Regina Society for the Advancement of Art, Literature and Science 1910-1914

The Regina Society for the Advancement of Art, Literature and Science was an organization active in Regina between 1910 and 1914. The idea for this type of society originated in Britain in the nineteenth century where these groups acted as both social organizations and informal universities in their communities. They were accessible to any citizen who could afford the modest dues. Typically, the elite of the city or town were involved in the organization and running of such societies, but their activities often allowed and attracted a wider participation.  The Regina society (RSAALS) was very active in stimulating the visual arts and it is this aspect of it which is the focus of this paper.

In locations and times where more specific interest groups had little chance of survival, these kinds of societies were both practical and attractive. Precedents in Canada for Regina’s society were the Montreal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Literature and Science, established in the 1820s, and the Vancouver Art, Historical and Scientific Association established in 1894. As is evident by the date of their establishment, these societies preceded the development of more specialized organizations and institutions. It was much the same case for Regina, a settlement of less than 30 years of age at the time of the establishment of the Regina Society for the Advancement of Art, Literature and Science.

Regina’s Society was probably formed as a direct response to the city’s disappointment that Saskatoon was chosen as the site of the province’s new University in 1909. Certainly, the opening of Regina College (the forerunner of the University of Regina) in 1911 was a clear indication that Regina’s’ citizenry felt an institution of higher learning was a necessity for the capital city of the province of Saskatchewan.  RSAALS filled the initial void and then supplemented the offerings of the College as it got under way.  The maturation of the College, along with an economic depression after Regina’s boom period and the declaration of World War I all contributed to the demise of this initiative in the summer of 1914.

The Art section of RSAALS was a particularly active and influential part of the society and it may be given credit for laying the groundwork for the institutional presence of the visual arts in Regina’s civic life. Other clubs supporting the visual arts in Regina during this period, like the Regina Architectural Club, The Regina Guild of Handicraft, the Regina Camera Club, the Regina Women’s Educational Club and the Western Art Association,  the latter headquartered in Fort Qu’appelle, had small memberships and limited profiles. RSAALS was the only one of these organizations to focus on the arts as a component of cultural knowledge and, through its public activities, was able to mobilize the community to support the arts and push for the establishment of an art gallery in Regina with a qualified amount of success.

These activities of RSAALS are well documented in Regina newspapers and it is from The Morning Leader (online at Google News Archive) that most of the history and pursuits of the Art section of RSAALS has been reconstructed.  The constitution, published in 1910, also provides some insights into why RSAALS was formed.  The objects of the society were:

                …the cultivation and promotion of an interest in the study of the arts, sciences, history and literature by all means in its power… a) Lectures, night schools, conversaziones and discussions  b) the establishment of museums, art galleries and exhibitions c) Encouraging art and industries in the homes of the people… and to provide means for the affiliation and co-operation of all. (RSAALS, Constitution of the Regina Society of Art Literature and Science, c. 1909 Regina -pamphlet found in U of S Library stacks in mid 1990s)

 The constitution envisioned nine separate departments: Music, Painting and Photography, History, Archaeology and Anthropology, Architecture and Sculpture, Literature and Drama, Philosophy, Political Economy and Psychology, Physics, Astronomy and Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, Entomology, Physiology and Geology and Home Industries (including pottery, weaving, wood carving, etc.). The proposed departments did not all materialize and some were merged for convenience, but the ambitious nature of the undertaking was evident in 1910.

1909-1910 Season

Although the 1909-1910 season was referred to as such in later years, RSAALS was not officially organized until February of 1910 and the Society’s program was only announced in March, 1910.  (“The Arts Society Year’s Program,” Morning Leader, 30 Mar 1910 n.a.)The plan was to assign each department a remaining month of the year under which to organize activities. In terms of art, for example, this meant that June was to be Architecture month and July was set aside for an exhibition of historical and artistic objects and September would be devoted to Home Industries. December was to be Painting month.

