Who was Saskatchewan’s Gordon Snelgrove?

N.B. This paper was presented in January 2015 at the above document exhibition. The documents gathered by Louise Barak have been given to the University of Saskatchewan Archives and she has retired. The speech was given to an audience familiar with the U of S Art and Art History Department and its history, who had looked at the many documents in the exhibition.


Over the course of the past year and a half I have been working on a large digital project which involves newspaper articles from the early twentieth century written on the subject of art in Saskatchewan.  During the research process, I discovered a lot of information on Gordon Snelgrove in the Regina Leader Post and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.  Armed with that and some other material I had inherited and found on the Internet and through genealogical websites, I decided to write an essay on Snelgrove, the first art historian at the University of Saskatchewan.  Early in 2014, I sent a copy of my 10 page draft to Louise Barak, Visual Resources Curator for the Department of Art and Art History, a former colleague of mine and someone I knew was interested in Snelgrove and his slide collection.  To our mutual delight, we discovered that we had both been working towards the goal of finding out who Gordon Snelgrove really was in our different ways.  Since then we have been emailing each other regularly devising the current project.  For years, Louise has been going to archives and finding difficult to obtain information about him which she envisioned as being incorporated into this show.  It was like we were filling in each other’s blanks. The current version of my essay has benefitted immensely from Louise’s efforts and I have noted references in the footnotes with an LB to recognize the many obscure sources of information she found during her research and kindly shared with me. 

In 1996, when I interviewed University of Saskatchewan Professor Emeritus Eli Bornstein for a history of the Department of Art and Art History that I was compiling for internal administrative use, he was kind enough to give me a copy of the eulogy he delivered to the University of Saskatchewan Council shortly after Snelgrove’s death on Feb. 10, 1966. Bornstein was then head of the Department of Art and had known Snelgrove for over 15 years.  Some excerpts follow:

“In this frantic age of “publish or perish”, Dr. Snelgrove was unique. For, undoubtedly his greatest interest was his students and the young Saskatchewan artists whom he encouraged and helped in many ways. He devoted himself to teaching and his greatest accomplishments rest primarily with his students. He travelled to Europe seven times to study the art galleries and famous monuments and inspired in his students some of his own love of beauty. ..Dr. Snelgrove will be remembered by his colleagues and students as a kind and gentle man with a warm and wry humour. He will indeed long be remembered and missed by all who knew him.” [i]

Having worked in the Slide Library, I had long been intrigued by Dr. Snelgrove, but I discovered during the course of my research then that there was very little information on him in the university records, other than his resume and some mentions of activity in annual departmental reports. He left behind no memoirs or fonds in an archive or record of publications to study his art historical persona.  Professor Bornstein’s tribute to Snelgrove animated him as a person and as a presence at the University of Saskatchewan.

Another important observation, related to his teaching, can be found in the 1989 Flat Side of the Landscape catalogue, written to accompany a wide ranging historical survey of the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops. In the catalogue there is a chapter dedicated to the early years of the Murray Point summer art school written by Ann K. Morrison. It isn’t clear where all the information came from, likely through interviews, since there aren’t specific footnotes, but it is worth quoting what Morrison had to say about Snelgrove’s role there, after describing his credentials and the circumstances of his hiring. At this point in the narrative she’s already described Kenderdine’s history and methods:

“Snelgrove adapted well to the art camp situation, and with his wit and intense curiousity about contemporary artistic issues, was able to provide a gentle but subversive foil to Kenderdine’s 19th Century attitudes. By the second year, he had changed Wilson’s prescription for art appreciation to a serious study of western art history.  More importantly, he had added a late afternoon discussion period to deal with controversies connected with contemporary art, particularly the development of Modernism in Europe and the United States. Having travelled to major museums and galleries, and studied in Chicago, New York and London, he was able to challenge many of the aesthetic principles preached by Kenderdine, disrupting the paternalistic academicism that had led to romanticized canvases with their tree-framed prospects , hazy with memory of another time and place.

