This little essay with links is meant to introduce two companion lists: Group and solo exhibitions in Regina and Group and solo exhibitions in Saskatoon found in separate posts.
Had I been born fifty years earlier, I may have seen more Canadian and international art in Saskatchewan at exhibitions than I saw between the 1970s and 2000 when there were galleries in the province with professionally choreographed local and incoming travelling shows. Yes, hard to believe – but just look at the lists of exhibitions shown in Regina and Saskatoon which were mentioned by local news outlets! The lists are not definitive but as comprehensive as I could make them. I welcome additions.
Every year there were agricultural exhibitions that included some art and handicraft and, from 1900 on, there were occasional travelling art shows and locally developed shows, becoming more and more common after 1920. In 1916, for example, I could have gone to the summer fair in Regina or Saskatoon and seen one dozen contemporary Canadian paintings from the National Gallery of Canada, including ones recently acquired from A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris. National Gallery organized exhibitions were often to be seen in Saskatchewan after that, allowing local people to see works of art produced across Canada and abroad on their home turf. July 22, 1916; July 25, 1916; July 27, 1916 and July 28, 1916 Morning Leader
In 1928 I could have seen in Saskatoon the first comprehensive exhibition of the Group of Seven in Western Canada arranged with great perseverance by Nutana Collegiate’s principal Aldis W. Cameron, although individual works like The Red Maples by A.Y. Jackson had been shown before in Saskatchewan (in 1916 at the National Gallery sponsored show at the summer fairs). Apr 3, 1928 and Apr 4, 1928 Saskatoon Phoenix
In 1930 there was an unprecedented showing of Old Master paintings from the National Loan Trust of England in addition to a representative selection of Canadian paintings from the National Gallery at the Regina summer fair. Van Dyck, Rubens and other Dutch artists were displayed in the same space with the work of Canadians Paul Peel and Arthur Lismer and a few Saskatchewan artists. July 31, 1930 Leader Post There was another singular showing of contemporary international art in Saskatoon in 1935 at the University of Saskatchewan, sponsored by the National Gallery of Canada and the Carnegie Corporation. Work by artists such as Joan Miro and Otto Dix were on offer and confounded or astounded the newspaper reading public. Jan. 29, 1935, Jan. 30, 1935, Feb. 1, 1935 and Feb. 2, 1935 Saskatoon Star Phoenix
Thanks to the National Gallery’s travelling exhibition program, I could have often seen exhibitions of Canadian art from their collection and organizations like the Royal Canadian Academy and the Ontario Society of Artists and other more specialized central Canadian art organizations dedicated to printmaking and watercolour painting. Lawren Harris exhibited eight abstract paintings in Saskatoon and Regina in 1943 (Apr. 3, 1943 in Leader Post) and I could have seen the travelling Emily Carr Memorial exhibition at City Hall in Regina in 1947. ( Jan 23, 1947 Leader Post ) Another even rarer treat, would have been the opportunity to see paintings by contemporary Maritime province artists at Convocation Hall, University of Saskatchewan in 1940. Mar. 26, 1940 Saskatoon Star Phoenix. Travelling exhibits of the 1940s, especially, often featured B.C. and Alberta artists.
In 1946 I could have gone to the Saskatoon Art Centre or Eaton’s Department Store in Regina in early 1947 to see a wonderful travelling survey of British art, including everything from a Joshua Reynolds to a modern sculpture by Jacob Epstein. This show was sponsored by the IBM Company as a gift to Canada. Aug. 10, 1946 Saskatoon Star Phoenix and Feb. 24, 1947; Feb. 26, 1947 Leader-Post. Of course, I may have already been familiar with contemporary British painting after seeing an exhibition originated by the National Gallery of London at the Saskatoon summer fair in 1935. Jul 5, 1935, Jul 20, 1935
In either of 1923 or 1925 I could have gone to Norman Mackenzie’s house in Regina, contributed to the silver collection for charity, and sipped tea while seeing his entire impressive art collection. Then, of course, there were the annual shows of Saskatchewan art sponsored by women’s clubs and artist clubs which took place on a regular basis from 1920 until the time I was actually born, first in Regina and later on in Saskatoon. Later on in time in Saskatoon I could have attended the fascinating series of monthly rotating shows which took place at the Saskatoon Art Centre from 1944 featuring international, national and local artists’ works.
