Art Education in Saskatchewan prior to 1950

This survey is primarily guided by newspaper reports I found, although I do admit to having a research-based knowledge of the history of the University of Saskatchewan art department, which informs part of the discussion dedicated to it.  The survey includes public school art education, private school art education and the education of art teachers, as well as the art training offered by post-secondary institutions like Regina School of Fine Art (post 1936) and the University of Saskatchewan and Emma Lake Art Camp – Murray Point Summer School of Art.

For a much more learned  and wide-ranging discussion of the general history of public school education in the province, see Saskatchewan One Room School Project  and pages dedicated to Normal School history in Saskatchewan.  There is very little about art teaching on these pages but lots about all kinds of things connected to schooling in Saskatchewan in the early days — a wonderful online resource, part of the Saskatchewan Gen Web.

Please note that biographies of artists whose names are bolded in the following text can be found in my biographical posts on Men and Women artists. They offer links to related items.

Art was part of the curriculum in public schools from early days. Future teachers often learned about art at Normal School so this post will include reports on Normal School teaching. Early evidence of the Normal School’s interest in exposing their students to professional painting can be seen in these reports on successive visits to the school by F. M. Bell-Smith, a Toronto painter who often spent summers in the Rockies. Oct. 11, 1900 (scroll down), Dec. 18, 1902 Morning Leader.

The earliest reference I have found of  a professional art teacher in the province relates to Elizabeth E. Rankin who came to Regina in 1903 to teach Music and Art at the Provincial Normal School in Regina and in 1912 moved to the Normal School in Saskatoon where she taught teachers about art and music until 1938. In 1908 the first provincial teachers’ convention was held in Regina and the Morning Leader’s report on it give a long summary of Miss Rankin’s speech to the delegates on drawing pedagogy. May 22, 1908 ML. More summaries of other topics appear in the next day’s issue May 23, 1908, allowing anyone who is interested to put Miss Rankin’s contribution in context.

Regina’s first and only public collegiate at that time (later known as Central Collegiate) offered art classes as early as 1912 according to a Jan.1, 1912 ML article. The teacher was George Robertson, who also was in charge of teaching business. I haven’t run across any other mentions of art teachers in the Regina elementary schools but there must have been specialists in them who had gone through training at the local Normal School. I know that Moose Jaw Collegiate had a specialist art teacher in the 1920s (Gordon W. Snelgrove) so I assume that other high schools in the province must have also had them at one time or another. Two examples I have found of art teachers reported in the high schools come from Saskatoon at Bedford Road Collegiate. Feb. 1, 1929, Oct. 8, 1929 SSP. A description of a high school display at Nutana Collegiate also suggests there were high school classes in art there that year.  Jun 9, 1933 SSP

There is a book called For the Children: 25 years with the Saskatchewan Society for Education through Art, edited by Margaret Messer and published by the SSEA in 1985. In this book the editor attempts some kind of history of art education in the province prior to the formation of the SSEA (c. 1960) Owing to its conversational style and lack of details, it doesn’t offer much in the way of a history but, according to Messer, there wasn’t much of a program of art education in the high schools of the province until the 1960s.  In the frontispiece she claims that she was the first fully qualified high school art teacher in the province who had taught in North Battleford for two years before being hired by Balfour Technical School in Regina (this would probably be in the mid 1940s but again details are not the author’s strong point). I would argue that she was not the first fully qualified high school art teacher in Saskatchewan. However, in the absence of any other source on this subject, this book does provide some information on art teaching in the high schools of the province at a later time.

In Messer’s opinion, people who taught children art without a teacher’s education were not fully qualified to teach art.  It is true that there were art teachers who were hired on the basis of their expertise as artists only but there were other high school teachers, like Gordon Snelgrove, who were arguably more fully qualified in her terms than Messer was and I am sure there must have been other examples before the 1940s.

According to an April 29, 1907 Morning Leader article, an art and music supervisor for Regina schools was in place by 1907.  Her name was Miss Jennie Grier. In the Oct. 29, 1910 SSP I ran across an announcement that art and music supervisors were being installed in the public schools that year. I do know that Jane Little became the first art supervisor of the public schools in Saskatoon until the 1920s when she taught summer school for teachers at the University with Elizabeth Rankin in 1921. Apr. 2, 1921 . See their biographies for more links related to this.   Jun 16, 1915 SSP -report of teachers taking manual training classes and giving a display of their reed work.   A report on a Regina Normal School student teachers’ exhibit Apr. 11, 1925 tells us that Vaughan Grayson was then art teacher at the Regina Normal School. She was also known to have taught art at the U of S Summer school for teachers in the later 1920s when she was described as an instructor at the Moose Jaw Normal School. A successor of hers at the Normal School in Regina was Laura Lamont who taught there until about 1940.

