Tag Archives: Indigenous crafts

Indigenous visual culture in Saskatchewan prior to 1950

What I have been trying to address in my posts on early Saskatchewan art is what I and others term visual culture. Art with a capital A is viewed by many as a limiting description, which excludes many artistic practices. This is especially true when it comes to the practices of indigenous people, who themselves have been stereotyped by the term “Indian.” Without a separate category in their languages which is the equivalent of the English word “art,” it seems more appropriate to use the term visual culture to encompass myriad ritual and material artistic traditions practiced in the prairies by various First Nations groups.

The newspapers I looked at covered the early days of settler culture in Saskatchewan but they also contained a surprising amount of material that could be used for a history of First Nations visual culture in Saskatchewan.  Apart from some anthropological and archaeological studies, I am unaware of any art histories of Saskatchewan which go into any detail about the visual culture of indigenous people during this crucial period.  Crucial because the era represents a time when the traditional way of life was a living memory for many but the free performance of it was no longer allowed because of signed treaties, reserve confinement and the hegemony of settler culture.

Of course, the newspapers were written for and directed to a settler culture audience so what you find is what you get. Today, no one would think of writing a history of art in Saskatchewan without including the important contribution to it by living artists of indigenous heritage, many of whom make reference to past injustices and traditional motifs in their art.  In the period before 1950, no one thought of including indigenous artists in mainstream culture — they were separate and their visual culture belonged to the “past.”  It was framed that way for appreciation.

While there is an overriding sentiment in many pre-1950 newspaper articles that Euro-Canadian culture was superior to the indigenous ones, there was clearly an admiration for the visual culture of the plains people prior to the arrival of settlers.  One only has to look at the significant amount of imagery created by Euro-Canadians on the subject to see that.  That is the topic of another post in this blog, one I feel more qualified to speak to, being a descendant of the settler culture and having studied the image of the” Indian” in  settler culture for many years.

However, I am presenting a number of avenues for research in the newspapers that could be followed by students of indigenous art history with the list that follows. I find the prize lists of “Indian handicraft” winners in the annual summer fairs a particularly valuable way to study early 20th century indigenous art because they include names of individual practitioners.  Many of the displays mediated by settler culture tropes do not mention names of individual artists and while they are descriptive of the products of indigenous artists, they don’t specify many of the individual producers. Therefore, these prize lists in the Regina newspapers are a goldmine, even though they only use the fair categories created and judged by settler culture to describe the work.

The early fairs often displayed the farm products produced by people living on reserves or going to “Industrial Schools” and listed the names of winners. So at least as far back as 1890 you can find who grew the best potatoes or made the best aprons and where they lived.  More interesting are the handicraft displays which feature both European-style crafts and indigenous crafts made by First Nations people.  In the 1908 Morning Leader, for example, you can find that Pimotat won the prize for his fire bag at the File Hills fair and that Mrs. J.R. Thomas made the best beaded moccasins and Red Dog won the prize for silk embroidered moccasins.

As well there are frequently commentaries on the gatherings and activities of the groups of indigenous people who often camped at the summer fairs.  For the settlers, these encampments provided an “exhibition” of an old prairie life so different from their own.  Read the accounts of the Indian exhibits at the 1911 Dominion fair in Regina, both the prize list (scroll right to next page) and the account of the presence of the File Hills band on the premises and a rumination on its presence among the other art exhibits. Once you know when the fairs were held, you can look up the lists year after year in Regina or other ones if you can find them. Here are some lists and articles I retrieved:

Morning Leader: Jul 22, 1916, Jul 28, 1921, Jul 27, 1926, Leader Post Jul 30, 1930, Aug 2, 1930, Jul 27, 1937, Aug 2, 1940,

The Saskatoon Phoenix does not contain much reference to the presence of indigenous people at the fairs until the 1930s.  Jul 23, 1936, Jul 28, 1938 are examples.  Saskatoon’s fair had begun in the 19th Century but it was a much smaller scale affair until the 1920s and older settlements in the north like North Battleford and Prince Albert were more likely gathering places for indigenous people at fair time. However, I found this 1941 article which states that indigenous people had been a presence at the Saskatoon fair for 60 years.