Using teaching equipment of slides and reproductions as well as books, all donated by the Carnegie Corporation to the University in 1936, Snelgrove widened the frame of reference in his classes. He made room for discussion, questioning the premises of abstraction, Clive Bell’s theory of “significant form” and later such issues as the relationship of the avant-garde to the contemporary Abstract Expressionist work on view in New York in the 1940s. Tracing the art historical developments from early Egyptian civilization through to 20th Century American art, Snelgrove could place Kenderdine’s position as an artist and teacher in context and go beyond into the theoretical writing found in some of the two hundred books included in the Carnegie package.” [ii]

As far as I know, this is still the most analytic piece on Snelgrove’s teaching that has ever been published.  Morrison’s statements about his theoretical approach are borne out by many newspaper articles describing his public art lectures in the 1930s and 1940s and by the nature of his own academic scholarship.  Of course, the Flat Side of the Landscape exhibition and catalogue was dedicated to describing the birth of modernism in Saskatchewan art so it doesn’t tell the full story.

You have to look to Snelgrove’s own opinions for clarity which are laid out fairly plainly in the transcription of the 1941 Kingston Conference of the Arts proceedings. Snelgrove chaired a session at that historic conference and his opening remarks were transcribed. He said that he felt that the teaching of the history of art and art appreciation needed to be greatly expanded in Canada, where scholarship was lagging behind England and the U.S.  He mentioned that art departments and academics in art were still curiosities in Canada, particularly in Western Canada, where he was the only art historian in an art department. His words follow and suggest he tempered his theoretical approach to his particular context:

“We are attempting to do pioneer work out in Saskatchewan and are meeting with very interesting responses. It is important that we should begin out there, of course, in a very modest way and not kill the whole subject by ramming down the throats of the people a lot of very high-sounding art terminology derived from all the books on art…. This study must be handled in an intelligent commonsense manner, and all with a view to a better understanding of the art of today.  I think that should be our first aim.”[iii]

I am going to end this series of quotations describing Dr. Gordon Snelgrove by referring to the words of Jean Swanson (1914-aft 1983), a Star-Phoenix reporter with an M.A. in English and a deep interest in Saskatchewan art.  She knew Snelgrove first hand and described him this way in her book on Robert Hurley, Sky Painter, published in 1972:

“Dr. Gordon Snelgrove lectured on art appreciation and on the history of art. Through the university’s extension services, he traveled extensively throughout the province, giving dozens of lecture demonstrations. This indefatigable traveler was in much demand as a lecturer, and he contributed a great deal in arousing public interest in the visual arts.  His night classes were always filled to capacity, attracting members of the public as well as students, some traveling for a hundred miles and more every week.  As the thirties turned into the forties, a dint was being made in the public’s apathy to art, although there was still a long way to go to the break-through.” [iv]

Swanson also knew Gus Kenderdine, whose name graces the other “on campus” art gallery here.  Much ink has been devoted to Kenderdine, his paintings and biography.  He was a beloved figure in the early history of Saskatchewan art and his legend certainly overshadows any details that are known about Snelgrove’s career because, unlike his colleague, he left behind a tangible archive.  I recently found some reminiscences Swanson made about Kenderdine in a May 9, 1959 Star-Phoenix article shortly after his retrospective exhibition at the Saskatoon Art Centre. They give some insight into his personality and capabilities as a professor.

Clearly, the two men who started the art department were chalk and cheese.  One a man devoted to teaching and academia, one devoted primarily to painting and his love of the outdoors.  One who was an activist in Saskatchewan and Canadian art circles and extremely sensitive to social opinions, another who could care less what others thought about him and his eccentricities.  Snelgrove was circumspect and introverted. Kenderdine was ebullient and extroverted.  Despite their big differences in age, temperament and approaches, they both loved art and had a deep affinity for Saskatchewan.