Judging from newspaper reports the plan was not long sustained. The major events of the summer were a Board of Directors meeting on July 21 at which the Astronomical Society’s affiliation was announced and an August 8 lecture on the fine arts delivered by visiting Winnipeg artist, Alexander Keszthelyi, at Regina’s collegiate. Keszthelyi was known for his organizing skills and his dynamic presence seems to have made a great impression on his Regina audience. He was subsequently made an honorary member of RSAALS.

PC002676 Regina Collegiate 1910 Peel’s Prairie Postcard Collection PC002676

Regina Collegiate, 1910

 1910-1911 Season

The announcement that a Conversazione was going to be held in the Collegiate auditorium in October to inaugurate the new season affirmed the leading role the Art section of RSAALS was going to take in the story of its existence. The Conversazione was a social event, modelled after the idea of a European salon. It was described in The Morning Leader as the first stock taking of some of Regina’s best artistic assets. Regina citizens had been asked by the organizing committee to contribute some of their artistic treasures for the display during the Conversazione. Original paintings by Veronese and Rosa Bonheur were exhibited alongside copies of Raphael’s paintings and reproductions of famous Greek sculptures. The Collegiate’s staircase was hung with portraits of judges painted by Victor Long of Winnipeg and local architects contributed a display of architectural drawings. The chairs of the various committees made presentations during the Conversazione to those assembled.

Regina’s first art exhibition was held on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7 at the Collegiate Institute.  The opening is substantially described in an Oct. 7, 1910 article in the Morning Leader under the title “Art Conversazione.Another article, written a week later, was contributed by an unnamed male observer and focuses on the art in the exhibition.  Note that names of the lenders and the educative value of the exhibition are emphasized.  Smaller articles and announcements related to the Conversazione appear in The Morning Leader the week before the exhibition.

By the time the first annual meeting of RSAALS was held on January 21, 1911, the activities of the 1910-1911 season were well underway. The Home Industries department had already been amalgamated with the Architecture and Sculpture committee. Members of the Painting, Drawing, Modelling and Photography committee were Miss Marie Gilroy (artist), Miss E.E. Rankin (art teacher) and Dr. R.A. Wilson (principal of the Normal School). The Architecture and Sculpture committee was directed by W. H. Van Egmond (local architect), L.H. Bennett (educator) and F.C. Clemesha (local architect/designer).

Five lectures on art were delivered during this season from Dec. 9, 1910 to Apr. 28, 1911 on everything from Renaissance art to modern art and Classical architecture through to the Renaissance. The closing meeting of the season was held on May 15, the committee having wisely decided not to try and run things over the summer months.

1911 to 1912 Season

On Sep. 4, 1911 the Board of Directors met to report on the past year’s activities and to plan for the coming season. Evidence of RSAALS’ growing influence and maturity can be found in the 1911-1912 published report. (This report can be found in Announcement for Season of 1912-1913: Regina Society for the Advancement of Art, Literature and Science, c. 1912 found in the U of S Library in the 1990s) The study sessions were more intensive and better organized and non-members were invited to attend. Weekly announcements were now mailed by postcard to some 200 dues paying members.

The opening session, described as the “annual conversazione,” was held on Oct. 6, 1911 between 8:00 p.m. and midnight at Regina Collegiate. Several hundred citizens attended the Conversazione and its accompanying exhibition of curios and art and they were invited to return to view the objects the next morning before they were dispersed.  The Morning Leader noted that “Ladies were, as could be expected, in the majority but the number of men present was a revelation to those who claim the western business man has no time for the finer things in life.”

This Oct. 7, 1911 article in the Morning Leader is the most descriptive regarding the works in the RSAALS exhibition.  As in the previous year, the emphasis is on the contributors.  However, at the end of the article we see that Fred Loveroff, a young Saskatchewan artist, had work in the show, too. Since another report of the same date appeared in the women’s column written by Isabel C. Armstrong, we can assume that the longer article above was probably written by someone else. This short article adds to the information about the exhibit of art and actually tells us that Mary T. Magee, another local Regina artist, showed her own work.  Marie V. Gilroy, mentioned as an owner of one of the paintings exhibited, and Mary T. Magee were both on the art committee of the RSAALS and contributed public art lectures to the Society which were published in the Morning Leader in 1912 and 1913 respectively.