While I have highlighted traditional fine art shows here, there were many other kinds of quality art shows featuring photography, notably a Canadian International Photographic Salon show, representing the work of photographers in 10 countries in 1938 in Regina. Local versions of European style handicraft and, from the earliest days, displays of bead and leatherwork by Saskatchewan’s indigenous people were frequently on view. In 1914, I could have seen a demonstration of woodworking or a display of architectural drawings for buildings in Regina at what was billed as the first Regina art exhibition featuring local artists. (See my RSAALS post for link) Or In 1915 I could have seen artwork by Canadian women artists of Ontario at what was billed there as the first Saskatoon art exhibit. May 24, 1915, May 25, 1915 and May 26, 1915 Saskatoon Phoenix
The most fascinating aspects of these lists are the amount of solo shows available and the work by Saskatchewan women artists that I could have seen regularly at every Saskatchewan art exhibition in Regina and later Saskatoon. This is primarily due to the fact that the annual shows in the 1920s, 1930s and into the early 1940s were often initiated by women’s groups who functioned as public art institutions run by volunteers. The Local Council of Women’s Art Committee in Regina and the Regina-based Women’s Art Association of Saskatchewan deserve a lot of credit, as does the Saskatoon and Regina Arts and Crafts Societies. The women who ran and worked for these organizations and several others were amazing. They not only supported all Saskatchewan artists’ careers but some collected Saskatchewan art in the public name through their own fundraising efforts.
Another individual who deserves some credit is George Wilson (1863-1938). You may have never heard of him. He was an amateur artist and business man in Winnipeg and one of the founding members of the Winnipeg School of Art and Museum in 1912. In 1915 Wilson made a tour of prairie cities, meeting local art supporters and enlisting them in a plan to ask the National Gallery of Canada to send works from its collection to the western provinces for exhibition. He pointed out that the National Gallery received a $100,000.00 annual allowance from the federal government for extension activities, most of which was then being spent in Ontario. When the National Gallery was petitioned by representatives from several prairie cities to send out National Gallery exhibitions, the gallery readily acceded to the plan and a precedent was set. Dec. 30, 1915 and Dec. 31, 1915 Morning Leader Since Norman Mackenzie was put in charge of handling the first travelling exhibition in Regina in 1916, he probably developed a relationship with the National Gallery at that time, a relationship that served both Saskatchewan and Mackenzie well in the future. (Mackenzie became the first westerner to be a trustee of the National Gallery 1925-1935)
All of this art exhibition activity took place against a historical backdrop that included the social and economic chaos, distraction and human suffering surrounding two World Wars and a ten year long depression and drought in the province – not too many good years in that span. This, of course, makes me glad I was born into and lived in Saskatchewan in a period of relative peace and prosperity. But you cannot help but be in awe of what was available in the way of art displays in Saskatchewan before 1950 and I enjoyed imagining myself as a Saskatchewan flanneur who had the time and the wherewithal to see all these exhibitions before I was born. I don’t think anyone living back then actually did.
Saskatchewan exhibitions sent outside the province
In the Saskatoon and Regina lists you will see some exhibitions that are colour coded purple as originating in Saskatchewan and travelling out. This is the least developed part of these lists because newspapers were primarily interested in events happening in Saskatchewan or shows that could be seen in the local community. Exhibitions that were sent out apparently weren’t considered worthy of much mention. However, whenever I saw even an off handed reference to a show being sent on tour in club reports or activity reports my eyebrows lifted. I found announcements in both Saskatoon and Regina newspapers amounting to only a dozen or so of these Saskatchewan- curated travelling shows prior to 1945.
Organizing a travelling exhibition requires that you have a representative institution to sponsor it and make the arrangements. Since there were no artist societies like the Ontario Society of Artists and no galleries like the Toronto Art Gallery (forerunner of AGO) to do this until the organization of local Federation of Canadian Artists branches in the mid 1940s, it is not surprising that representative group shows of Saskatchewan art were seldom seen outside the province in the first half of the twentieth century. It is almost miraculous that any shows got sent out to other parts of Canada.
The first travelling exhibition I know of that originated in Saskatchewan was the exhibition of Saskatchewan art that was shown at Hart House in Toronto in March of 1925. As yet, I have found only one mention of it in local newspapers because sections of these years are missing in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. (Apr. 29, 1925 Morning Leader) This exhibition was arranged by the University of Saskatchewan’s Walter Murray in collaboration with Norman MacKenzie of Regina, who was then a trustee of the National Gallery. The 25 paintings were supposed to have then travelled back to Saskatchewan and been shown in Regina, but this is unlikely as they would have been sent back to their owners in the two cities. The paintings were not borrowed from artists but from Saskatchewan collectors.
