The Group of Seven and me: A few degrees of separation

By Ellen Bond

The bus trip from Barrie to Kleinburg, Ontario, in 1972 did not take long. We arrived at the McMichael Gallery, home to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, on a sunny spring day. I remember a wide, open space with long pathways from the parking lot that were lined with small trees leading to a cool-looking wooden building with massive stone pillars.

At that time in my life, my family would spend parts of our summers on Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) at Wymbolwood Beach and on the north shore of Lake Superior in Terrace Bay. Walking into the McMichael Gallery was like looking through the lens of my summer: paintings of the places that provided me with so much joy and happiness. I was instantly drawn to the colours, lines, thick brush strokes, and how the paintings captured the rocks, the windswept trees and the majestic landscape.

A watercolour painting of people in a red canoe with colourful trees and windswept trees in the background.

The Red Canoe, painted by J.E.H. MacDonald, 1915 (e003894355)

One hundred years ago, on May 7, 1920, the Group of Seven mounted their first formal exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now known as the Art Gallery of Ontario). It was the first time that the public had the chance to see over 120 of their paintings in a single location. At that first exhibition, according to the McMichael website, only six paintings sold. One of those paintings today would be worth much more than the total amount originally paid for all six.

In 1920, the Group of Seven consisted of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley. Johnston left the group in 1920 and moved to Winnipeg, and in 1926, A.J. Casson was invited to join. Two other members, Edwin Holgate and L.L. FitzGerald, joined in 1930 and 1932 respectively. Although Tom Thompson is sometimes mistakenly considered a founding member, he died tragically in 1917 before the group was even formed.

A black-and-white photo of a group of men in suits seated around a table during a meal.

Group at the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto. Pictured: Bertram Booker, A.Y. Jackson, Merrill Denison, J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris, Frederick B. Housser and an unidentified man. (PA-196166)

The Group of Seven are famous across Canada. In schools, libraries and art schools, their paintings are used as examples, and students are often taught to paint landscapes in their style. I remember my niece Emma painting a group-like painting at school. It hung on the wall of her house by the stairs and looked very professional. The Group of Seven are easily “googled,” and you can find some of their paintings regularly displayed, or even for sale, from coast to coast in Canada. Recently, while visiting the Thompson Landry Gallery in the Distillery District in Toronto, I actually saw a Group of Seven painting for sale. It was my first time, and I stood and stared at it, wishing I had an extra $133,000 to buy it right then and there. I was in awe!

According to the theory of six degrees of separation, any person can be connected to any other person through six or fewer social connections. Two of my friends have close connections (two or fewer) to Group of Seven members Arthur Lismer and A.Y. Jackson.

I first met Ronna Mogelon through a friend and was amazed at her cake-decorating skills. When I found out she lived in the historic log cabin that I admired every time I drove by, I was even more excited to know her. Then I found out about her connection to Lismer. Here is her story:

My mum and dad were very artsy and involved in the art community in Montréal in the ’60s. They hosted art shows in their home, before artists could find galleries to represent them. My mother, Lila, was from Saint John, New Brunswick, and was very close with painter Fred Ross, who was her teacher at art school. (Several of his works are hanging in the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario.) Before he had a regular gallery, he showed his artwork at our house.

As well, my father, Alex, wrote the monthly art column in The Montrealer, a magazine from the ’60s and ’70s. Mum usually interviewed the artists, and Dad wrote the story from her reel-to-reel recordings. A real tag team! So our family was very involved with the arts.

Anyhow, my parents wanted us to have a good background in art, and so they sent us to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday mornings to take art classes with Arthur Lismer. Most kids went to nursery school. We went to Arthur Lismer school.

A black-and-white photo of a man standing with his left hand on his hip and a pipe in his hand.

Portrait of Arthur Lismer, photographed in Quebec by Basil Zarov in 1953 (e011000857)

Because I was so young, my recollections are rather scattered. I remember how tall he was, but then again, being only six years old, I was pretty short at the time. I seem to recall he smoked a pipe. I remember how I felt like a real artist because we got to stand at an easel and paint. My older sister, Marcia, who took the class a few years previous to me, remembers the big art show at the end of the year, where all the artists’ paintings were on display and she got to dress up in her best outfit. My cousin Richard remembers the licorice pipes that we got at the end of the class on our way home.

I’m not sure if his classes had an effect on me, but I suppose they might have. Years later, I chose art as my field of endeavour and graduated from Concordia University, Montréal, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Maybe some of his teaching rubbed off after all!