As in the previous year, most of the exhibits came from the private collections of prominent Regina citizens.  James Brown, for example, contributed a piece of embroidery work done by Marie Antoinette and Major Moodie of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police loaned a collection of indigenous-made relics. (There is no mention of his wife Geraldine Moodie, a now- studied photographer, who worked in both North Battleford and Maple Creek prior to this time) There were, in addition, paintings and watercolours by British and Canadian artists.  A musical program was arranged for the enjoyment of those assembled while they visited the exhibits.

Speeches were made at the Conversazione to announce the season’s offerings and four intensive courses of study were proposed: Course I – Art and Architecture, Course II- Psychology and Child Study, Course III – Astronomy and Course IV – Literature. In all, the Society planned and delivered a total of 52 lectures in the 1911-1912 season. Twelve of these were on the subject of art.

The success of the Conversazione and the whole Art and Architecture program was noted at an executive meeting on Oct. 28, 1911. The executive was encouraged by the emerging profile of RSAALS and resolved to lobby for the nucleus of a museum and art gallery and the organization of regular teaching in certain branches. There was some hope that an application to the provincial government for recognition of the Society’s work might be considered if the appropriate scope of educational activities was offered to the public.

The program of lectures in the Art and Architecture section amounted to 11 sessions, including a special lecture delivered by a visiting Thomas Mawson, the English landscape architect, on Apr. 10, 1912. The lectures were far more broad-ranging and content specific than those delivered in the previous year.

At the annual business meeting of RSAALS on May 31, 1912, it was confirmed that the Society had gone beyond the experimental stage and was performing an extremely valuable service to the community. (“Arts Society reports year of Good Progress,” Morning Leader 1 Jun 1912, p.10, n.a.) It was recommended that RSAALS consider hiring a clerk for the next season and the annual Conversazione’s accompanying exhibit be extended to a period of several days in the future. A decision was also made to publish a syllabus well in advance of the coming season. The Society did indeed produce a pamphlet announcing their program for the 1912-1913 season.  This publication also included the 1911-1912 report and the text of their constitution. (Announcement for Season of 1912-1913: Regina Society for the Advancement of Art, Literature and Science, c. 1912) Looking back, it’s obvious that the 1911-1912 season was the best one that the Society ever had.

1912-1913 Season

The third season of RSAALS was opened with a Conversazione at Regina Collegiate on Oct. 23, 1912 and the accompanying exhibition of curios and art remained on display until Oct. 26. As on previous occasions, the citizens of Regina contributed treasures that they had brought with them from their places of origin. Many of the paintings and watercolours, for example, were by members of the British Royal Academy and other European academic centres. However, local artists Mary Magee, W.R. Burden, Miss McConnell and Fred Loveroff were also mentioned in the press as being exhibitors.  The Winnipeg Camera Club contributed a display of amateur photographs and quite a number of pieces of painted china, antique books, exotic carvings and textile collections complemented the exhibition.  Two representatives of a Regina firm known as the Craftsmen Ltd. (see my Post on this company) demonstrated wood carving on oak tables that were destined for the new Saskatchewan legislative building.

Although the emphasis again in this Morning Leader report (“Society of Arts opened under Happy Auspices,”Morning Leader Oct. 24, 1912, n.a.) is on the lenders, the writer devotes a section to Local Artists, a portent of the 1914 exhibition of RSAALS which was devoted only to contemporary local artwork. It is also worth mentioning that someone in Regina felt it necessary to write a thinly disguised plea for a local art association in a short article Oct. 16, 1912 article entitled “Art in Calgary,” indicating that Reginans were beginning to compare themselves with other western cities in their relationship to home-grown art.

Ex-chief Justice Wetmore did the honours of opening the gala affair in the absence of Lieutenant Governor Brown, the Society’s honorary president. A local orchestra provided musical entertainment throughout the evening and Dr. Row, Regina’s Health Officer, delivered an address on “The Analysis of Water.” It seems that the large crowds this event attracted were a useful forum for spreading important civic information and since the pamphlet announced all the programs, there was no need for an extended set of oral presentations.

