relate what they see in the gallery to their school work.  Too few teachers realize the possibilities however; if the docent can see both sides of the question, if she can relate their work in school in some way with what they see in the gallery, then she is performing a unique function of great value. At the Fieldston Conference, Mrs. Fansler suggested that the staff should teach the school teachers how to take their own classes through the Gallery.  The time saved could be spent on individual children who constantly come for help which cannot be given them because of the problem of dealing with large classes.  The individual approach is always of more value, but at present gallery education seems concerned with large groups.  In our colleges and universities small groups have been proven effective, and five minute’s personal discussion with the professor often is more stimulating than a session of lectures.

Once an interest has been aroused in either child or adult, efforts should be made to cultivate it.  The individual should be allowed to use the gallery library for research on his own account.  The library in the children’s art centre will be for children; but the gallery library should be available for its members at least, if not for the general public who may use the public library if it has a collection of art books.  For this purpose, the library should be in a separate room where people may come to read.  In general, the open shelf system seems by far the best way of arranging books, with the most valuable ones kept apart by the librarian and loaned less freely.  Some curators contend that art books present a peculiar problem in that they often contain valuable reproductions which might be stolen by borrowers, and therefore there should be no library for outsiders.  But this happens very seldom, especially if there is someone in attendance in the reading room. Also it is an unwarranted assumption that the average reader is waiting in ambush to deface a book or steal part of it.  A library in an art gallery would not have quite the same problem to deal with as that of a public lending library.  Some of its books might go out on loan, but as a rule they would remain in the gallery because the staff would need them for its own research in lecturing and giving information required by the public from time to time. A group of members might be persuaded to give money toward building up a circulating collection of art books which would be administered by the gallery librarian and would be loaned freely to members.  When people out of town ask for help with a lecture, there should be a number of books available to send to them for perhaps a small fee.

The educational activities of an art gallery are extended beyond its walls and, as such, are assuming greater importance than ever.  As these extra-mural functions increase, the central gallery will gradually change its character and be a centre for research to assist the work of branch galleries in the same city and scattered over the countryside.  These smaller organizations will develop as local museums answering the needs of their particular district.  Under a system of co-operation such as that outlined by Sir Henry Miers at the Worthington Conference in 1929, they will look to the parent institution for guidance and for information of a highly specialized nature.  These should be organized into a museum association with permanent headquarters.  There is already a spirit of friendly co-operation among the art galleries in Canada with the National Gallery in Ottawa acting as Dutch Uncle to them all. The National Gallery has been sending loan collections out all over Canada since 1916 and has arranged to have authorities lecture in centres across the Dominion.

Research is necessary to many of the activities of a gallery.  It is required not only in writing books on local development in art, but also in the preparation of monographs relating the objects in the museum to the work in schools, in work for travelling lecturers and loaned lectures, and in notes for loans of pictures, radio talks and newspaper advertising.  Museum publicity, that is, advertising, attempts to turn the mind of the public toward its activities.  The museum needs patrons, members, and an enthusiastic public, and it is right that it should have patrons.  As Mrs. Karnaghan interpreted it in an address at the Conference of American Museums recently, museum publicity bears the same relation to the work of the museum as does the invitation of the guests to a dinner.  You cannot have the dinner without the guests, nor the guests without the invitation.

Articles sent to newspapers may be written by the staff, based on the research of experts, or may be accurate information given as a basis for news stories and adaptable for use by different periodicals.  Museum advertising is an expression of its public-mindedness.  In England the London railways have found it worthwhile to put up arresting advertisements of the National Museums, and some smaller places have exhibited something different each week and announced it in the newspapers as “this week’s treasure.”  Some museum objects have been loaned to help tradespeople form a window display.  This loan would be acknowledged in the display, thus creating friendliness between the museum and the store, which might be able to loan the museum something to round out a textile or pottery exhibit or fill some need or other of that nature.  It also may stimulate the public to visit the museum itself.  Advertising is carried on through reproductions of works of art in rotogravure sections of newspapers, announcements of coming events, posters, pamphlets, and monthly or weekly bulletins.  One museum reports that it finds weekly bulletins less expensive than newspaper advertising or printed invitations to members for special events.  The most effective type of advertising is accomplished by personal contacts. I f a steady, consistent and dignified policy of advertising is carried through for a long time, the museum can build up a friendly attitude for itself among its members and the general public.  Nothing travels faster than news about an organization which gives satisfaction to a great number of people.