As I mentioned earlier, I have spent many of my summers partially on Lake Superior. My parents were both born and raised in the northwestern Ontario area, I was born in Terrace Bay, and for me it seems like home. One of my sister’s friends, Johanna Rowe, was born and raised in Wawa, Ontario. We have visited and even stayed at Johanna’s camp on the mouth of the Michipicoten River where it meets Lake Superior. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. White sand beaches, incredible rocks to hop on, a huge sand spit—at the mouth of the river—that sometimes disappears after a storm, giant driftwood logs from unknown forests …  truly spectacular!

A black-and-white photo of a man in a military uniform.

A.Y. Jackson, 1915, in his First World War uniform. (e002712910) Take a look at Jackson’s military record (PDF).

Johanna, a local Wawa historian and member of the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, has a special relationship with this area where A.Y. Jackson chose to create his art. Here is her story:

I grew up listening to my grandmother’s stories about how a member of the Group of Seven had a cottage in Wawa and regularly took trips with local boat owners to explore and paint along the Superior shoreline.

During a special Glenn Gould and Group of Seven training event in 2015, I was introduced to Ken Ross, son of Harry and Jennie Ross, friends of A.Y. Jackson who co-purchased a cottage together on Sandy Beach in 1955.

Between 1955 and 1966, Jackson ventured by foot and by boat from his tiny Sandy Beach cabin. Accompanied by friends and fellow explorers, he created hundreds of sketches and paintings depicting the Lake Superior landscape from Batchawana Bay to Pukaskwa. Many of Jackson’s Wawa sketches were painted in the vicinity of Sandy Beach.

At the end of Jackson’s Wawa paint trips, he and the Ross family would invite friends and neighbours to a social and bonfire on the beach. Jackson would have all his sketches on display leaning against large pieces of driftwood or tacked to the logs on the outside of his cabin. Folks could purchase one of his creations for $30 to $50, or commission Jackson to make a larger version over the winter back in his studio for $300-plus. Apparently, those he did not sell would sometimes end up as fuel in the bonfire. Jackson was also very generous with his sketches and often gifted them to locals who provided transportation out on Superior, invited him to their homes for dinner, or simply let him sit and paint the view in front of their property.

During my research, I discovered there is no complete inventory of his creations. These sketches are now turning up at fine-art auctions across the continent. In the past five years, there have been at least 30 paintings pop out of the woodwork which we know Jackson painted in the Wawa area. He often wrote Wawa or Michipicoten on the back of the painting. And for those of us who have a first-hand knowledge of the landscape, the roll of the hills, the dent in the shoreline, we are able to pick out the exact spot where Jackson sat and painted. It is the ultimate Canadian scavenger hunt … discovering the site where a member of the Group of Seven was inspired to sit and let the creative spirit flow through their paintbrush to a blank canvas. Still gives me a tingle up my spine each time. …

A black-and-white photo of a man rowing a wooden boat.

A.Y. Jackson in a boat, 1959 (e011177131)

The times I have spent on Georgian Bay and Lake Superior have burned memories in my mind so bright, I can still feel the wind of the Great Lakes blowing in my hair, the waves crashing and pounding in my ears, and the brilliant blue of the water dancing in my eyes. I am thankful for my experiences there, and also thankful that Canada’s most well-known artists were able to capture those feelings in their paintings. I look forward to connecting again on my next trip.

For more images, visit the Flickr album!


Ellen Bond is a Project Assistant in the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes, a lineage of official portraitists!

By Geneviève Couture

The careers of painters John Colin Forbes (1846–1925) and his son Kenneth Keith Forbes (1892–1980) clearly illustrate how particular prime ministers were their muses and patrons. Between them, the two portraitists painted seven Canadian prime ministers, two governors general, five chief justices of the Supreme Court, 11 speakers of the House of Commons and 14 speakers of the Senate. These artists also painted a king and queen of England on behalf of the Canadian government. Over a period of more than 90 years, the Forbeses helped to build an artistic and visual heritage depicting the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Canadian government.

John Colin Forbes

John Colin Forbes was born in Toronto in 1846. In the 1860s, he studied painting in Paris and London before returning to Canada. He was a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1872) and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1880).

