Saskatchewan Art Organizations originating in the 1940s

Saskatoon and Regina Branches of the Federation of Canadian Artists and the Western Art Circuit

Although Ernie Lindner of Saskatoon was already on the national executive of the Federation of Canadian Artists by 1942, representing Saskatchewan, it appears that the Saskatoon and Regina branches or regional groups were founded in early 1943. The Federation of Canadian Artists was the first cross-Canada artist group formed shortly after the Kingston Conference of the Arts was held in June 1941 at Queen’s University.  Its purpose was to represent the concerns of all Canadian artists and provide a forum for them to have a united voice in the nation’s cultural affairs.  Lawren Harris, then a resident of Vancouver, was a strong organizer for the group in its early years and it was a most attractive organization for widely scattered and often nationally ignored western Canadian artists to join.

There was also a branch of the FCA in Prince Albert and there may have been others in Saskatchewan but I have too little information to speculate on that.  I do have one report below on the activities of the Prince Albert branch, found in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, but a fuller account would require access to old issues of the P.A. Daily Herald, which I do not have. 

Feb.2, 1943 edition of the Leader-Post announced plans for Saskatoon and Regina to be branch regions of the Federation of Canadian Artists.  A couple of days later a report appeared in the Star-Phoenix on Lindner’s visit to Regina. Feb. 4 1943.  I found some earlier mentions in Saskatoon about the FCA in May Fox’s Art Gum column which sometimes featured a section on Federation news. Nov.21, 1942, Feb. 5, 1943 (scroll up and to left) and Feb. 20, 1943 are particularly pertinent. But more information on the Saskatoon FCA is likely to be found in my post on the Saskatoon Art Association and the Saskatoon Art Centre which includes most of the news columns from the 1940s.

The Saskatchewan FCA branches began to sponsor annual juried shows of Saskatchewan art in 1944 and also began to host travelling exhibitions from the other western provinces. Mar. 6, 1944 Leader-Post, May 29, 1944 LP. The first FCA exhibition of Saskatchewan art was held in early November of 1944 at Regina College, sponsored by the Regina branch. A.Y. Jackson adjudicated the show. Nov. 3 (scroll to right for article), Nov. 4 (scroll down), Nov. 6, 1944. For a list of exhibitors see my post on LCW Arts Committee and exhibitions list, which contains a chart for the November 1944 exhibition.

Later on in the month Lawren Harris, then national president of the FCA, visited both Regina and Saskatoon and reports appeared in both newspapers. Nov. 28, 1944 Leader Post (there are two reports on the visit on this page) and (also two reports on page)Nov. 30, 1944, Star -Phoenix. On Apr. 13, 1945, the Star Phoenix reported in the I See column that Calgary had corresponded with Saskatoon to find out how to become a member of the FCA.   Just a month later, Ernie Lindner reported current national FCA news to a meeting of the Saskatoon Art Association. May 17, 1945 SSP. He mentioned the Western Art Circuit in his remarks.

On Oct. 18 and Oct. 19, 1945 the Leader-Post reported on a Regina showing of the Kerr/Lindner art exhibition which was circulated by the Western Art Circuit and a showing of the work of Alberta artists sponsored by the FCA was reported on Mar. 15 and Mar. 19, 1946 in the Leader-Post. From Jan. 7-12, 1946 at Regina College the Regina FCA presented an exhibition of art work produced at the Banff Fine Arts School in the summer of 1945. Jan. 4 and Jan.7, Jan. 9, Jan. 10  Jan. 12, 1946.    A newspaper item reported on the Regina branch of the FCA Jan. 25, 1946.

There was an all Saskatchewan FCA exhibition which opened in Saskatoon for three weeks in May of 1946. May 16, 1946 SSP and May 10, 1946 RLP. The 1946 show was juried by H.G. Glyde of Alberta.

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In February & March 1947 the Regina FCA hosted an exhibition of British masterpieces of painting and sculpture that was sponsored by the IBM corporation. It was shown at Eaton’s department store. Feb. 24, Feb. 26, Mar. 1, 1947. In April the Regina FCA hosted a travelling exhibition of art from the Alberta Society of Artists at the public library. Apr. 14, 1947.