Up to the present, little has been done in Canada toward using the radio to supplement museum and gallery collections.  There have been a few radio talks, some of them given by the educational supervisor of the Art Gallery of Toronto.  In one, for instance, anecdotes and a sketch of the characteristic work of the French painters of the nineteenth century were combined and the public was urged to visit the Gallery where a special exhibition of French painting was being held.  Much might be done in this way, modelled on the method of the British Broadcasting Company and based definitely on objects exhibited in the galleries.  The National Gallery of Canada already has available reproductions of many of the paintings hanging in the Gallery.  If radio lecturing became an established activity of the Gallery, talks on paintings could be illustrated by these reproductions––on postcards perhaps, which would be sent all over the country to people listening in.

The great preoccupation of modern psychology with the mental processes of the child has been reflected in art education.  Writers on the subject vary greatly.  Some say that creative effort is the pure reflection of the inner life of the child and he should be given no examples, no art talks nor art walks nor trips to the museum.  Some teachers have a horror of copying as one of the most heinous offences.  Some have a horror of any sort of direction––the child must express himself freely.  One teacher recommends keeping the child closer to life and nature but scrupulously and antiseptically guarded from the contamination of illustrated books and trips to art galleries; and so it goes.  In some quarters adulation of the child’s mental processes amounts almost to a fetish.  As in most cases of preoccupation with the primitive in art, some people have carried their theories to ridiculous lengths.  A certain amount of ordinary, common sense must be used in dealing with the whole subject of child education in art.

Certain general principles emerge from the experiences of teachers and workers in museums.  In all museum activities there should be a feeling of great freedom––both from restraint, and in the choice of activity.  Young children are allowed to become accustomed to the use of materials, with the teacher there in case of need.  No particular limitations are set upon them and they express what they see in their own way.  This is effective until the age of eight or nine, at which time children begin to ask how to produce effects which they are unable to accomplish by themselves.  Sometimes they “grow stale” and lose confidence in their own ability.  At this time their experience must be broadened and at adolescence they are ready to study the art of the past if it is presented as a living and dynamic manifestation of human action and thought.  The problem has not yet been solved, of retaining the child’s interest in art through the difficult years of adolescence.  Mr. Munro of Cleveland suggests that the project method involving art construction should be used, and problems of technique dealt with by illustration from the methods and works of the old masters.  Criticism should be encouraged at all age levels, and discussions of aesthetic problems held in the classroom.  Art history should be studied from a broadly cultural viewpoint in relation to social, intellectual economic and religious factors.  The adolescent is interested in human associations and the personalities and biographies of artists in relation to their works.  The heightening of all emotional activity, so characteristic of adolescence, should be turned toward aesthetic appreciation and creative activity.  The schools have glossed over many of the spiritual needs of children in these critical years.  They have left it to the purveyors of popular journalistic, musical, and motion picture art to train our children’s aesthetic tastes.  Mr. Munro suggests the study of costume, jewelry, perfumes, theatrical costume and stage settings, armour and weapons, textile and design and interior decoration, architectural and mechanical design.  These, he says, are arts in which the aesthetic element appears not as idle sensuous enjoyment but along with obvious practical utility.  As such they appeal to children at this age level.

Students of university grade will find the gallery and its collections, helpful in illuminating courses in aesthetics.  Periods of history are made more interesting by study of interiors, of furniture and costume and painting.  In general, for college students of the first year, the art museum would be useful in helping with a course in cultural history of the sort mentioned above.  This would be an orientation course such as some universities have found of value in World History.  Such a course helps to give the student the background of information necessary for a view of human culture as a whole, before going on to specialized studies.  The advanced student could then pursue a more specialized approach to art.

The introduction of music in many art museums is an attempt to relate two sister arts, and has been found of value.  Musical programmes must be conducted always with great discrimination however, for the whole purpose is defeated if the public cannot concentrate on pictures because of the musical distraction, or on the music because of the pictures.  An art gallery, especially one which contains a few period rooms, might well experiment with the small intimate concerts whose charm we seem to have forgotten of late years.  More thought should be given to working out methods and courses of study which will benefit the adult.  Colleges and universities are realizing that their responsibility to students does not end with graduation––university extension courses in art are organized, classes for workers with only an elementary education, classes for unemployed of all ages, classes for housewives, classes for professional men.  All these activities are attempting to meet our present situation, and it cannot yet be said what is the best method of conducting them.  Certainly the art gallery cannot ignore the growing need for instruction and recreation at every age level.

 

III

 

The Art Gallery of Toronto seems a crucial point for highly developed educational activity.  Lines of development in Toronto might well be modelled upon Cleveland, where all the educational institutions of the city work together.  Where one activity lags behind another, the others suffer; but in a properly integrated community each will strengthen and enrich the others.  The work of various departments and organizations should not keep growing in a hit-or-miss fashion.  The cultural leaders might do well to understand their mutual aims and help their organizations to work together with unity and strength. If an attempt were made to co-relate their work in the different fields of education, the schools and the College of Art, the technical and vocational schools, the University, the Public Libraries and the Conservatories of Music, might all be able to join forces.