Forbes was quickly recognized as a portraitist and received numerous commissions. He painted Lord Dufferin and the Marquess of Lansdowne, both governors general of Canada. Between 1878 and 1893, he created portraits of Sir John A. Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie, Sir Charles Tupper and Wilfrid Laurier. None of these were official portraits, but Tupper’s is in the Parliament of Canada, while Macdonald’s and one of Laurier’s are in the National Gallery of Canada. Forbes was also commissioned to produce four official portraits of speakers of the House of Commons and six official portraits of speakers of the Senate.

The artist had a special relationship with Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who called Forbes a “friend.” He painted Laurier for the first time in 1885, based on a photo taken around 1882 by William Topley’s studio in Ottawa.

Black-and-white photo of a seated man in a suit.

Wilfrid Laurier, MP. Topley Studio, 1882. (a013133-v8)

The second painting of Laurier by Forbes was presented to the Prime Minister by his friends and Liberal Party supporters on May 15, 1902. In his speech to the House of Commons, Laurier stated, “It is with a very sincere heart indeed that both in my own name and in the name of my wife, I accept from the unknown friends […] this memento which is the work of a great Canadian artist.”

Lamenting that Forbes was at the time practicing his art in the United States, Laurier added:

Unfortunately Canada, which is still a young country, has not afforded to artists all the help it might have given in the past. I trust that in the future Canadian artists and talents will receive more encouragement from the Canadian people that they received hitherto. For my part, it is with some regret, I acknowledge that perhaps the Government might have done more than it has for the encouragement of native, artistic talent.

Finally, regretting not having children to whom he could bequeath the painting, Laurier made this wish: “Someday I hope it will be in a national museum, not with a view of remembering me to posterity, but for the glory of Mr. Forbes, the artist who painted it.” A few years later, in 1906, Laurier himself gave the painting to the National Gallery of Canada.

A royal commission

His special relationship with Prime Minister Laurier earned Forbes his most prestigious commission: a painting of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. He was the first Canadian painter to have a sitting with a British monarch, and official portraits of Edward VII would adorn the House of Commons.

The correspondence between Forbes and Laurier on this matter, which is part of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier fonds at Library and Archives Canada, indicates that Forbes had requested the commission from Laurier, with whom he had previously discussed it.

Black-and-white photo of a typed page.

Letter from John Colin Forbes to Wilfrid Laurier dated April 14, 1904, requesting the commission to paint the King and Queen on behalf of the Canadian government. (Wilfrid Laurier fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 312, page 84516, microfilm C-810)

Laurier agreed after he received a petition in support that was signed by 92 of the 214 members of Parliament.

A black-and-white image of a scanned page from microfilm.

The first of three pages of the petition, from members of the House of Commons to Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, to commission painter John Colin Forbes to paint a portrait of the King for the House of Commons. (Wilfrid Laurier fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 312, page 84518, microfilm C-810)

Laurier forwarded the request to the Governor General, Lord Minto, who helped arrange access to the royals for Forbes.

A black-and-white image of a scanned page from microfilm.

Letter from Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier to Governor General Lord Minto, recommending that John Colin Forbes be commissioned to do the painting, and that steps be taken to that effect with the King. (Wilfrid Laurier Fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 326, page 87632, microfilm C-813)

The sitting was granted, and Forbes travelled to England to paint the portraits. Unfortunately, the paintings were destroyed in the Parliament fire in 1916, less than 12 years after their creation. Forbes’s four official portraits of the speakers of the House of Commons and six official portraits of the speakers of the Senate survived the fire.

Black-and-white photo of a burning building.

The eastern part of Centre Block in flames, Ottawa, 1916. (a052822-v8)

Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier: inspiring portraits

Two portraits of prime ministers painted by Forbes inspired their successors. In a Winnipeg Free Press article published on March 20, 1965, journalist Peter C. Newman reported that, depending on their political allegiance, new prime ministers had either Sir John A. Macdonald’s or Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s portrait installed in their East Block office in Ottawa. This practice changed under Lester B. Pearson, when the Prime Minister asked for both paintings in his office.

Photographs taken by Duncan Cameron (recently discussed in a blog post about news photographers and prime ministers) confirm that John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau had paintings by Forbes in their offices. Paul Martin’s office was decorated with the first painting of Laurier by Forbes from 1885.

