Saskatoon Art Association (1937-64) and the Saskatoon Art Centre (1944-64)

1940 SAA spring ex1 cropped









One of the reasons the earlier Saskatoon Art Club aka Association (1925-1932) had lapsed was a perception among local artists that it was not serving their needs.  When the Saskatoon Art Association revived in 1937, it became a true artists’ organization, providing biannual showings of the work of Saskatoon and area artists and sending their work outside the province for exhibition. The Art Association succeeded, with the aid of the Camera Club and the Archaeological Association and the city government, in obtaining a permanent art exhibition space in 1944. The Saskatoon Art Centre was the first dedicated space in the province for the showing of contemporary art. The history of the Saskatoon Art Association and the Art Centre are inextricably linked.

Despite the fact that organizations in Regina had been exhibiting contemporary art for decades prior to this, they were never able to obtain a permanent space for art exhibitions until the Norman Mackenzie Gallery opened in 1954.  By that time, art was being taught in a serious way at Regina College and the Mackenzie was run by curators and professional artists associated with the College, effectively shutting out the older groups who had sponsored art shows from control over what was shown there.  A clear division was made between professional and amateur art at that point and the organizations that had supported both pursuits for many years couldn’t survive as separate entities.  In fact, the various art organizations in Regina tried to present a united front under the banner of the Regina Art Centre Association in 1945, an organization dedicated to a future dreamed about exhibition space.  See my post on Saskatchewan Art Organizations originating in the 1940s.

The Saskatoon Art Association (SAA) did not make that division themselves, even though professional artists in the city did wish to be acknowledged for their achievements and soon established an annual juried show.  More ambitious artists, like their Regina counterparts, joined the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA) in 1943 but the Art Association had no factions or stipulations, like the Regina groups and the Saskatoon group evolved gradually with its Art Centre, which all artists had a stake in. The Saskatoon Art Association lasted a long time and did not become redundant until the opening of the Mendel Art Gallery in 1964.

This is a link-heavy summary of Saskatoon Art Association activities drawn mainly from reports in the Star-Phoenix to 1950.  SAA archival files exist at Saskatchewan Archives in Saskatoon and at the University of Saskatchewan Archives and so do many of their catalogues. A full list of who contributed to what show can be reconstructed by researchers with access to these archives.  The charts that follow the summary of activities here shows people who were mentioned in the newspaper articles reporting on shows.  I have modified this chart for brevity’s sake to exclude people whom I only found mentioned once. Additionally, I wasn’t able to find reports of all of the SAA shows so some years are missing or not included for lack of information.

The Saskatoon group, unlike the earlier Regina exhibiting societies, had the advantage of being fairly new when the Western Art Circuit was in the formation stage. As an early member of the Western Art Circuit, the Saskatoon group was able to send and receive travelling exhibitions from other member groups, even before they had a dedicated gallery space.  As well, members of the SAA also joined the Federation of Canadian Artists in 1943.  News of FCA activities became part of the Saskatoon Art Association’s activities. See my post on Saskatchewan art organizations of the 1940s for more information on these organizations.

So the history of the Saskatoon Art Association (1937) includes the development of a local artist organization and a gallery space and participation in the larger Canadian community through the Western Art Circuit and the Federation of Canadian Artists.

It also includes the beginnings of a public profile for local art with the development of two Star-Phoenix newspaper columns sponsored by the Saskatoon Art Association: Art Gum 1942-1945 and the Art Centre 1947-1949. These were the first regular art columns in major dailies in the province, finally taking a place beside the much older music and drama columns that had reported on activities in theatres and performance spaces from the earliest years in Regina and Saskatoon.  Art Gum, written by SAA member May Fox, reported on the Saskatoon Art Association and the early days of the Saskatoon Art Centre in weekly columns.  The 1947-49 weekly column Art Centre was primarily concerned with the activities of the Saskatoon Art Centre and may have been written by a secretary or curator of the Art Centre. I have included in this yearly summary links to all the columns I was able to find for the appropriate year.

Art Gum logo cropped

Apart from the above-mentioned SAA columns, the support of the Star-Phoenix with numerous photographs of art events Art Centre logo croppedand artworks and intelligently written reports and reviews by Jean Swanson (M.A.) in the 1940s and 1950s was also crucial in raising the profile of the SAA and the Art Centre.