Apart from several mentions of Snelgrove’s wit, intelligence and his excellence as a public speaker, it’s hard to find any anecdotes that humanize Gordon Snelgrove in the way Swanson humanized Kenderdine. One of the most astonishing sentences I read about him came from a newspaper report on his public speaking debut in Regina in 1934, before he embarked on his European studies.  The writer started her report by saying “The lecturer seemed to be scarcely more than a boy. But his first sentences convinced his audience that he had a thorough grip of his subject.”[v]Of course, Snelgrove was 35 years old then and already had an M.A. in art history and a long history as a teacher. The audience thought his presentation was excellent but that lead statement does indicate that his looks and demeanor didn’t inspire confidence in his abilities.

He clearly loved travelling, as you can see in a newspaper report of a talk he gave on his days in Europe, and had made study trips to New York and two trips to Europe before he was thirty, the second under scholarship from the Saskatchewan government for 14 months, where he was able to study art and art history in Paris and travel in his off time.

He met his lifelong friend and frequent travelling companion Otis Ellery Taylor in Vienna in 1928. There are indications that they had an extensive correspondence, but apart from a couple of postcards none of it survives as neither man left an archive behind.  Otis Taylor is the only friend Snelgrove ever made reference to in recorded public pronouncements, although you can glean the names of other friends from the list of pallbearers at his funeral, mainly professors and teachers.

Taylor, a first graduate of the College of Commerce at the University of Nebraska in 1915, was, on the surface, an unusual match for Snelgrove.  He worked for the Oswald Stoll organization managing theatres in London from 1917 and into the mid 1920s and then seems to have spent the rest of his life studying and travelling.  He was what can only be described as a bon vivant, frequently noted in various social columns as doing the rounds of Palm Springs, New York and Europe or Asia year after year. [vi] In 1931 he married a wealthy widow over 25 years his senior and eventually obtained a PHD in Art History from the University of Chicago in 1939, after making several trips to study Persian monuments. When his wife died in 1946, he was based in New York City, where he was involved for a brief time with The American Institute of Iranian Art & Archaeology and then the American Red Cross during the war.  Domiciled in swank apartment hotels until he died in 1988, he doesn’t seem to have ever done paid work as an art historian.

There is no indication that Taylor had any interest in being an art historian until he met Snelgrove, whose thirst for more knowledge must have appealed to him. Both of them enrolled at the University of Chicago for art history courses in the summer of 1929.[vii] Moose Jaw then had railway connections which could get you directly to Chicago. Snelgrove’s  M.A. was quite an achievement for a Saskatchewanian in those bleak days of the Depression and drought which plagued the province throughout the 1930s. It appears that his winter’s teaching salary supported his 5 summer stays in the great western American city.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that Snelgrove was a very frugal man and undoubtedly, like many others from that generation, he was able to accomplish much with very little in the way of financial resources.

When Snelgrove left Moose Jaw for England to study for his PHD in the summer of 1934, courtesy of Walter Murray’s finagling to get him a Carnegie funded scholarship administered by the National Gallery, he was an anomaly amongst his cohort of a few Canadian Courtauld students.  Most were on their second year of scholarship, having studied at the National Gallery, destined to be art administrators or gallery personnel by taking a B.A. or a one year Diploma of Art.  He was the only one who went for a PHD and one of very few who did not already have acquaintance with the others. He wrote the fourth PhD dissertation submitted to the Courtauld.

By accident, we know something of the troubles he encountered there from a now published series of letters that went between Helen Kemp, one of those students, and her then fiancé and later husband, Northrup Frye in 1934/35. Kemp and Snelgrove became friends, although it is pretty clear from her descriptions of Snelgrove in her letters that she didn’t find him impressive, describing him as timid and unprepossessing with a high pitched voice and a squeaky giggle and she told Northrup  Frye that he was definitely not “great man” material.[viii] Her reflections on Snelgrove are often of a personal nature, wishing he had some backbone or remarking upon how kind he was to her when she was personally distressed.  She makes no mention of speaking with him about art matters but comments in her letters do provide glimpses of his academic difficulties with W.G. Constable, the Courtauld’s director.