Black-and-white photo of a man taking a photograph of a photographer who is photographing him.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau taking a photograph with news journalist Duncan Cameron’s camera, June 28, 1968. Photo: Duncan Cameron (a175919)

Kenneth Keith Forbes

The son of John Colin Forbes, Kenneth Keith Forbes, also became a famous portraitist. Born in Toronto in 1892, he began drawing at the age of four under his father’s tutelage. Between 1908 and 1913, he studied art in England and Scotland. When the First World War started in 1914, the younger Forbes joined the British army as an ordinary soldier. He fought in France, where he was injured and gassed. Forbes was promoted to captain, and in 1918 he was transferred to the Canadian Army (specifically, the Canadian War Records Office) as a war artist. He painted scenes of battles as well as portraits of Canadian officers, including Brigadier General D. Draper.

Library and Archives Canada holds the recently digitized military file of Kenneth Keith Forbes.

Oil painting by Kenneth Keith Forbes from 1918. The scene shows the defence of Sanctuary Wood by the Canadian military near Ypres, Belgium, in 1916.

The Defence of Sanctuary Wood (1916), by Kenneth Keith Forbes, 1918. (e010751163-v8)

Official portraitist

A few years later, Forbes returned to Toronto; continuing in the family tradition, he focused mainly on portraits.

Among other things, he painted the official portraits of seven speakers of the House of Commons, eight speakers of the Senate and five chief justices of the Supreme Court.

Forbes also painted the portraits of prime ministers Robert Borden, R.B. Bennett and John Diefenbaker. The first portrait of R.B. Bennett painted in 1938 by Forbes was offered to the Prime Minister by members of Parliament, senators and Conservative Party members upon his retirement from politics. It is now in the New Brunswick Museum, where Bennett bequeathed it.

Forbes then painted the official portrait of Sir Robert Borden for the House of Commons. The painting was commissioned by the Speaker of the House, Gaspard Fauteux, whose portrait Forbes had painted the previous year. The aim was to complete the collection of official portraits representing Canada’s prime ministers in the House of Commons. This painting was unveiled in Parliament on June 11, 1947, 10 years after Borden’s death, along with a portrait of William Lyon Mackenzie King, with President Harry Truman of the United States in attendance.

In his diary, Mackenzie King explains why he suggested that his portrait and that of Borden, both prime ministers in the major wars, be unveiled at the same ceremony.

A black-and-white image of a typewritten page of William Lyon Mackenzie King’s diary dated May 19, 1947.

Excerpt from the May 19, 1947, entry in William Lyon Mackenzie King’s diary, explaining how he came to suggest that his portrait and that of Borden, both prime ministers in the major wars, be unveiled at the same ceremony. (William Lyon Mackenzie King fonds, MG26 J 13, May 19, 1947)

A decade later, Forbes painted two portraits of John Diefenbaker. The first was given to Diefenbaker by members of his Cabinet and hung in the prime minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive, and later in Stornoway, the official residence of the leader of the opposition. The second portrait of Diefenbaker was commissioned by freemasons from Washington and is now in Arlington, Virginia.

In 1962, Forbes painted the official portrait of R.B. Bennett for the House of Commons. The commission came close to 25 years after his earlier painting, and 15 years after Bennett’s death. It was requested by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Roland Michener. Once again, the aim was to fill in gaps in the collection of official portraits of Canada’s prime ministers in the House of Commons.

Conclusion

The careers of portraitists John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes reveal the sometimes unsuspected links between the arts and politics. The father and son clearly benefited from their good relationships with parliamentarians, particularly prime ministers, receiving many highly prestigious commissions.

Prime ministers also benefited from the work of artists like the Forbeses, whose paintings helped to commemorate and glorify the men who held the country’s highest political positions and inspired their successors. As we have seen, political affiliation was not at issue in requests to the father-and-son artists to contribute to this commemorative undertaking by painting portraits of prime ministers in office and their predecessors. The Forbes portraitists helped to establish the role of prime ministers in the country’s political memory.

Moreover, the talent for painting portraits did not end with John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes. The latter married Jean Mary Edgell, who was also a painter, and their daughter, Laura June McCormack (1921–1961), painted some portraits now in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, notably one of Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine.

For additional information about portraits of prime ministers, read Andrew Kear’s thesis, Governing Likenesses: The Production History of the Official Portraits of Canadian Prime Ministers, 1889–2002.


Geneviève Couture is an archivist with the Prime Minister Papers project in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Fashion Plates now on Flickr 

A black-and-white drawing of a woman wearing a gown with a plain skirt edged with five rows of velvet along the hem and a pleated bodice draped like an apron over the front. She is wearing a hat with feathers and carrying an umbrella.