In Aug. 4, 1941 SSP. I found another rare report of a U of S Summer school for teachers art display at Saskatoon.

Apart from what was being taught in the public schools in cities, ther???????????????????????????????e were what was known as industrial schools  or manual training sections which taught practical vocations.  The work of students in the industrial schools and the public schools was usually showcased in the annual summer fairs where you can find lists of prizewinners and sometimes reviews of the showings. Jul 19, 1921 SSP (see also illustration here) or Jul 16, 1918 Morning Leader are two early examples. Look for descriptions of the school exhibits and prize lists in the week of the summer fair in each city in the Star-Phoenix and the Leader.

There were also a number of private boarding schools in the province in the early years.  I have the most information about Regina College but there were others like Prince Albert’s St. Alban’s School for Girls who often hired professional art teachers. In 1925 artist Faith Kenworthy Browne of London arrived to teach there. I’m not sure of the length of her tenure in P.A. because she did return to England and developed a significant reputation as a painter in London in later years.

1916 ad for St. Alban's PA from pdf










Inglis Sheldon-Williams, another professional artist, was hired to teach art at Regina College in 1916.  He had had an earlier association with Saskatchewan but his second and last sojourn in Canada lasted from 1914-1918.??????????????????????????????? Regina College seemed to have an art teacher on staff for many years until the University of Saskatchewan took over the school as a public institution and developed the University’s art department there in 1936.  Professionally trained artists like Mildred Valley Thornton, Harriette Keating, J.H. Lee-Grayson, W.G. Hazard and Hilda Stewart all taught Saturday or evening classes at Regina College prior to 1936.  They would have taught both Regina College students and interested people from the community.


1930 Regina College Art ad Jan










It is true, however, that much of the emphasis on teaching art was directed towards younger children. By the late 1930s enthusiastic art teachers in the province were embracing modern methods and attitudes about the role of art in a child’s education. Some were following the art education ideas espoused by Arthur Lismer, a former member of the Group of Seven, who was extremely influential in the development of new ideas about Canadian art education for children.

Guest speakers on primary art education and official exhibitions featuring the art of children from other places came into the province to spread the new attitudes.   Dr. Paul L. Dengler of Vienna came to Saskatoon on a speaking tour, Sep. 18 & Sep. 25, 1930,  Arthur Lismer spoke on Canadian art and art education in Saskatoon Mar. 22, 1932 SSP and Marion Richardson of England, while teaching at the U of S Summer School for Teachers, spoke  to a large audience in the Physics theatre at the University of Saskatchewan. Jul 27, 1934 SSP. The National Gallery sent a show of children’s art to Regina College Mar. 28, 1934 RLP where children’s art classes led by May Kenderdine were then being held.

April 9, 1928Apr. 12, 1928 SSP report of art demonstrations at the teacher’s convention. Apr. 1, 1932 Art of school children displayed at teacher’s convention. Apr. 25 & Apr. 26, 1935 SSP children’s art classes display in Saskatoon. Ethel Thorpe was an artist and a public school teacher who tirelessly taught children’s art classes for years in Saskatoon on Saturday mornings. She also helped to arrange exhibitions of the art of school children at the education conventions held there.

Prince Albert native Wynona C. Mulcaster was one of the young Saskatchewan art teachers who was deeply interested in modern methods of teaching art to children.  Mulcaster had a long  and distinguished career in art education after 1950 but she began her career as an art teacher in the public school system in Prince Albert. She became known across the province as an art supervisor in the Normal Schools, first in Regina in 1944  and after in Saskatoon. She also conducted children’s art classes for the Saskatoon Art Association. See my post on Saskatoon Art Association for more information on Mulcaster’s activities there.   Feb. 27, 1943 Art Gum Column re: Mulcaster’s showing of children’s art from P.A.,  On her work as a Normal School teacher, Apr.7, 1945 Jan. 4, 1947. Jan. 27, 1951. SSP

There is an online M.A. Art History thesis by Laura Lee Dale Heron called “German Expressionism and the Child Art Movement in the Career of Wynona Mulcaster” submitted to Concordia University in 1995. The thesis is based on interviews with the artist, among other things, and contains a good summary of her career in Saskatoon and viewpoints on art education from 1935-1955.