Sometimes there are actual reviews of the “Indian exhibits” like in July 30, 1930 Regina Leader Post above. The 1933 World’s Grain Exhibition in Regina had a huge handicraft exhibit and attracted a lot of indigenous groups to the fair grounds.  Read accounts of the Indian village, the prize lists and editorials on the impression that the indigenous component added to this one and only world fair held in Saskatchewan. Aug 1, 1933 See this prize list and editorial page of the same issue, noted in my post on the 1933 World’s Grain Show.

Another particularly useful avenue for study is the miscellaneous accounts of artifacts being found or collected by individuals and institutions. The provenance of where many anonymous articles now in collections came from is a good thing to know.  See: Nov. 21, 1907 Morning Leader for an account of the finding of a large stone near File Hills which had a sun god’s face carved into it.  July 6, 1906 An Interesting Find at Balcarres of a stone pictograph and Aug 16, 1937 RLP another account of a stone idol.

The 1907 story may be related to the stone which was found in Archibald McDonald’s house in Fort Qu’appelle when a Regina reporter came to call in Jul 17,1913 Morning Leader.  Perhaps it was even the stone that Edmond Morris planned to use in the Treaty Memorial at Ft. Qu’Appelle. See my post on Western Art Association

Jan. 7, 1915 tells of the beginning of a collection of Indian artifacts at Saskatchewan’s Provincial Museum, Regina. May 19, 1917  annnouncement that the Smith & Vidal collections will be shown at Regina Fair. Sep 15, 1920 announcement of a donation to Museum.  Mar. 24, 1928 Mary B. Weekes collection (Mary Weekes was a member of the LCW Arts and Letters Committee who actively collected Indian crafts and also wrote about them, Mar 30, 1928)  Aug. 1, 1934 RLP Museum display of early artifacts.

Apr. 16 1934 RLP story in RLP about donations to Provincial Museum. 1935 story in Star Phoenix re: stone implements collected by the University of Saskatchewan shown at the fair. May 15, 1934 RLP story about a furnace used to make arrow heads uncovered by winds of the drought. Apr. 14, 1934 SSP relics uncovered by wind. Jan 6, 1944 SSP collector makes plea for artifact museum.

Then there are the accounts of settler clubs who believed they were encouraging the perpetuation and appreciation of indigenous crafts or helping people to earn money by making them more palatable for a larger audience.  See the posts on the Western Art Association, Saskatoon Arts & Crafts  Society and the  LCW Arts and Letters Committee of Regina who collected older examples of  beadwork for historical purposes.  While religious groups may deserve the bad rap they’ve been given in some contexts,  there is one account of a church woman who seemed to be honestly assisting the people in her district to earn money by perpetuating their traditional crafts.  SSP Dec. 7,1940Nov. 14, 1939 & Nov. 20 same year

There are interesting discussions of indigenous ceremonial activities in the following articles:

Morning Leader Magazine article on Feb 7, 1925 discussing feathers and beads. Lebret pageant 1925  Aug 17, Aug 18 and accompanying photos Aug 11, 13, 14.   Apr 5, 1924 (scroll to next page) account of sun dance. July 27, 1931 SSP revival of rain dance. Jul 26, 1939 and Jul 23, 1943 SSP White man made chief. Aug. 16, 1947 SSP Poundmakers tent returned. Feb 4, 1954 RLP recounts how Poundmaker was an early advocate for women’s rights.  Oct. 31, 1950 SSP Battleford Indians honour chieftain

I also captured some articles on historical events during the early period and opinion pieces which provide a context and suggest ideas about indigenous people in this time.  There will be more on this in my future post on the image of the Indian in Saskatchewan.

Jul 11, 1936 RLP, Piapot Reserve treaty days celebration

May 15, 1926 RLP Indians Progress. Oct. 8, 1928 SSP Indian Day school photos. July 13, 1934 RLP Indians as teachers. Apr. 25, 1935 SSP John Smith Jr. asks for ancient hunting rights

Dec. 24, 1938 SSP Tuberculosis waning. Sep 12, 1934 SSP, Dreaver leads protest Aug. 4, 1938 SSP  Death of Dreaver. Aug. 12, 1938 RLP Indian housing

Dec. 15, 1939 SSP Indian opera singer. Feb. 7, 1940 SSP Plight of Indians in Yorkton, Aug. 12, 1938 SSP History of Metis

Jan. 9, 1946 The Place of the Indian editorial in RLP.  Sept. 4, 1948 SSP Dundurn Indians immigrants.