1937 –On Dec. 11, 1936 an article appeared in the Star-Phoenix showing early discussion regarding the re-formation of the Saskatoon Art Association . On Mar. 12, 1937 the Star Phoenix announced the re-organization of the Saskatoon Art Association with Leslie G. Saunders as its new president, A. W. Cameron as its vice-president and Edith Tyrie as its secretary.  Most of the executive were former members of the old Art Club but the difference, this time, was that an artist was the president and most of the members were, too.

The March report itemized the goals of the new organization: holding of exhibitions of original art and supporting the university with travelling exhibitions, arranging and supporting art lectures by competent speakers, and holding monthly conversaziones where local artists and students could bring their work for criticism. Mar. 25

The SAA immediately organized a spring show for Apr. 17-24. The show opened at the Drinkle Building downtown with the support of Walter Murray, president of the University of Saskatchewan.  It included artists from places as far away as Prince Albert. Apr.19, SSP

A fall show was held Nov. 20 & Nov. 21 at Criterion Hall in downtown Saskatoon.  It featured 200 works of art in many different types of media. Nov. 20, 1937


The SAA held their first juried Spring art show Apr. 26-30 – Apr. 14,  Apr.25,  The spring shows became juried from that point on, while the fall shows were left open to all.  A report on May 6 gives information about the 1938/39 executive.

Cannot find a reference in the newspaper to a fall show

1939 –  Possibly, or the first time, an invitation for provincial artists to join the Saskatoon  spring exhibition appears in the Leader-Post. Mar. 31 RLP.  Reports on the Spring art show Apr. 22, Apr. 24, Apr. 25, Apr. 27 at the Connaught building. Star-Phoenix features photos of some of the art works. Fall show was on Nov. 11 at Public Library. No newspaper report found.

1940 –  Spring show Apr. 27- May 11 at Hudson’s Bay store , Apr. 22, Apr.25Apr. 29, May 1. This exhibition was invitational to prairie provinces. Arthur Lismer opened the show.

PC002816 Saskatoon HBC Store 1930

Fall show Sept. 28- Oct. 4 (Sep.25) Activities  of SAA were reported Oct. 11, Nov.2a, Nov. 2b,

Sep.30 report on group show of Saskatoon Art Association members being shown in Edmonton and Vancouver. This was a first for the Saskatoon Art Association, utilizing the beginnings of what was to eventually become the Western Art Circuit in 1945. Report on the fall showing of Saskatoon Art Association at the Hudson’s Bay auditorium in support of the Red Cross. Oct. 3, 1940. I strongly suspect this article was written by Gordon W. Snelgrove but I have no proof, other than syntax and expressions.

1941, Report on activities appeared Jan.14,  Spring show Apr. 26-May 10 no reports in newspaper, Fall show late September (Sep. 25, Sep. 29). More activity reports Nov. 18, Dec. 9

1942 – Spring show at the Hudson’s Bay Co. auditorium, reports appear Apr. 20, Apr. 24 (scroll straight down)  Report on a demonstration appears Oct. 23. Fall show items appear Nov. 20, Nov. 23,(Scroll straight down) Nov. 24The Art Gum column, written by May Fox of the Saskatoon Art Association first appeared in the Star-Phoenix on Nov. 13, 1942 (Scroll down). That column and the following ones of the year provide a good summary of Saskatoon Art Association activities between shows: Nov. 21, Nov. 28, Dec. 5 (Scroll down), Dec. 12, Dec. 19

SAA exhibition list 19371

SAA exhibition list 193721943 – Report on SAA activity Feb. 5,  Reports on the Spring show can be found May 24, May 25 and the Fall show Nov. 91943 Art Gum columns: Jan. 16, Jan. 29, Feb. 5 (See same date link above), Feb. 12, Feb. 20, Feb. 27, April and May are missing issues, May 8, May 15, May 29, Nov. 13, Nov. 20, Nov. 27, Dec. 4, Dec. 11, Dec. 18, Dec. 24

1944 – The Saskatoon Art Centre opened on May 8, 1944. An image of the Standard Trust building (demolished 1976) can be seen at*

Mar. 18, 1944 RLP – SAA members send works to Manitoba Society of Art exhibition. News about funding for new Art Centre – Mar. 22 Report on travelling show sponsored by SAA, Mar. 24,  Spring show May 18 at the new Art Centre, May 6May 27 . First show focusing on individual local artists: Stewart/ Hurley  – Aug. 2, Aug. 7Aug. 12   Reports on Art Centre Oct. 27a & Oct. 27b, Fall show Nov. 9, Nov. 17.  Lawren Harris visit, Nov. 25Nov. 30a & Nov. 30b1944 Art Gum Columns: Jan. 8, Jan. 15, Jan. 22, Jan. 29, Feb. 12 (scroll to left), Feb. 19, Feb. 26, Mar. 4, Mar. 11, Mar. 18, Apr. 8, Apr. 22, Apr. 29,May 6, May 13, May 20, May 27, Nov. 4, Nov. 25, Dec. 2, Dec. 9, Dec. 16, Dec. 23, Dec. 30 1944