Snelgrove confided to Kemp that Constable misunderstood why he was there and wanted him to undertake studies in the Diploma course.  As she rightfully pointed out, that was ludicrous, given Snelgrove’s B.A. and M.A. in Art History. The course was designed for those with no previous background or credentials in art education.  It seems that Snelgrove complained to her before this misunderstanding was resolved, so he must have required some initial bolstering.[ix] He was clearly intimidated by Constable’s standing and authority as a self-taught art expert.

While this problem got worked out, Snelgrove had more difficulties with Constable because his supervisor wouldn’t let him write his dissertation on the Impressionists, mostly because Constable was a specialist in 18th Century English art and really had little sympathy with Impressionism at that time. Kemp implies that Snelgrove buckled to the will of Constable on his dissertation topic and also states that he developed a dislike for the Courtauld director from that moment on.[x]  Undoubtedly, Snelgrove would have been mortified to see these observations by Kemp printed in a book but I mention them to give a contemporary’s impression of his personality and his struggles at graduate school.

While Snelgrove may have been cowed into working on a topic which was not the one he hoped to explore, he may have also realized that his so-called mentor was not up to the challenge and that if he wanted to get a PHD, the prudent course was to appease Constable, who was then Canada’s National Gallery adviser.  He was, after all, beholden to the Canadian establishment for his opportunity. Undoubtedly, it was Constable who suggested he do a dissertation on Jonathan Richardson, an English artist and theorist of the early 18th Century whom few outside of his own rarified circle would have known about. Otherwise, this dissertation subject seems an odd choice for a man who had chosen to study Cubism and Andre L’Hote in his master’s thesis and had wanted to study for a PHD at the Sorbonne.[xi]

Jonathan Richardson is listed in the online Dictionary of Art Historians as one of the first art historians in England, a fine painter of portraits and a theorist of connoisseurship.  Now he does seem a worthy subject for a dissertation, but I must admit that after 35 years of being involved with art history, seven of which were spent working in a very large University slide library, I can’t say that I had ever heard of him before.  The dissertation submitted by Gordon W. Snelgrove in 1936, The Work and Theories of Jonathan Richardson (1655-1746) (745 leaves) for which he received his PHD from the University of London lies undigitized in the library of the Courtauld Institute and I doubt whether very many people have actually ever looked at it or the microfilm of it since it was written.  One recent writer, concerned with Jonathan Richardson, mentioned in a footnote of her book that it contained the most comprehensive modern biography of Richardson that she had read.[xii]  Carol Gibson Wood, writing on Richardson in the 1990s, noted that Snelgrove’s catalogue of drawings was still the most complete one to date.[xiii]

Having recently had the privilege of reading the dissertation[xiv], I am astonished by what the writer put together in such a short time and wonder why it was never published, as it was certainly original scholarship.  Snelgrove was immediately elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London and might have had a distinguished career as a writer and academic in bigger places, had he not had such a modest nature and such a strong connection to Saskatchewan.   I did notice that when Snelgrove was later reported to have given a lecture on 18th Century British art in Saskatchewan, he didn’t dwell on Richardson at all and his student days in London didn’t feature in any travelogue lectures either.

What is not mentioned in any of the descriptions of Snelgrove is his place in Canadian art history and that is what I am particularly interested in.  Who Gordon Snelgrove was, most definitely, is the first Canadian person to hold a PHD in art history and have an academic career in Canada.  He was more than likely the first Canadian to have a PHD in art history – period, but this is much harder to prove.  He was certainly the most academically qualified of all the chairs and heads of university art departments that started to come together in Canada in the late 1920s and through the 1930s and he was the only art historian in Western Canada for many years.[xv]  What he became was an untraditional university scholar, not known for his publications.  This makes him an anomaly amongst his published academic peers like Walter Abell, an American at Acadia University (1928-43) and John Alford (1934-1945), an Englishman at the University of Toronto.  However, scholars should not always be defined by what they publish in print, as individual contexts must be taken into consideration.  That is certainly true for Snelgrove’s career at the University of Saskatchewan.