Elsie Dorsey (d. 1963), art supervisor of Regina public schools  from the late 1930s into the 1960s, was also an enthusiastic supporter of modern teaching methods for children.  She taught at the U of S summer school for teachers in 1939 and 1940 and expounded on her theories in two speeches.  Jul 28, 1939, SSP Jul 27, 1940 RLP. The National Gallery sent a children’s show from Ottawa to Regina in 1944. Mar. 17, 1944

Public exhibitions of the art of children were frequently held in the 1940s by both the Regina Art Centre Association and the Saskatoon Art Association, where children’s art classes were regularly held on Saturday mornings at the Saskatoon Art Centre. See separate posts on these associations for lists of shows. Some evidence of the interest of prairie schools in art education is indicated in this article which appeared in the Star-Phoenix in 1941. Mar. 7, 1941 SSP

Two technical high schools opened in the province in the early 1930s: Balfour Technical Collegiate in Regina and Saskatoon Technical School in Saskatoon. Both schools had an art & manual training department, although many of the courses were taught in the evening so they were for adults as well as school age students. Teaching of fine art at Saskatoon’s school was led by Ernie Lindner and in Regina W.G. Hazard was the art director at Balfour Technical School. They were both dynamic and engaging artist/teachers. There is evidence that Harriett Keating and Illingworth Kerr also taught night classes at Balfour in the early 1930s. See: Sep 15 & Sep 23, 1931 and Nov 4, 1931Apr. 12, 1933 the first annual display at Balfour Technical School was announced, including arts and crafts.  In Saskatoon  handicraft classes were advertised (Nov. 19, 1932) and a variety of artwork from the Technical School was exhibited annually from 1932 on. egs. Apr. 15, 1932,  Mar. 28, 1934, Mar. 28, 1935. Apr. 22, 1937. Nov. 24, 1937, Oct. 10, 1939, SSP describes the amount of classes available and Sep 25, 1940, SSP discusses the loss of a government grant to subsidize them. I have found some descriptions of 1940s art exhibitions at Balfour Tech, Mar. 20, 1945, Jun 16, 1945Jun 14, 1947 RLP, when the art classes were conducted by Margaret Messer.

balfour-collegiateBalfour Technical Collegiate, Regina

Although the courses at the technical high schools typically had more variety than the public schools or private colleges, all of the training was elementary, in the sense that there were no dedicated art schools, allowing artists to progress to a diploma level in any technical discipline. Aspiring artists left the province for professional training after availing themselves of what training was available locally from private instructors or schools prior to 1950. The role of private instructors for children should not be ignored. Many of the artists in my biographical posts gave private lessons as a means of supporting themselves and sharing their knowledge and passion for art with children and young adults.

However, in 1936, new opportunities opened up for artistic training, initiated by the University of Saskatchewan, then led by its first president Walter C. Murray. In the early 1920s Murray had invited artist Augustus Kenderdine to set up a studio on campus and teach on an informal basis. Murray was desirous of setting up faculties of music, drama and fine arts and in 1931 had been able to establish a department of music at the University of Saskatchewan.  The drama department had to wait until the mid 1940s. In 1933 Murray arranged for Kenderdine to teach practical courses in art for the University in concert with Dr. Richard A. Wilson, an English professor who gave lectures in art appreciation. (See my post on RSAALS for more on Wilson’s earlier ventures) Thus, one of the first credit courses in art at a university in Canada was established by this collaboration. However, this did not constitute an art department, as the credit in Art came under the aegis of the English department.

The University of Saskatchewan  Art department came about through a number of events: the availability of Carnegie Foundation funds to establish and support fine arts initiatives at the University level in Canada, the transfer of Regina College from private hands to the University of Saskatchewan in 1934 and the establishment of university courses there, (Jan. 25, 1934, Apr. 26, 1934, Jun 2, 1934, Jun 26, 1934, Jul 7, 1934, Sept. 21, 1934 & Oct. 20, 1934 Leader-Post). the 1936 bequest from Norman Mackenzie’s will of his collection of art to the University for the establishment of a gallery and art school in Regina, the decision by the University to rent land at Emma Lake and start a summer art school there in 1936 and the simultaneous availability of a suitably trained PHD art historian from Saskatchewan to head a university art department. These events all occurred in the depths of the Depression when many Saskatchewan schools, including the University were in deep trouble financially.