In 1930 an exhibition of work by provincial artists was shown at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. This show was requested by the CNE, which was supposed to be exhibiting art from every province, and it appears that Mildred Valley Thornton, a friend of the organizer in Toronto put together the Saskatchewan part. (Jul 18, 1920 Saskatoon Star Phoenix) That same year Aldis W. Cameron of Saskatoon arranged for 36 paintings from the Nutana Collegiate Memorial Art Gallery to be shown at the Calgary fair, and possibly the Edmonton fair, before being shown in Saskatoon at the exhibition grounds. However, few of the Nutana paintings were by Saskatchewan artists. Jul 12, 1930 and Jul 21, 1930 Saskatoon Star Phoenix What it did show to Alberta was that there was a significant Canadian art collection in Saskatchewan. For a local perspective see the Saskatoon Star Phoenix editorial on the art exhibit.
Although I have only found two press articles (1933 & 1937) on the Women’s Art Association of Saskatchewan sending a show of paintings to the Women’s Art Association of Canada’s annual show at the Lyceum Club in Toronto, it is evident from some mentions that throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s, this exhibiting society regularly sent a representative showing of work by women artists in Saskatchewan to this annual spring show. They, of course, also circulated shows within the province. Interestingly, when the now famous 1947 Riverside Museum, New York exhibition of Canadian women artists, arranged by the National Council of Women, was shown in Regina and Saskatoon in an abbreviated form in 1949 no reports or reviews appeared about it in the local press, only the announcements. Apr. 2, 1949 Saskatoon Star Phoenix and Apr. 27, 1949 in the Leader Post
Undoubtedly, the craft organizations in Saskatchewan, particularly the Saskatoon Arts & Crafts Society probably sent out more shows than the ones for which I was able to find a mention. The Saskatoon Arts & Crafts Society was dedicated to marketing Saskatchewan crafts and would have chosen any opportunity it could manage to send shows out to Canadian craft fairs and shows, particularly in its heyday of the 1930s. The Women’s Art Association of Saskatchewan and the Regina Arts & Crafts Society also sent craft shows out of the province on occasion. (See my posts on these organizations for links)
More rarely, you see reports, like the one about the Regina YMCA Camera Club, sending 12 photographs to the International Salon of Pictorial Photograpy in Turin, Italy in 1934.
In 1948 the Saskatoon Camera Club organized a show called the Western Canada Photographic Salon which was shown in Saskatoon at the Art Centre and then sent out of province on a western Canadian tour. Jun 19, 1948, Jul 21, 1948 Saskatoon Star Phoenix
In the late 1930s there are increasing reports of Saskatchewan art being shown outside the province, mainly because the Saskatoon Art Association and the University of Saskatchewan became more active in this vein. In the 1940s the Federation of Canadian Artists, headquartered in Vancouver, and the Western Art Circuit, developed in Alberta, provided local branch organizations in Regina, Saskatoon and other western Canadian communities with a mechanism through which they could circulate shows outside their own province.
For the most part though, artists were generally on their own if they wanted to have their work shown in Canadian or international art exhibitions. You can find mentions of Regina artist David Payne having a show in Vancouver in 1925 and various well-known Saskatchewan artists being exhibited by art societies in Montreal and Toronto and internationally from the 1920s right through to the late 1940s. It was expensive and difficult for individual Saskatchewan artists to send their work to the various venues of societies which held large annual group exhibitions and they often had no idea of what type of reception their work received from this effort since they usually did not travel with the work. As a result of their lack of visiblity, they were often left out of “nationally” organized representative exhibitions of Canadian art. See: 12 Feb 1949 Saskatoon Star Phoenix for a discussion of the problem which plagued western artists throughout this entire period and it wasn’t confined to Saskatchewan. 17 Jan 1930 Saskatoon Star Phoenix
However, the more ambitious artists managed to do it, if only to have something prestigious to put on their resumés. Saskatoon’s Fred Steiger and Regina’s Mildred Valley Thornton, for example, were two artists who actually seemed to manage their own solo shows in Saskatchewan and their degree of exposure beyond the province. Both eventually left Saskatchewan for greener pastures in the Canadian art world. In fact, you might be surprised that I call these two Saskatchewan artists but they both spent substantial time in the province.
On the topic of one-sided cultural exchanges from the metropolis to the “hinterland,” I found this editorial on a different topic which speaks to the problem this breeds. I could not have said it better myself and it’s as true now as it was when it was written. Feb. 22, 1922 Morning Leader
It took me a lot of effort and time to compile the Saskatchewan Exhibition lists and while I don’t mind people using them for further research, should you decide to reproduce one, please give the author full credit for intellectual rights and supply my url.
©Lisa G. Henderson