It was reported in the Star-Phoenix that the third FCA sponsored show of Saskatchewan art was sponsored by the Prince Albert branch of the FCA. May 8, 1948 SSP and it was shown in Regina in September. Sep. 11, 1948 RLP before travelling out of the province. The juror for this show was Alexander Musgrove of the Winnipeg School of Art. In May the Regina FCA again hosted a travelling show of the Alberta Society of Artists. May 28, 1948 RLP and in October they hosted a travelling exhibition of three Edmonton artists’ works at the public library. Oct. 16, 1948

Although there was no permanent gallery space in Regina, it seems that the FCA branch was often able to show works in the Public Library which allowed them to take more travelling shows than ever before. In 1949 the Regina FCA hosted a travelling exhibition of Saturday Night magazine cover paintings at Willson’s Stationery store Apr. 11.  The next month they hosted a travelling exhibition of American art sponsored by IBM at 1828 Scarth Street.  May 11, May 12, May 14, 1949.

In July of 1950 the Regina branch of the FCA put on a show of members’ work at the public library. July 13, 1950. In November, 1950 a Saskatchewan-wide exhibition sponsored by the Regina FCA was held at Regina College. Nov. 20, 1950 (scroll to left for title). There is no mention of a juror but the report does state that the federation jury chose twenty paintings to go on tour with the Western Art Circuit. Confusingly, it does not mention Saskatoon as a stop on the tour, although Prince Albert was included. Based on what I found and what I read, it appears that these ‘annual’ exhibitions sponsored by the FCA occurred every other year, not annually.

There were not very many members of the FCA in these Saskatchewan branches and most of the members already belonged to existing art clubs or organizations i.e. The Regina Art Centre Association (see below) and the Saskatoon Art Association (see post). These organizations already had established annual shows of Saskatchewan art so it seems that room was allowed in the FCA ‘annual’ show schedule for alternate years when the  annual shows of other local art organizations could be held.

Because of the existence of these older organizations it is sometimes difficult to tell who was sponsoring incoming shows. For example, in 1947 an Emily Carr memorial exhibition in Regina was claimed as being sponsored by the Regina branch of the Federation of Canadian Artists (Jan. 17Jan. 23, 1947 RLP) and in Saskatoon it was said to be sponsored by the Saskatoon Art Centre (Feb. 17, 1947). There are other examples where it seems that it should be the FCA sponsoring the exhibition but it is sometimes the local art organization that is mentioned. What the incoming exhibitions from Western Canada all had in common is that they were made possible by FCA contacts and the valuable mechanism of the Western Art Circuit from the mid 1940s. A brief history of the Western Art Circuit appears in the Leader Post on May 30, 1955 when the organization was holding its tenth annual meeting in Regina. See also May 31 & Jun 1, 1955 for more news about this meeting.

The FCA was a useful organization for Saskatchewan artists to belong to in the 1940s because it opened up channels of communication with other artist groups in western Canada, allowing artists to exchange and circulate exhibitions, and because it brought in the concept of holding exhibitions juried by out of province artists on a regular basis. But it did not seem to be useful for long, as the Saskatchewan Arts Board (see below) came into being in 1948. The Saskatoon branch disappeared and the Regina branch became an unaffiliated organization, the Regina Federation of Artists, a group which apparently is still in existence to this day as an exhibiting society.

The Federation of Canadian Artists fell apart as a national organization in the 1950s but the name survives today, mainly in British Columbia, as an exhibiting society with levels of membership similar to the Royal Canadian Academy.

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Saskatchewan Arts Board  and the Saskatchewan Arts Congress 

Founded in early 1948, the Saskatchewan Arts Board was the first North American government-funded organization to support the growth of the arts in a region. You can read more about the Arts Board on its website http://www.artsboard.sk.ca/about-us

On Apr. 16, 1948 a report appeared in the Regina Leader Post about the new Saskatchewan Arts Board.  Another report about the Arts Board appeared Sep. 13, 1948 (scroll left).  Both of these items mention something called the Saskatchewan Arts Congress and on Oct. 21, 1948 an editorial appeared in the Leader Post describing the difference between the two organizations, the Arts Board a supporting mechanism and the Congress an advisory board. An earlier article in the Star-Phoenix on Oct. 9, 1948 also illuminated the relationship between these entities.

In 1949 a number of articles appeared about the activities of the Saskatchewan Arts Board: Feb. 26, Mar. 4, Apr. 9, Jul 20, Leader Post.  Although the latter article announced that a provincial art exhibition sponsored by the Saskatchewan Arts Board was going to be held, it did not actually come together until May of 1950. The Leader-Post provided some press for this show (May 15May 26, 1950) and we can learn whose art was chosen to begin the foundations of the Saskatchewan Arts Board art collection. As can be seen in the 1949 articles, one of the interests of the Arts Board was stimulating handicraft production in the province and one of their earliest handicraft exhibitions is profiled in this article from the Saskatoon Star Phoenix Nov. 9, 1950.