PC013129 Regina College

To illustrate this you only have to look at the physical plant of the U of S which did not change much in its first thirty years.  The University of Saskatchewan had planned a building dedicated to the Arts and Sciences at its founding and signs that it would finally be built appeared in 1930. However, due to the financial straits of the province during the Depression and World War II, this did not actually come about until the 1960s. Oct. 17, 1929 SSP , p.2 ( cannot link to this issue) & Apr. 16, 1930 (scroll down),  Sep. 25, 1930 SSP). In 1933 Regina College was on the verge of bankruptcy and Moose Jaw College did have to close because it was bankrupt.(Jun 2 , 1933 Leader Post) Things were so bad there, even public schools in Moose Jaw were threatened with closure in 1934. (May 29 & May 30 1934)

1948 UNiversity aerial view

May 11, 1934 SSP President Murray’s U of S Convocation speech mentions the state of music and art at Saskatoon.  But nothing was mentioned about art in Regina until 1936, which means that it was not the intention of the University of Saskatchewan to transfer their nascent art department to Regina College when the University took over the ailing College in 1934. Regina art collector Norman Mackenzie’s death in early 1936 and subsequent granting to the University of money for a gallery to house his donated art collection, turned the tide towards Regina, even though the monetary donation was tied up in real estate throughout most of the depression and war years. Regina College also had better physical facilities at that point to teach art.  See my post on Art Collectors of Saskatchewan for a fuller discussion of Norman Mackenzie’s impact on Saskatchewan art.

1936 Regina College ad ARt

Feb. 3, 1936 SSP Announcement of Summer School at Emma Lake.  May 19, 1936 SSP  & May 19, LP -Announcement regarding the Regina School of Fine Arts under the University of Saskatchewan. May 21, 1936 LP editorial  & Sep. 19, 1936 LP. ads from same date,  Nov. 14, 1936 -Kenderdine Snelgrove banquetted. Jan.6, 1937 SSP – plans for art gallery. Because the school of Fine Arts was established in Regina, Snelgrove co-taught with Kenderdine the first year and then the art history and studio art courses were separated in 1937, allowing students to gain credit for up to 4 courses from the new U of S Art Department in two years.  Sep. 30, 1937 LP. In Saskatoon, Hilda Stewart took the place of Kenderdine and taught practical courses which had a credit component through the teaching of Richard A. Wilson of the English department until 1939, although this was the only course available there.  May 23, 1936 SSP.  The art course became non-credit when Wilson retired in 1940. Snelgrove and Kenderdine taught together in Regina until spring 1939, with Snelgrove also teaching the same courses at Moose Jaw College from 1936-1939.

???????????????????????????????Then, in 1939, Professor Snelgrove was transferred to Saskatoon, as it was obvious the initial plans for the Regina School of Fine Arts could not be carried through at the beginning of World War II.  From that time on the chair of the University of Saskatchewan Art Department was based in Saskatoon, although courses in art history were offered by Snelgrove at Emma Lake or on campus in the summer and at Regina College in the fall/winter session from 1942 to spring 1949. Oct. 10, 1942 LP, Oct. 17, 1945 LP. Professor Kenderdine continued to teach studio art at Emma Lake in the summers and at Regina College from 1940 to his death in 1947 and Hilda Stewart taught non-credit studio art in Saskatoon until spring 1948.  A new instructor, Nikola Bjelajac, was hired to teach credit courses with Snelgrove at Saskatoon and Regina in 1947 and continued until the spring of 1949. May 9, 1947 SSP Suffering from low enrollment in 1949, (May 3, 1949 RLP) Regina College took on its own staff in 1950 for the teaching of art and the curation of the Mackenzie collection which was still housed in Darke Hall at the College. Apr. 7 & Apr. 9, 1949 RLP – editorial explains the situation which led to this decision.

Because the art department had to act as a mobile unit for the first 12 years of its existence, it was not able to grow. Real growth in the department only happened after separate art faculty was hired for the Regina School of Fine Arts at Regina College. Additionally, the University and Regina College began to share responsibility for the running of the Emma Lake Art School in the early 1950s, which eventually led to the foundation of the Emma Lake Artist Workshops in 1955. Apart from it service courses in art history in Saskatoon and Regina and at Emma Lake for teachers, the existence of a University art department in the province did not really add any opportunities for artist training until the second half of the twentieth century. It was a long time before university trained artists could get degrees in their discipline. However, the free availability of an art history lecturer to many sectors of the public and free art lectures at the University did fit with the community extension mandate the University tried to follow. For more information on Dr. Gordon W. Snelgrove see my future post on him.