One of the great needs of the educational system of the Province is the establishment of a Faculty of Fine Arts in the University of Toronto.  We may have our own opinions about the efficacy of the “art” teaching in the public and high schools, but in the provincial university and in all the universities of the Dominion except two, no recognition is given to the place of the fine arts.  While most other sides of life are given serious consideration by our provincial university, the fine arts are left in the background by it as amusements for an idle hour, and are as disregarded as the portraits on the walls of dining hall where musicians accompany the chatter of guests.  In the conception of a fully-developed cultural education each aspect of life should be given due importance.  Only when this is done is the student able to evaluate the different elements of life as he sees it, and as countless men through the years have seen it and given expression to their feeling in one form or another.  There is, then, a need in the University of Toronto which should be met.  Provision should be made for the study of art and full recognition given to it in the curriculum.

Technical training in the fine arts has been stressed more than the cultural aspect.  In accord with an age which makes a fetish of specialization and the production of prodigies, it has been the fashion to supply the budding artist with a training in which emphasis was placed largely upon technical proficiency.  The student who wishes to become a creative artist is faced with two alternatives.  In Canada, after high school, he may enter university, or he may attend an art school.  Since ostensibly the university can have no appeal for him, he embarks upon an extremely technical and one-sided course which trains him in the one particular branch of study, but by too early a specialization it robs him of the advantages of a general intellectual background.  Here, very often, he encounters adolescents who have gone little farther than the secondary school entrance, and who develop a bohemianism which lowers the intellectual level of the institution, stressing as it does erratic inspiration and revolt from discipline.  To the serious student, the advantage of combining the two aspects would seem manifest.  To enlarge the horizon of the student of art in his early years is of great value, for later on the growth of his ability depends upon his sensitiveness to beauty expressed in art in one medium or another.

There is another aspect of the question when we consider the student who has no intention of becoming a creative artist, but who regards the study of art as an end in itself.  The Oxford Method, in which a chair of learning is endowed, regardless of the number of students who will make that study financially a paying proposition, would seem ideal from the standpoint of disseminating knowledge.  But when we begin to think of ways and means in our own colleges, the financial question always enters, and we must consider what the economists call the demand side of the situation.  Here we cease to regard training in the fine arts from the viewpoint of the individual and think of the community.

An art training in colleges should begin the work of creating an educated and discriminating public who will have intelligent enjoyment and a critical appreciation of the work of artists and who will create a demand for their work.  In a community whose finer sensibilities are fast becoming atrophied by passive amusements, such as professional ball games, professional hockey games, professional leg-shows and the clap-trap from Hollywood that passes for humour, such a group of enlightened citizens should leaven the mass somewhat.  The erection of public buildings, the composition of advertisements, the design of a room, a house, a garden––many elements in public life would be influenced immensely by the art education of college men and women who are, after all, looked upon as leader in the community.

In Ontario, when authorities have found that there is little good in attempting economy in education, the need for specialized training in the colleges which send teachers all over the Province, will gradually become evident.  The average art teacher in the public schools has taken a short course in the painting of weeds and chalk-boxes at the Normal School, and the high school teacher studies the same sort of thing at an art school for a few weeks or at the college of education for part of one year.  Little attempt is made to train these teachers as systematically as for instance the teacher of English Literature, sooner or later surely our universities must establish faculties of fine arts in order to educate the teachers who go out to instruct the children of the province.  Besides the individuals who are constantly coming to the university with talent and a fairly adequate artistic background, already in the university there are activities which show the trend of student interest.  There is the Sketch Club at Hart House, and there are various groups connected with literary societies of different colleges and with the course in aesthetics who attend lectures and exhibitions at the Art Gallery.  Collections of paintings are exhibited in the University residences and club rooms, and occasionally in the libraries.

We need not concern ourselves here with a discussion of ways and means, nor what sort of degrees to confer upon graduates from a Faculty of Fine Arts, nor what standing should be accorded a student for proficiency in art along with his other subjects.  Such things could be arranged.  Students in the Faculty of Arts receive no credit for any work they may do in the fine arts, nor do graduates of the Ontario College of Art receive recognition from the University as graduates of any of the federated colleges do.  The Ontario College of Art is affiliated with the University, with no apparent advantage except perhaps the privileges of Hart House granted to male art students.  No further action is likely to take place toward federation until the authorities realize more fully the need.  The writer does not wish to seem in favour of people rushing hither and yon in an undignified and ultimately futile attempt to cram in “culture” by the yard.  But the study of one subject is heightened and coloured by a glimpse of a different viewpoint and by the bearing and influence of other arts upon it, and students should be given an opportunity of developing that catholic taste which is so desirable.  The intelligent amateur as well as the cultured professional would be encouraged by the establishment of faculties of fine arts in the Canadian universities.