The Science section of RSAALS did not offer a course of study in the 1912-1913 season. However, lectures were to be presented bi-weekly by the History and Economics section, the Literature section and the Art section.  The Music and Photography section also planned to sponsor occasional events. (“Announcement RSAALS 1912-13”, as above) Despite the advance planning, RSAALS appears to have had difficulty delivering its program of lectures in 1913. After Christmas, several lectures were not reported on or even announced in the newspaper. Undoubtedly, the people of Regina were distracted by an economic depression and the disorganization that the 1912 summer cyclone disaster had brought to the city.  Additionally, Regina College was now offering some educational and cultural opportunities for adult citizens through night courses.

The Art section began their season with a lecture on Nov. 14, 1912 which was very relevant to its Saskatchewan audience. Dr. W.W. Andrews, the principal of Regina College, addressed the crowd on the subject of “The Artistic Possibilities of the West.” (n.a.)He urged his large audience to pay attention to their surroundings by considering landscaping and architectural sculpture in their building plans. He also suggested that Saskatchewan’s environment offered fresh subject matter for painters and its natural resources provided the very materials of art, itself.  Because Saskatchewan had an abundance of good clay, he hoped that a School of Pottery might be developed in the province and that every school child would have the opportunity to learn the art of potting.

The Art section appears to have presented only four more lectures in the 1912-1913 season. At least, they were the only ones reported upon by The Morning Leader. None of RSAALS committees appear to have stuck to the prospectus they offered and it was becoming clear that support for the Society’s activities was on the wane. The difficulties of the situation were referred to directly in the opening meeting of the next season.

1913-1914 Season

RSAALS opened its new season on Oct. 23, 1913 without the usual Conversazione. The new executive was announced and the three active committees were introduced: Science, Literature and History and Arts. The members of the large Arts committee were Archdeacon Dobie, Dr. Hodgson, A.J. Rowley, James Henderson, Professor Frank Laubach and T.E. Perrett. Some of these individuals had served on the previous year’s Music Committee and the long-standing female representation on the Art Committee was now missing.  Dr. Norman F. Black warned the assembly that if more support was not forthcoming, the society would not be able to carry on another winter. No program of lectures was announced at the opening meeting.

In November of 1913 RSAALS announced its intention to sponsor an exhibition of the work of living Regina artists to be held sometime in the next year.  It appears that most of the energy of the Society was devoted to this one end. Hopes for this exhibition seemed out of proportion as people began to think there might be a possibility of a permanent art collection in Regina after this happened.  Dec. 5, 1913  Only three RSAALS lectures were reported on by The Morning Leader throughout the usual season. In contrast, reports and updates on the progress of plans for the art exhibition appeared quite regularly. It was an unprecedented event.

Regina’s First Contemporary Group Art Exhibition, Feb. 17-Feb.21 & Feb. 23, 1914

The responsibility for planning and arranging Regina’s first art exhibition featuring only the work of local artists was given over to Regina artist James Henderson and A.P. Rowley, both members of the art committee.  The organizers attempted to solicit all kinds of artwork but the catalogued items that were shown appear to have been mainly paintings and drawings.  However, this exhibition was clearly different from previous efforts not only in its local and contemporary content but in its length (5 days) and the accompanying programming.

Unlike previous exhibitions, the Regina Artists exhibit was held in the new Provincial Normal School and displays were open every day between 4:00 and 6:00 pm and 7:30 and 10:00 p.m.  Musical entertainments or lectures were planned for every night of the exhibition.  The opening night ceremony attracted about 200 citizens and Dr. R. A. Wilson, principal of the Normal School, addressed the crowd suggesting that “they were laying the foundation for the higher artistic life that undoubtedly lies before the people of the West.” The five day exhibition was popular and was extended by one day into the following week.  The newspaper estimated that a number between 1200 to 1500 people visited the display during the first week.