The existence of the Emma Lake Art Camp or more specifically the Murray Point Art School was also beneficial for many of the province’s art teachers who could only attend specialist training in the summer. Like the Banff School of Fine Arts, founded in the early 1930s, it was a novelty, allowing people to combine a cheap summer holiday with art training.  The Saskatchewan school had less spectacular scenery to offer and quite a few less instructors but it was the only one which featured art history as part of the curriculum for its first 10 years. Reports from students and visiting writers meant that the camp school was regularly featured as a news story in the newspapers. Some items I have found related to it follow:

Apr. 15, 1937 LP, Jul 23, 1937 LP, Feb. 14, 1938, LP, Jul 15, 1938 SSP WM, Jul 25, 1938 LP, Aug. 3, 1938, SSP WM, Aug. 6, 1938 LP, Aug. 17, 1938 LP, Aug. 1, 1939 SSP, Aug.6, 1940 SSP, Feb. 12, 1941 LP, Feb. 14 & 17, 1941 SSP, Aug. 4, 1941 LP, Jul 29, 1942 LP, Mar. 9, 1943 LP, Mar. 26, 1943 LP. Note: the articles marked with WM are those that are known to have been written by Wynona Mulcaster, according to the Heron thesis on Mulcaster, which also contains information on Emma Lake.  See link highlighted above.

Additionally, there is an interesting written history of the early years of the Emma Lake Art Camp  by Anne K. Morrison in a chapter of the 1989 Mendel Art Gallery catalogue that accompanied the exhibition The Flat Side of the Landscape.

Given the sparsity of public art galleries in the province, the existence of a School of Art at Regina College and a Department of Art at the University of Saskatchewan also provided the people of the province with more opportunities to see travelling exhibitions of art other than those sponsored by art clubs and summer fair exhibition boards and the ones previously hosted by the schools on a general basis. Travelling exhibitions of art were regularly hosted by both institutions as an educational function for the community and for their art departments.  Feb. 13, 16, 17, 24, 26, 1934 SSP, Apr. 11, 18, 24 1934 RCA show in Saskatoon, Jan. 29, 1935, Jan. 30, Jan. 31, Feb. 1, Feb. 2, 1935, Dec. 5, 1935, Nov. 14, 1936 & Nov. 9, 13, &16, Dec.7, 1936 RLP, Feb. 10, 1937 & Feb. 11, 1937 RLP, Jan. 7Feb. 7 & Feb. 9, Feb. 12, 1938 LP,  Feb. 22 1938, SSP, Mar. 28, 1938 SSP, Nov. 26 & 28 (scroll down) & 30, 1942 SSP  Apr. 27 & May 1, 1945 RLP,

The  University schools also felt a compulsion to initiate shows of Saskatchewan art which would travel around or outside the province and regular annual exhibitions of student art became more prevalent. By the 1940s local art organizations were promoting Saskatchewan art through travelling shows, relieving the University of having the responsibility of initiating travelling shows. University student shows became popular in the 1940s and collaborations with local organizations grew. Some examples I found of University initiated showings of Saskatchewan art follow:

Dec. 8, 1937 RLP the U of S initiates a travelling exhibition of Saskatchewan art that travels to many towns in Saskatchewan. It was in Regina in 1938 where it was shown at Balfour Technical School and reviewed in the newspaper. Feb. 22, 1938 RLP. The U of S initiated a travelling show of 4 Saskatchewan artists. Dec. 16, 1939 Calgary Herald contains a review of the show.  Apr. 14, 1938 SSP (Scroll down column)  to see an announcement of a student show of art at U of S.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of post-secondary education in the province of Saskatchewan, the two city campus model of the University of Saskatchewan persisted until 1974 when the University of Regina became an autonomous institution. Provincial post-secondary  technical institutes opened up in the 1960s but a separate provincial art school in Saskatchewan never came to be. Today, both the U of S and the University of Regina offer degrees in the Fine Arts and in Art Education. Many art schools in other provinces have become universities themselves in the past couple of decades, offering diplomas and degrees in Fine Arts to equal the older university programs . So the playing field in art education eventually leveled off for Saskatchewan where today graduate students from outside the province often attend either the University of Regina or the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon for professional degrees in studio practice.

©Lisa G. Henderson, 2015











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