That he taught art history at the University of Saskatchewan, the fourth university art department to open in Canada and the first one in the West is no secret in Canadian art historiography but his name and his connection to the University of Saskatchewan is pretty much all you get if you look for information about him in published sources on the history of Canadian art.

Snelgrove was highly interested in Canadian art and lectured on it often, even before his experience meeting artists from across Canada at Kingston.  He was usually the authoritative speaker for the many travelling Canadian art exhibits which came through the province in the 1930s and 1940s. He was also a fan of a number of Saskatchewan artists and worked actively to promote them, without insulting those whom he found less sympathetic to his taste.  However, he was in an almost impossible position as a potential analyst of the subject because he was located in Saskatchewan, a place without any publication outlets or public galleries and no money to support them. Furthermore, the circumstances of his employment worked against him having the time to actually do any writing.  Despite his title, he was essentially hired as an extension lecturer, which meant that he not only lectured in winter and spring and summer session every year from 1936 until 1949 in different places but he also had a heavy load of public service lectures.  His position was not normalized to standard professorial duty until 1949. Additionally, most Canadian writers on art were not isolated from Canadian collections and colleagues who would have supported them.

Snelgrove was deeply affected by the historic gathering of artists and academics at Kingston in 1941 and became an ardent proponent of community arts activism.  He joined the Saskatoon branch of the Federation of Canadian Artists and later the Canadian Arts Council, the forerunner of the organization which became the Canada Arts Council in 1957. He was particularly struck by his encounter with Toronto sculptor Frances Loring and became very interested in what was going on in Canadian sculpture.  In the early 1940s Snelgrove gave public lectures on Canadian war memorials.

His interest in Canadian sculpture grew over the years to the point where he began writing a book on it, recognizing the dearth of published reference sources available.  In 1949 he sent three chapters and an outline to the University of Toronto Press in the hope of interesting them in his project.[xvi]  What became of this initial query is unknown as no correspondence sent to him exists after this point.  In fact, little would be known about this book if a prescient Keith Bell had not rescued some of Snelgrove’s still-extant filing cabinet material from certain destruction when he was a new professor in art history at the University of Saskatchewan. He took a briefcase and folders full of loose papers into his basement while the art department was moving from the Old Hangar Building to its current location about 1980. The material stayed there for 34 years until someone needed it for a research project. Thank you, Keith.

It is clear from the existing remnants of this project in the filing cabinet papers that he sent out a lot of letters to Quebec in the spring of 1949, with the reference assistance of Quebec sculptor Louis Archambault, attempting to gather information on French Canadian sculpture which he wanted to include in chapters of his book.  Drafts for the sections he wrote on Walter Allward and Emmanuel Hahn exist in part, as do the copious notes and an outline he made for a chapter on historic French Canadian sculpture.

The remnants of this draft book give a very good idea of the work of these sculptors.  I was also very impressed by his book outlines – one is enclosed with the correspondence he had with George Brown of the U of T press and one was in with the book chapters he wrote. [xvii] They are not dated so it is difficult to tell which one is a revision of the other.  A particularly interesting approach was his decision to classify some of the sculpture by material so he would have had a chapter on totem poles of the west coast followed by a chapter on French Canadian wood carving.  A brief note to himself found in the draft suggests he was going to relate these two areas of wood carving on a social basis.[xviii]  He was also going to have a chapter on contemporary wood carving.  Just try to find a Canadian sculpture study that has ever done that.