Feb. 17, 1951 SSP Historic Massacre of Indians. Jan 15, 1919 Alex Brass wins WWI medal.  Oct 5, 1945 RLP Cree woman in CWAC.

Nov 1, 1965 SSP – Profile of Prince Albert Residential School.

Grey Owl, an Englishman inhabiting an ” Indian” identity, got more press than anyone else.  Aug 3, 1937 SSP reports on Grey Owl advocating for Indian rights and assessing the state of indigenous art. He was the subject of quite a number of articles when he died. See Apr 13, 1938 SSP and daily April issues following for discussions of Grey Owl’s identity.  Another posthumous discussion of Grey Owl can be found in Nov 27, 1939 SSP.

And there are many historical accounts of encounters between ethnic groups written from the perspective of Euro-Canadian witnesses and writers. The Riel Rebellion is the most common event of this kind appearing in many reminiscence type articles. If anyone is interested, you can contact me for a list of articles I’ve collected.

Most of the websites you can find on Saskatchewan indigenous art deal with contemporary artists.  Undoubtedly, there were indigenous artists using contemporary European art materials and styles prior to 1950 but they seem to be obscure in the newspapers. The first one I came across was Allen Sapp whose career really belongs to the post 1950 period. See the three websites below for more information on contemporary Saskatchewan indigenous artists.

Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre 

Aboriginal artists in Saskatchewan at Artists in Canada website

Contemporary Aboriginal Artists at Encylopedia of Saskatchewan

For images of historical cultural objects relating to indigenous people at a variety of archival collections in Saskatchewan see – Our Legacy  sponsored by the Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists. Otherwise, the sources for historical Saskatchewan indigenous culture can be found in books on Canadian indigenous art.  One of the best discussions I found of this particular period on the plains is in “Tenuous Lines of Descent: Indian Art and Craft of the Reservation Period” by Gerald McMaster, an essay in In the Shadow of the Sun: Perspectives on Contemporary Native Art, Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canadian Ethnology Service, Mercury series Paper 124, 1993. He brings forward the role that the Canadian Handicrafts Guild and the Local Council of Women in Regina played in the popularization of souvenir crafts.

 

©Lisa G. Henderson

Art at the 1933 World’s Grain Conference and Exhibition in Regina

As far as I know, the World’s Grain Conference and Exhibition was a one off event, never to be held in any country before or since.  The idea for the conference originated in 1927 as a way to celebrate the triumph of Saskatchewan as a major grain growing centre and also to celebrate the 50th anniversary of agriculture in Regina. Originally, it was planned to take place in 1932 but in 1931 it was postponed until the summer of 1933.  The drought and the depression, not envisioned in 1927, were the main culprits.

1931 Cartoon for 1932 Grain show

The World’s Grain Conference and Exhibition was co-sponsored by the City of Regina, the province of Saskatchewan and the federal government of Canada. It took place between July 24 and August 4, 1933 in Regina, combining an academic conference and industrial exhibition with the annual summer fair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cartoon was produced when the fair was still scheduled to happen in 1932. There is an editorial in the Regina Leader Post as late as Sep 28, 1931 (scroll up and right) which states that the Grain Show’s future was then still up in the air, even though it had been planned for years and much organizing and spending had taken place. A decision to postpone it until 1933 was made in October.

Some general online sources for information on the exhibition are :

Brief History of Regina brochure online at: https://www.regina.ca/opencms/export/sites/regina.ca/residents/residents-regina-facts/.media/pdf/brief_history_brochure.pdf

Encyclopaedia of Saskatchewan has an entry http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/dogs_world.html

Photographically Illustrated 1933 souvenir booklet at Peel’s Prairie Provinces http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/5745.html

I have also found a couple of blog posts which mention specific aspects of the World’s Grain Conference and Exhibition –

https://maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com/tag/saskatchewan-world-grain-exhibition/

http://postalhistorycorner.blogspot.com/2011/10/1933-worlds-grain-exhibition-congress.html

The main source for information in Regina’s Leader Post is the special Grain Show supplement of June 30, 1933 in which you can find a number of illustrations of and stories about the exhibition.

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My focus in this blog is on the art shown at the World’s Grain Show but I also want to highlight the Grain Show building, illustrated in this full page introduction to the supplement.