On Jun 24, 1953 another editorial appeared in the Leader-Post looking back on the first five years of the Arts Board and listing its accomplishments.  The Star-Phoenix offered some comment on the 1954 Saskatchewan Arts Board provincial exhibition and images from the one in 1956 were featured in its pages. Apr. 6, 1954, Mar. 31, 1956.

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Regina Art Centre Association

In early 1944 Regina began its civic campaign to have an art centre, predicated on the idea that there would be money for post-war reconstruction projects and that the University of Saskatchewan should be involved in the ownership and maintenance of such a centre, based on the already donated Mackenzie collection which still did not have a purpose-built home.  The initiators of this movement may have also been spurred on by the opening of Saskatoon’s Art Centre in the same time period.

The following Leader Post  articles follow the history of this organization. They also show how members of the the advisory board of local art organizations, mostly women, eventually took on the work of the Regina Art Centre Association. The Regina Art Centre Association became a hosting body for travelling art shows and championed children’s art in the interim between the war and the building of the initial Mackenzie gallery in 1953. For most of the late 1940s, the perennial president of the Regina Art Centre Association was Ethel Barr, long-time art supporter and artist in the city of Regina.  For more on Ethel Barr and her husband George Barr see my future post on Art Patrons of Saskatchewan.

Jan. 4, Jan. 8Jan. 18, 1944, Mar. 19, 1945, Mar. 21, 1945, May 4, 1945, May 16, 1946, May 6, 1947May 17, 1947 (scroll up and right), Feb. 6, 1947, Oct. 7, 1947, May 15, 1948 and Sep. 27 & Sep. 29, 1948

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The Red Door Gallery, the Prospectors and the Western Artists Society

Apart from the government and civic and national artist initiatives in the arts in the late 1940s, there were some short-lived individual initiatives that should be mentioned here.  Two of them originated in Saskatchewan and the announcement of the Western Artists Society formation, the third initiative,  may have affected the formation of one of those two.

The Red Door Gallery, which opened in Regina, in 1946 was a very short-lived but admirable project initiated by Saskatoon artist Mashel Teitelbaum.  Its story can be found in Nov. 30, 1946 Saskatoon Star Phoenix and Nov. 6, 1946 Leader-Post. The Red Door Gallery was not open long but it shows that some artists in Saskatchewan were attempting to put their ideas of professionalism into action.

May 10, 1948 – The formation of the Western Artists Group was announced in Calgary. Reading this article in the Star-Phoenix, you will notice that Saskatchewan artists were not included in its first show.

The Prospectors were a short-lived exhibiting group focused on modern art who arranged for their show to be sent out of the province.  I wonder if this may have been a response to the snub felt by local artists after the formation of the Western Artists Group.  Feb. 17, 1949  SSP For more information see: Early Saskatchewan Men Artists biographies. The bottom of the post features an undated clipping with a photograph of the Prospectors at their first and possibly only show.

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The Massey Commission sitting in Saskatchewan – 1949

Although submissions to the Massey Commission do not constitute an organization, I thought this was a fitting place to insert some articles from Saskatchewan newspapers related to this momentous occasion in the cultural life of Canada.  In 1949 the Royal Commission on National Development of Arts, Literature and Sciences aka “the Massey Commission,” tasked by the government of Canada with surveying opinions and ideas across Canada for improving conditions in these endeavours,  criss-crossed the country receiving briefs from representatives of interested communities in many locations. The Saskatoon newspaper gave the Massey Commission’s local visit a lot of coverage and you can see what people in Saskatchewan thought important by reading  Oct. 17 & Oct. 18 (see also article on p.3) & Oct. 19, 1949 SSP. Ernie Lindner of Saskatoon and Agnes Warren of Prince Albert  were two artists who gave briefs on the visual arts.

The Leader-Post later printed  a comment on the sitting in Edmonton (Oct. 20, 1949) and Calgary (Nov. 3, 1949) but I haven’t been able to find any regarding the commission’s visit to Regina yet. The Star-Phoenix printed a report on the commission’s visit to Calgary Nov. 3, 1949 . One of the Massey commission’s five member board was from Saskatchewan, Dr. Hilda Neatby of the History Department of the University of Saskatchewan.

©Lisa G. Henderson, 2015

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