1945–  SAA holds their first fund-raising auction. Editorial on this appears Feb. 9 and reports on the auction  Feb. 12, Feb. 13, Correspondence about Saskatoon’s relation to FCA Apr.13, Brief exhibit of lino-cut prints by L.G. Saunders, Feb. 27 Reports on Chinese painting exhibition, Feb. 2, (see also short Art Centre item on same page) Mar. 5, Mar. 8, Mar. 10. This exhibition was also sponsored by the University of Saskatchewan.  Children’s art show Apr. 14,  – Spring show – May 14  Art Centre meeting May 17, Travelling exhibition of Canadian Army Art at SAC, May 26. Fall show Nov. 27, Nov. 29. SAC  1945 Art Gum columns: Feb. 17, Feb. 24, Mar. 10, Mar. 17, Mar. 31, Apr. 7, Apr. 14, Apr. 28, May 3 (last Art Gum column)

1946 Feb. 7 – Brief announcement of Joe Plaskett show at SAC. May 4 – Announcement re: executive of SAA. SAA/FCA Spring  Exhibition billed, incorrectly in my mind, as the first province wide exhibition  May 7, (May 16 SSP), Jul 24, 1946 – Jean Swanson writes a review of the CPE travelling print exhibition shown at Art Centre. IBM British Art show at SAC- Jul 27, 1946,  Aug. 10, Violet Johnson of Regina has a petit point show at SAC, Oct. 7, Oct. 8. Fall show Nov. 23 SAC

1947 Auction to fund raise for SAC Jan. 30, Feb. 1. Travelling Emily Carr memorial show Feb. 17  Travelling Maxwell Bates show at SAC Oct. 1. New Art Centre curator George Swinton gives a talk on art to the Quota club. Nov. 1. Fall show Nov. 12 & Nov.14, In the fall of 1947 a regular newspaper column, entitled the Art Centre appears in the Star-Phoenix. The writing is anonymous, attributed to “Contributed.” 1947 Art Centre columns: Sep. 13, Oct. 4, Oct. 11, Oct. 18, Nov. 1, Nov. 8, Nov. 20, Nov. 22, Dec. 6, Dec. 13.George Swinton can be seen in this photo below with other Saskatoon artists.

1947 Fall show opening photo cropped

1948, Old Master prints shown at SAC, Jan. 17, Spring art show Apr. 29Apr. 30, May 3,  May 4, May 5, May 7.  Calgary Group at SAC, Sept.11 1948 Art Centre columns: Jan. 3, Jan.10, Jan. 17, Jan. 24, Jan. 31, Feb. 7, Feb. 14, Feb. 21, Mar. 6, Apr. 3 (scroll right to next page), Apr. 24 (scroll down), May 8, May 15, May 22, Jun 5, Jun 12, Jun 19, Jun 25, Sep 4, Sep. 11, Oct. 2, Oct. 16, Oct. 23, Dec. 4, Dec. 18, Dec. 24

SAA exhibition list 19431SAA exhibition list 19432

Some idea of the extent of activities of the Saskatoon Art Centre can be found in the Nov. 11, 1948 Western Producer where a whole page was devoted to the current travelling exhibition of Saskatchewan art sponsored by the Saskatoon Art Centre.  This issue is not online so I cannot link you to it but a particularly fascinating part of the article which I have reproduced here, courtesy of a photo taken by Louise Barak, is a map showing Saskatchewan centres where their shows circulated to in 1947-48.

1948 Western Producer Nov.11 SAA ex


1949  Jan. 8 – Travelling Canadian group of Painters exhibition at SAC, Financing troubles for Art Centre Feb. 11, Mile of pictures campaign Apr. 12 (see also “Pictures go on sale” on same page), Apr. 20. Apr. 2 – Announcement of NCW’s Canadian Women Artists Show at SAC. Prospectors group of Saskatoon exhibits in January at SAC and work goes on tour – Feb. 17.   For a photo of the members of this group see my blog on Early Saskatchewan Men Artists under Mac Hone. Surrealism discussion at SAC. Apr. 2. Opening of new centre in the basement of the King George Hotel in the autumn with a Lawren Harris exhibition Oct. 8, Oct. 15 .