Said to be the largest exhibition building of its kind in the world in 1933, the structure was the focus of the displays and was also decorated with interior murals.  It was a rare example of Art Deco architecture in Regina, a city which didn’t build much of anything during the ten year Depression. Because of its size, photographs of it are rare and I haven’t yet seen any photos reproduced in the newspaper of the interior space.

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This illustration above, possibly a photograph, gives a better idea of the scale of the building and its Deco elements. A ceremonial entrance to the World Grain Show was also constructed using an echoing design. On Aug. 24, 1931, about the time that the date of the exhibition was in question, it was announced that the building was completed. Construction had begun in February, owing to the mildness of the weather that year, and the building was completely closed in by May. Many of the construction workers were on a relief work program.

Designed by Storey and Van Egmond, a Regina architectural firm, it was the horizontal equivalent in square feet of a New York Deco skyscraper and was framed using steel, although the exterior was clad with wood and stucco, like other one storey buildings.  Its dimensions and cost are mentioned in the Aug. 24 cutline and here below in this first illustration of its design, which appeared in the Leader-Post early in 1931.

1931 Architect drawing of World Grain bldg

1933 WG ceremonial entrance fair

 

Fortunately, a floor plan published in the newspaper in the special supplement gives some idea of the commodious nature of the interior and what was housed there during the 1933 show. Occasionally, a photo of decorative items on the inside of the building was reproduced in the newspaper.

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The Grain Show building was serving as a storage space for the city and various other businesses and housing a curling rink when a gigantic fire occurred in January, 1955, destroying two thirds of the building. Jan. 28, 1955 issue of the Leader Post shows some spectacular photos of the destruction. It was never rebuilt, as the insurance on the building was inadequate and the cost to re-create such a building in the 1950s was prohibitive, estimated to be over $7 million dollars at that point.

The right hand (eastern wing) section of the building in the above illustration remained in use until 2008 when a fire destroyed it, too.  I remember the eastern section, then known as the Caledonian Curling Club in the winter months. You can read more about the 2008 fire online at: http://www.canada.com/story_print.html?id=c9b109f8-126f-4216-bc7c-087bf02ee945&sponsor=  It includes this photo below which shows the scale and colouring of the east wing facade.

sk-fire-regina081029

I hope somewhere there is a photographic collection of interior shots of this building because it contained murals which must have been destroyed if they were in the building in 1955. Both Augustus Kenderdine, then of Saskatoon, and Fritz Brandtner, then in Winnipeg, were known to have painted murals for the building in 1933, some of which may have survived as I have seen a Brandtner mural in an art exhibition and indications are that the Saskatchewan archives may also have a Kenderdine mural.

One of Kenderdine’s murals was recorded in a photograph reproduced in the Star Phoenix

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And Brandtner’s murals were mentioned in a discussion of the Saskatchewan exhibit in the Grain Show building. Jul 5, Jul 13 & Jul 20, 1933 Leader.  The latter articles suggest that Brandtner’s murals formed a backdrop to a diorama display. A specific discussion of Brandtner’s contribution appears on Jul 24, 1933

1933 WGG show diorama

This rather badly reproduced photo of part of the Saskatchewan display may contain a Brandtner mural in the background of the diorama.

Apart from the murals, there were other artistic displays sponsored by the federal government in the Canadian section, like these inlaid grain seed pictures supervised by J.O. Turcotte, the Dominion of Canada’s exhibition supervisor. See an article on the response to these, Jul 28, 1933 LP. Judging from the description, it seems that some of the seed pictures may have been mounted on the ceiling of the Grain Show Building.

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1933 Photo of grain decorationThese decorative grain murals were probably sent back to Ottawa after the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Gallery Show

A major travelling art exhibition was displayed in the Grain Show Building, a very large collection of 150 Canadian paintings from the National Gallery. I believe this display was the most extensive collection of Canadian art to ever be shown in Saskatchewan at one time and received a lot of press coverage: Jul 20, Jul 21, Jul 22, Jul 24, Jul 25,  Jul 26, Jul 26b, Jul 28Jul 31, 1933 editorial  and Jul 22 & Aug 2 Star-Phoenix, Aug 4, 1933 Leader.  Part of the show travelled to the Saskatoon summer fair after being shown in Regina. Norman Mackenzie, the tall man seen to the left of Lord Bessborough below, arranged to have the show assembled for the Grain Exhibition.