According to a departmental report from 1951/52 he was still working on his Canadian sculpture project but what happened to it after that is a mystery. [xix] Did he run out of time owing to his increased teaching load after 1950 or was he discouraged by publishers or a lack of suitable visual images?  Over sixty years later, there is still no comprehensive textbook on the subject of Canadian sculpture so it is very disappointing to think that he didn’t have encouragement to finish this project.  It was and is a badly needed book.

Anyone who had a serious interest in the disciplines of art history or studio art during most of the period when Snelgrove taught at the U of S would have had to leave the province, as Snelgrove did, to be properly educated.  People who took art courses for credit at the University were mainly teachers attempting to develop some specialization. You couldn’t possibly major in art until the 1960s. In 1948 the College of Education, then under the leadership of Francis M. Quance, Snelgrove’s brother in law, initiated a formal specialization in Fine Arts and the art department revised its curriculum to include five art history courses and three studio courses.  For many years before this, there had been two art history courses on the books, each taught in alternate years in two locations.

The increase in credit studio courses was made possible by the hiring of an artist to replace Kenderdine in 1947, Nikola Bjelajac, an M.Sc. graduate in Fine Art from the University of Wisconsin.  Both he and Snelgrove taught in Regina and Saskatoon until the spring of 1949 when the University finally discontinued the mobile teaching unit by hiring separate staff at Regina College.  Hilda Stewart retired from teaching her non-credit courses in the spring of 1948 and it was time for a new generation to teach studio art in Saskatchewan.  In 1950 Snelgrove hired Eli Bornstein as a permanent replacement for Bjelejac and from that time on studio art and art history at the university began to take on a more academic character. [xx]

A combined Canadian and American art history course was included in the calendar offerings in 1948. Teaching such a course would have been quite a research project in itself, especially in terms of finding visual resources to use in the classroom.  Snelgrove may have been collecting imagery and source material for some time as he seems to have had a sabbatical from December 1943 to June 1944. Earlier in 1943, he was in New York in the summer taking a three week course in art history at Columbia University, presumably American art history. Prevented from travelling abroad by the war and its aftermath, Snelgrove did not return to Europe again until his six month sabbatical in 1954 so he may have travelled a lot in Canada during what down time he had in those years. He definitely collected slides of Canadian art in the 1940s. Was this course the earliest credit course in the history of Canadian art advertised in a calendar at a University? This is a bigger research project than I care to take on but I would wager that this course could be a rival for that status.

Although, his list of publications is not long, he did compile one published and another more informal art catalogue during his tenure. He did the initial cataloguing of the University’s art collection in the early 1950s and a more academic one of the Fred Mendel Collection in 1955. A shortened version of the catalogue from the collection accompanied 55-60 paintings that went on a national tour that year. Prior to those works, back in 1938, he had published an article related to his dissertation subject John Richardson in The Connoisseur entitled “An Unknown Drawing of the Bust of Charles I by Bernini”. He also published an article “Paul Kane’s Wanderings,” in Saskatchewan History in volume IV, No. 3, Autumn 1951.

Researchers of historical Saskatchewan art, like me, would be delighted to read a chronicle of local developments written by someone who could have applied an academic perspective to the early art of Saskatchewan from personal experience of it, but Gordon Snelgrove either did not have the time or did not want to alienate any people in the local communities he served.   He did however advocate for the Department of Art at the University and championed local artists and art education, through action and deed.  He adjudicated art exhibitions, took an active role in the Saskatoon Art Association, sent regular reports to Maritime Art, the predecessor of Canadian Art magazine on art activities in Saskatchewan in the early 1940s and provided notes for students writing on “Art in Saskatchewan” for a literary supplement of the University newspaper, The Sheaf, in March, 1942. As a long time head of the department, Snelgrove voiced his opinion on its relationship to the University several times in annual reports, noting that students produced fine creative work in the face of complete indifference on the part of the institution. [xxi]

As Eli Bornstein said, it was service that appears to have been his main contribution as an art historian to Saskatchewan.  This very reticent man spent his entire career informing others about the inspirational power of art in social and economic times which challenged peoples’ belief in the future. During the Depression and subsequent world war, he brought the wider world of beauty to second and third generation Saskatchewanians who may have never even seen anything resembling art in their small towns and villages. His enthusiastic talks, illustrated with slides, reproductions and original works must have opened up unimaginable worlds for many people. Saskatchewan was lucky to have him because it is unlikely that an art historian from somewhere else would have remained in the province long, especially given the unusual conditions of employment in those days.