There is quite a spate of articles in the Morning Leader related to the first group exhibition of Regina artists which stayed open for several days  at the new Provincial Normal School building.  Some of the reports are much longer than this one but this is the only article that confines itself to talking about the art.  Obviously, not all the artists who exhibited are mentioned but it shows that there were a number of artists of impressive talent working in the city.  James Henderson and Inglis Sheldon-Williams seem to have made the greatest impact.  Other substantial Morning Leader reports related to this momentous occasion of 100 years ago are:

Jan. 31, 1914, “Many Entries for Art Exhibition” In which James Henderson and A.P. Rowley are announced as the people in charge of the exhibition. Once linked, scroll to previous page.

Feb. 18, 1914 “First Annual Art Exhibition opens in City” In which Dr. R.A. Wilson, principal of the Normal School, remarks upon the uniqueness of the exhibition and its surprising content.  Mention is made of a room of local architectural drawings being a feature of the exhibition.

Feb. 19, 1914 “Art Exhibition attracts many Regina Citizens” In which mention is made of the work of school children being displayed at the Normal School in another room.  Also, the Feb. 18 remarks of Inglis Sheldon-Williams are presented in full.

Feb. 20, 1914 “Modern Dress is Inartistic says Mr. Trant” In which the Feb. 19 remarks of Magistrate Trant are published and a short thank you to James Henderson and A.P. Rowley is given by the president of RSAALS, Dr. W.W. Andrews.

Feb. 23, 1914  “Art Exhibition to be open today” In which it is announced that the show will be open for one more day this week and a reference to Professor Laubach’s Saturday lecture is made.  The report said that 1200-1500 people had visited the exhibition the previous week.

The majority of the 130 catalogued items in the 1914 show were paintings and watercolours.  There was also an exhibition of locally produced architectural drawings and in another room of the school the artwork of children was displayed.  Unfortunately, only a few of the artist’s names were mentioned in The Morning Leader, so without the catalogue at hand, it is difficult to know who all the participating artists were.  Paintings by James Henderson and Inglis Sheldon-Williams were obviously favourites but Mary T. Magee, Dorothea Sheldon-Williams, Miss E.G. Lloyd, Miss Eva G. Popham and W.R. Burden were other local artists whose work did get singled out for mention.

The display of local artists’ works signaled that the city of Regina had come of age in terms of developing a resident art culture.  Previous RSAALS events had been educative and interesting but this exhibition meant that ART was not only something from other places and times, it was also created in Saskatchewan by living individuals.

The success of the art exhibition prompted the RSAALS executive to appeal to City Hall for some financial aid to continue their initiatives.  Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse. Shortly after the City granted the organization $250.00 for their efforts, World War I began, focusing the entire city on the war effort.  The Regina Society for the Advancement of Art, Literature and Science met and elected officers in November of 1914 and seems to have been making plans for the upcoming year but no further reports on them can be found. It seems the society was effectively a victim of the chaos of war and quickly died. Regina had to wait until 1920, when another organization, this time a women’s club, again took on the task of encouraging the arts in the province by sponsoring artist exhibitions.

Postcript

Even though the concept and organizational structure of RSAALS was clearly ethnocentric, it was an organization that presented fewer barriers to participation than several other more exclusive groups in the city of Regina during its time. It was also less clearly demarcated along gender lines than the predominantly female groups and male groups with similar purposes that preceded and succeeded it.  It contributed to the cultural awakening of many Regina citizens and raised the profile of art in the community through its conversaziones and exhibitions. It created a civic desire for galleries and museums, a hope that Regina would have to wait a long time to see realized.

The Art section of RSAALS provided the first consistent program of art historical education in the province. Many of the lectures were illustrated with lantern slides purchased by the Society. Such a formalized course of art historical instruction was not available in Regina again until 1936 when the University of Saskatchewan offered a course through Regina College. The Regina Society for the Advancement of Art, Literature and Science offered a unique and valuable service to its pioneer community during its short existence and deserves to be memorialized.

*n.a. means the articles are not available for linking in the Google News Archive

** © Lisa G. Henderson. This is a much reduced and revised version of an unpublished essay I wrote in the mid 1990s.

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