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Little is mentioned about any local art exhibitions or competitions at the fair except for J.H. Lee-Grayson’s display at the tea room on the Exhibition Grounds. Jul 28, 1933 LP.  The amateur art competition may have been foregone in favor of the massive handicraft exhibition (see below). However, there was a prize competition for local amateur photography Jul 28 and the usual prizes for amateur household industries and crafts.  A show of paintings by Alberta’s Roland Gissing was on display in downtown Regina at Clay’s Art Studio during the fair. Jul 29, 1933

The Handicraft Exhibitions

Apart from the special travelling show of National Gallery paintings, there was a very special display of handicrafts held at the World’s Grain Show.  Much of the Saskatchewan handicraft show was co-ordinated by the Women’s Art Association of Saskatchewan, although special craft displays were arranged by the Saskatoon Arts and Crafts Society and the Saskatchewan Homemakers’ Clubs.

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The W.A.A.’s organizing started early. On Apr.29, 1933 an announcement appeared about what the WAA was interested in obtaining for the exhibition.  On May 5 in SP & May 12, 1933  in Leader Post a request for submissions went out and May 31, 1933 an update on progress appeared.  On Jun 22, 1933  a set of rules for submissions was published and other updates on progress were published Jun 23 and on Jun 27, 1933 Star-Phoenix.  More updates published before the actual exhibition were on Jul 7 LP and Jul 11, 1933 SP. I reproduce here an announcement about the nature of the handicraft exhibit from the Jul 7, 1933 edition of the Regina Daily Post.

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1933 Ancient spinning art photo

 

The Leader ran an editorial on the Handicraft section of the fair on Jul. 27, 1933 and selected articles about the handicraft exhibition are; Jul 24,  Jul 26,  Jul. 27, (There are several articles on craft and china on this page and the next) Jul 28, Jul 29, 1933  SP (The latter is an article that appeared in both Regina and Saskatoon on Alberta wood sculptor, W. H. Hodgson), Aug. 1, Aug.1b, Aug.8, 1933 LP

China displays Jul 24, 1933, LP, Jul 28 & 29, 1933 in the Star Phoenix.

Homemakers’ Clubs – Aug.1, 1933 SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Indian Exhibits 

While the indigenous people also showed handicrafts at the World’s Grain Show, their contribution was, as usual, labelled and displayed separately from the settler craft shows.  Their very presence at the Show was an exhibition in itself, as this article (jul 26, 1933) and these editorials from the Leader demonstrate: Jul 22, 1923 & Aug 1, 1933 (please note another opinion piece to the right of this one on the page written by someone with initials M.B.C.). In the planning stages for the exhibition organizers thought that a recreation of the Battle of Batoche using tribal visitors to the fair might be a good attraction.  I’m assuming that someone with a sense of decorum put the kibosh on that silly idea, as this did not transpire. Mar 8, 1933.

Descriptions and prize lists for the craft exhibits can be found in the Leader Post on  Jul 26, 1933, Jul 28, 1933,  Aug 1, 1933,

The City and the Legislature

Although the exhibition was held at the Exhibition Grounds in Regina, the grain conference itself was held in various buildings in downtown Regina and the civic government and citizens went all out in sprucing up the city, anticipating many thousands of visitors coming to Regina. May 2, 1933 & Jun 17, 1933. The extent of civic decoration is described in a Jul 20, 1933 article.

A tent city was set up for visitors to the fair who could not be accommodated in hotels or billets. See these articles from Aug. 1Aug 1, 1933 which gives a real sense of what staying in the tent city was like.

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The Legislature then had a Minister of Public Works who was very interested in art, J.F. Bryant, and he arranged for the legislative art collection to be properly displayed and catalogued to welcome visitors to Saskatchewan.  He also commissioned a new mural for the building, which was in place just before the commencement of the World’s Grain Show. Aug.1, 1933 Leader.

There are lots of aspects of this fair covered in the Regina and Saskatoon newspapers and because reporters were there from many outside newspapers, I assume articles about the World’s Grain Conference and Exhibition can be found in other Canadian and American newspapers from July 24 – Aug. 4, 1933. But from my brief perusal of the Vancouver Sun, Ottawa Citizen and Calgary Herald,  the best news coverage can be found in Saskatchewan.

I am closing this out with a photo I found online of a commemorative plate you could buy at the 1933 fair.  I wish I had one.

1933 decorative plate

 

©Lisa G. Henderson