When modern art seemed to blossom forth unaided in the 1950s and early 1960s from what was then perceived as the ‘cultural backwater’ of Saskatchewan, no one mentioned the important role that Snelgrove played as a proponent and interpreter of modern art in the province for 40 years in high schools and club rooms all over the province, at Emma Lake and in his university courses at Regina and Saskatoon. Saskatchewan may have lacked amenities like galleries, museums and dedicated professional art societies or schools but thousands of young artists and teachers in Saskatchewan were influenced by his lectures and activities.[xxii]

At the time that Snelgrove left the University in the late fall of 1965, ill with the cancer that killed him in February, 1966, the art department was a very different place from what it was when he started.  However,  the University still found it very hard to find a PHD art historian to replace him and indeed that had to wait until 1968 when Dr. Nicholas Gyenes, a European trained Renaissance scholar, was hired as the second faculty art historian at the University of Saskatchewan.

Perhaps Gordon Snelgrove will always remain an enigma.  He was driven enough to take himself out of Saskatchewan and study under often difficult circumstances to achieve his dreams, yet he seems to have adjusted his ambitions to suit the situation he eventually occupied.  Despite all the emphasis that is put on Kenderdine’s earlier presence at the University of Saskatchewan, there never would have been a Department of Art during his lifetime if Dr. Snelgrove, the necessary academic required to create one, had not returned to his home province and dug in to do what was needed.

The University could not have chosen a more fitting way to memorialize this pioneering art history professor than to name its teaching gallery after him.  It is so apt an honour for a man who often had the privilege of lecturing with actual works of art, rather than the easily available simulacra so many of us must resort to in the present era.

Copyright Lisa G. Henderson, January 2015


[i] Eli Bornstein, Typescript of “Eulogy delivered to the University of Saskatchewan Council, 1 Mar 1966.”

[ii] Ann K. Morrison, Beginnings: The Murray Point Summer School of Art 1936-1955,” p. 23-24 in ed. John O’Brian,  The Flat Side of the Landscape: The Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops, Saskatoon: Mendel Art Gallery, 1989, pp. 21-27.

[iii] Kingston Conference Proceedings reprinted by Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, 1991, p.73 (LB)

[iv] Jean Swanson, Sky Painter: The Story of Robert Newton Hurley, Saskatoon:Western Producer Book Service, 1973., p.78

[v] “Saskatchewan Artist gives address on Old Masterpieces,” Regina Leader Post, 3 Feb. 1934

[vi] I have found 3 pages of travel documents for Otis Taylor (b. Nebraska 1893) at Ancestry.com and his name pops up in Nebraska, New York and Palm Springs newspapers in the social columns, mainly reporting on his travels. When Snelgrove died, Dr. Otis Taylor was listed in the newspaper as an honorary pallbearer in absentia. See: “Funeral of Gordon Snelgrove,” Saskatoon Star Phoenix 14 Feb. 1966

[vii] “University Art Director gives European travelogue,” Regina Leader Post 10 Mar 1955 gives a short account of Taylor and Snelgrove’s meeting

[viii] Kemp to Frye, Correspondence, p. 391

[ix] Kemp to Frye, Correspondence, p. 343

[x] Kemp to Frye, Correspondence, p. 391

[xi] Letter Snelgrove to Murray, 15 Jan 1932, U of S Archives. Snelgrove had written to Dr. Walter Murray, the University of Saskatchewan’s president, asking him for his personal support towards his application for a Royal Society of Canada Travelling Fellowship ($1,500.00 )Supplied by the Carnegie Foundation) to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. Obviously, he wasn’t successful in his first try.