1949 Sculpture fundraiser Apr.19 cropped SAC

First public showing of the Mendel collection  Oct. 26, Oct. 29 (scroll to left), Nov. 3, Fall show Nov. 14 – Dec. 4  1949 Art Centre columns: Jan. 8, Feb. 5, Feb. 12, Feb. 19, Mar. 5, Mar. 12, Mar. 19. Mar. 26 (Seems to be the last of the weekly Art Centre columns, although they reappear irregularly after this with different author’s names listed)

The old facade of the King George Hotel with its arcaded base is at bottom right of this postcard from Peel’s Prairie Postcard collection.

PC009639.12 Standard Trust Stoon

1950 Jan. 28 Art Centre column mentions that Ernie Lindner is having a retrospective show at the SAC. I can’t find any reports on this show. Clay modelling display at At Centre Apr. 8. An Art Centre column appears on Apr. 28 and  May 13, 1950 with an author’s name cited in each case. Apr. 15 – Nikola Bjelajac’s University of Saskatchewan studio class has an exhibition at the SAC and Bjelajac gives a talk. Jun 17 Ernie Lindner writes an Art Centre column.  Aug. 12 – William Perehudoff has a one man show at the Art Centre. An  Art Centre column appears on Oct. 7 and Oct. 27, providing news about the activities at the centre.  Exhibition of American art from IBM corporation at SAC. Oct. 13. Fall show Nov. 4, Nov. 15. Jean Swanson writes a review summarizing the past 15 years of shows by the SAA. Report of watercolour painting demonstration by Eli Bornstein on Dec. 4 and announcement of an Arthur Lismer show from the National Gallery is made on Dec. 14. Norah McCullough of the Saskatchewan Arts Board (see my post on Saskatchewan art organizations of the 1940s)  will give a talk on the artist. Dec. 22 (scroll to left).  Art Centre column reviews talk and show. In the column McCullough described a Beaux Arts ball at Hart House in Toronto and the junior branch of the Saskatoon Art Association had held their first Beaux Art Ball in February 1950. On Feb. 28, 1950 a two page photo spread appeared with little text.  More about this tradition can be found in the coverage of the 1951 Beaux Arts Ball Jan. 13 (scroll up and right), Feb. 6, 1951,  The photos are worth more than words though.

I have found a number of articles in the Star-Phoenix after 1950 which deal with the history of the Saskatoon Art Centre – some I have already mentioned in the page on this blog called Early Saskatchewan Art History (see banner at top) but it is worth putting the links in here, too.

See:  Sept. 17, 1952 – Art Centre column written by Jean Swanson celebrating Saskatoon’s 70th anniversary with a showing of Saskatoon artists through the years. Many Saskatoon artists who exhibited at the Saskatoon Art Centre are discussed. Sept. 30, 1952 “Art Centre” column also dealing with early days of Saskatoon Art Club and Association.

July 20, 1959 an article appears celebrating the achievements of the Saskatoon Art Centre written by I.M.N.

Oct. 10, 1964 – Jean Swanson’s extensive article celebrating the opening of the Mendel Art Gallery and its forerunner the Saskatoon Art Centre includes a timeline from 1944.

The Saskatoon Art Centre was transformed by Fred Mendel’s gift to the City of Saskatoon of money to help build a gallery but the Art Centre struggled to maintain itself for its first twenty years and continued to assist the fledgling gallery. Art auctions were always a popular fundraiser for the centre after 1950.  See for example: Oct. 3, 1962 and Oct. 19, 1964 and Oct. 21, 1964.

©Lisa G. Henderson







3 thoughts on “Saskatoon Art Association (1937-64) and the Saskatoon Art Centre (1944-64)

  1. Keith Davey

    A related website regarding Alf Davey, part of the early Saskatoon art scene is now available online. Please access at awdaveyartist


    1. lisa g. henderson Post author

      Very nice to hear from you. I spent some time glancing through your wonderful website. Would you mind if I linked it to Alf’s biography on my blog in the section “Some Early Saskatchewan Men Artists? My brief bio is pretty thin and so is the one at the SNAC website. People would benefit from looking at yours and all the lovely illustrations and paintings. However, if you prefer, I could put the link address as you have it here, It worked for me using google chrome.


  2. Keith Davey

    Hello Lisa: Thanks for taking the time to look at my website.The compliment is appreciated too. You are certainly welcome to link the site to your blog in the best way you see fit. I want my site accessible to as many people possible. Please let me know if I should notify anyone else in the art scene…………..Keith Davey



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