In planning an art gallery or museum, the architects should arrange it so that the teaching members of the staff would have private offices, no matter how small, for concentration upon work which suffers from interruptions.  Failing this, one room should be set aside for study and for a library.  Even if books are never loaned outside the gallery, the room should be available to the public and for the staff.  It should be a room devoted to quiet, free from the distractions of an ordinary office where people come in to borrow lantern slides or discuss business, and it should be away from the jangling call of the telephone.  It is very necessary that there should be some place where a member of the staff can go to read, write or study, free from constant and prolonged interruption.

In Toronto, the College of Art should have a library.  Its own library or what is left of it, is not run properly, and is of little use to the students.  The art students could use the Gallery library if there were a reading room.  More important still is the question of a library for students in the new Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Toronto if, and when, it materializes.  The Art Gallery will be the inevitable centre of attraction, in co-operation with the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology.  The latter has no adequate library for outside student purposes.  The Reference Library’s Art Section has not been built up of late years.  The works in the Public Library are for the general public.  University Library has a very small collection of good books on Art which are in the Philosophy Seminar under lock and key.  Victoria Library has a few books meant for extra-curricular reading.

The question must arise as to which organization will gather together such books. There will probably be co-operation between the different places and a reference list of books contained in each for the use of the student.  The Gallery could encourage the development of a Faculty of Fine Arts by setting aside a room or rooms in which books, photographs, and reproductions of prints and drawings would be made available for study in quiet, well-lit surroundings. A librarian would be needed eventually, but in the early stages the books might be in charge of a member of the staff.

In the opinion of the writer, the Art Gallery is the place to develop this because (1) the Reference Library must serve the public and cater to its needs; (2) University Library has not sufficient room unless it gets a new building (3) Victoria University Library would not consider building up an extensive collection because it is already specializing in the English novel and general extra-curricular reading  The writer does not know whether the other colleges would be interested, nor the Museum, but she does not believe that any of them have anyone sufficiently interested in an art library to bring it into existence.  The College of Art has not room and further, it would need a provincial grant for the purpose, which would be better employed in raising the standard and pay of their staff.  The Gallery has made a beginning toward building up material for teaching purposes in its Carnegie Teaching set, and in its lantern slides, etc. An adequate and available library would greatly raise the prestige and usefulness of the Gallery in the community and is absolutely necessary to the Faculty of Fine Arts.

If a scheme of co-operation were firmly established amongst the institutions of Toronto, definite advantages would follow to students, apart from the advantages to the general public of higher standards and more efficient service.  For example, students of the Faculty of Fine Arts would be fitted to enter various new professions such as art librarians, museum docents, art critics, and teachers in museum technique.  Library students could gain experience in cataloguing and indexing in the gallery library and future docents might do some teaching of youngsters in the gallery classes, under supervision.  Writers could prepare labels and try writing some magazine and newspaper articles on art subjects, also advertising material for posters.  At present, most art school students in the city are not given much practical work to do, and when they go into a commercial art studio they have a great deal to learn about ordinary business methods.  For some, the most important undertaking of the year is organizing and designing scenery and costumes for the annual masquerade.  Art students would gain a much clearer idea of their place in the community if they were given tasks having practical value along with other work.  Posters are needed for libraries and galleries and organizations of various kinds in the university.  A bursary might be given to certain students in the gallery in return for such work.  Above all, a sense of responsibility to the community should be developed in art students, who might realize that the fine arts should enter many more fields than at present.  An artist can apply his training in the design of many articles that enter every home and office building.  This idea might be stimulated by exhibitions of commercial and industrial art held in the gallery.  Too many youngsters with insufficient training are living in shacks attempting to paint a masterpiece, while a city like Toronto puts out a centennial programme booklet which is surpassed by nothing one has seen in recent times for cheapness, vulgarity and crudeness of design.

Some of the plans outlined in this article may seem a little ahead of time in the situation at present.  Of course one does not expect to bring about Utopia over night, but the education of the present and the coming generation must go on.  If we become self-satisfied at any stage of things, we go back.  We cannot stand still––we must meet new situations as they arise.  This article has merely set down a few general lines which the writer believes would be of great value in the development of art education in Canada.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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[What follows here is a four‑page list of periodicals––42 altogether––with volume, date, and page number, referring apparently to scores of articles related to the thesis topic.]

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