[xii] Leslie E. Moore, Beautiful Sublime: The Making of ‘Paradise Lost,’1701-1734, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, p.210.

[xiii] Carol Gibson-Wood, “Jonathan Richardson as a Draftsman,” Master Drawings, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Autumn 1994), p. 225 (LB)

[xiv] Louise Barak managed to obtain copies of both his Master’s thesis and his dissertation for the University of London which she electronically scanned for personal use and lent to me for reading.

[xv] The only other Canadian with a PHD in art history that I have been able to find from this era was Robert H. Hubbard who became Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery in 1947.  Hubbard, 18 years younger than Snelgrove, got his M.A. at the University of Wisconsin in 1940 and his PHD from there in 1942.  His credentials are outlined in a biographical profile in his fonds at Archives Canada. He specialized in French-Canadian painting and sculpture in his graduate studies, probably making him the first Canadian with a PHD in Canadian art history. He taught at McMaster and the University of Toronto in the 1940s before obtaining his position at the National Gallery. There were a number of prominent scholars of art history in Quebec in the 1930s but I do not think any of them had a PHD in art history. Eleanor Shepherd-Thompson, a Toronto born and educated scholar, who obtained a PHD in art and education in 1933 from Columbia University in N.Y., taught art history in the U.S. but she was never able to obtain a teaching position in Canada according to Lisa Panayotidis, “The Department of Fine Art at the University of Toronto, 1926-1945,” Journal of Canadian Art History Vol. XXV (2004), p. 110.

[xvi] Letter to Dr. George Brown, Editor, University of Toronto Press from Gordon W. Snelgrove, 17 Dec 1948 in 7.4S Snelgrove, Gordon W. Outside Activities/Organizations NGC fonds, National Gallery Archives, Box 326 File 11 (LB)

[xvii] LB labelled KB Donation Folder Folder 2-117 p.1&2

[xviii] Among all the pages of notes on French Canadian sculpture is a single piece of paper with the notation: “Similar to totems – part of everyday life, done in wood, suitable to purpose, much cost, today dead – culture died, carried on slightly in crafts” (LB labelled digital file KB Donation Folder 2-044)

[xix] University of Saskatchewan Archives, Presidential Papers Series IIIB-12/11-B  Annual Reports -Art Department, 1951/52

[xx] Having had to work with artists who were trained in the 19th Century since 1936, Snelgrove must have been delighted to have a say in this hiring. He chose a young North American who was adept in the language of modern sculpture and painting and academically ambitious.

[xxi]University of Saskatchewan Archives, Presidential Papers Series IIIB-12/11-B  Annual Reports -Art Department in a 1953/1954 Annual Report to the President

[xxii] While the brief history of the art department written in the newspaper to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of Saskatchewan “University Art began in 1927” Saskatoon Star-Phoenix 26 Sep 1959 was hardly an enconium to Snelgrove, it was the last time, that I can find, that anywhere near his due was given to his role at the University.

2 thoughts on “Who was Saskatchewan’s Gordon Snelgrove?

  1. Wayne Morgan

    If the brother of a guy who owned Snelgrove’s Bakery in Weyburn where I grew up could be an art historian then I could too. Snelgrove and W.O. Mitchell, who wrote ‘Who has Seen the Wind’ which I read at about the age of the ‘kid’ in it, made it possible for me to think beyond my limited horizons.

    I spent my life doing just that. Thanks for doing this work.


    1. lisa g. henderson Post author

      Thanks for your comments Wayne. I have been interested in Snelgrove for a long time and really enjoyed doing research on him in 2014 & 2015. I was lucky to have Louise Barak to collaborate with on this project. While this blog is not widely read, I am grateful that a small audience is developing. There is lots here and I hope more to come in the future. Lisa.



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