The Charneville Toilette from “Le Moniteur de la Mode” (C-115935k)

Fashion plates, or prints of popular clothing trends, have been available for a long time. However, they really became popular in the 19th century due to advances in printing, increased literacy, and the rise in magazine. Fashion magazines for both women and men discussed etiquette, literature, and new style trends. An ever-growing list of magazines produced their own plates or borrowed from other magazines. Some even included sewing patterns. The plates in this album were taken from magazines published in England (The Lady’s Cabinet), France (Le Bon Ton : Journal des Modes, Journal des Dames et des Modes, Le Moniteur de la Mode, and Le Follet : Courrier des Salons), and the United States (The Season, and Peterson’s Magazine).

A colour plate of a woman in a pink dinner dress with a pleated off-the-shoulder bodice and ruffles along the hem. She is wearing a pearl hair net, and holding a fan in her gloved hand.

“Dinner Dress” from “Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance” (e010863096)

The plates are works of art in their own right. They represent changes in art throughout the century from romanticism to art deco. Producing plates for magazines often involved an artist to draw the image and an engraver to print the plate. Popular magazines were able to hire some of the best illustrators of the day. Some prints were black and white, while the more high quality examples were hand coloured after printing. Printing changed too with the colours becoming more vibrant and the lines more crisp as the technology improved.

A colour plate of a seated women wearing a long cream skirt and a green shirt patterned with cream ovals. The shirt is belted with a red scarf. She is also wearing green high heel shoes, a long pearl necklace, and rings on her fingers.

“Robe d’intérieur” [Indoor dress] from “Journal des Dames et des Modes” (C-115396k)

Many plates were separated from their magazines and are now sold separately to art collectors or other interested buyers. This is probably how they ended up in our collection. Most were found in individual art collections, or in a costume designer’s collection.

A colour plate of two women standing in a living room. One is wearing a blue dress with ruffles at the sleeves and hem. The other is wearing a striped black and grey dress with a long bustle and ruffles at the hem.

Illustrirte Frauen-Zeitung [Women’s fashion illustration] (C-115400k)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

Images of Icebergs now on Flickr 

National Film Board photographers setting up by an iceberg (e011175885)

Icebergs are large pieces of ice that break off glaciers and float into the surrounding ocean. They can be pure white or streaked with blue and brown. Blue streaks come from melt water freezing in the cracks of the original glaciers. Brown streaks come from dust landing on the ice or erosion from the original glacier scraping the ground.

Iceberg in Hudson Strait (a045191)

The shape and size of icebergs depends on their breakage and melt patterns, as well as waves, temperature, and the ice pack around them. Common shapes include tabular, blocky, wedge, pinnacle, domed, and drydock.

An album page with five black-and-white close up shots of different types of icebergs and a shot of the ocean at sunset. The captions read, left to right, “Sunset, Baffin Bay” and “Taken at sea – Off Scott Inlet, Baffin Island.”

Views of icebergs taken at sea, off Scott Inlet, Baffin Island (e010863534)

Tabular, or flat pieces of shelf ice that break off to form ice islands, are stable enough to use as mobile research platforms, while the more irregular shapes can break apart without warning. According to the Iceberg Finder, the largest iceberg ever recorded in the Arctic was recorded in 1882 near Baffin Island

Six small sketches of different types of icebergs in pale colours with the caption: “Vanille, fraise, framboise – boum, servez froid!” [Vanilla, strawberry, raspberry—boom, serve cold!]

Vanille, fraise, framboise – boum, servez froid! [Vanilla, strawberry, raspberry—boom, serve cold!] (e008444012)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

Images of Indigenous Pipes now on Flickr

Close up portrait of a man smoking a pipe, and wearing a flat cap and round glasses.

Portrait of an Inuit man, Angmarlik, a respected leader at Qikiqtat (Kekerten) (PA-166470)

Pipe smoking was practiced by both Indigenous men and women.

Woman smoking a pipe and wearing a dress, shawl, and headwrap. She is holding the reins of a horse pulling a Red River cart.

Camp scene of a Red River cart and an Indigenous woman (e011156555)

Pipe bowls were made from ceramics or carved from hard materials such as pipestone, soapstone, wood, or corncobs. The stem was usually made of a hollowed out tube of wood. Pipes were used recreationally to smoke tobacco, or blends of aromatic plants or barks. Pipes were also used on political and ceremonial occasions. Unique metal-forged axe pipes were gifted to Indigenous chiefs and leaders.

A birch bark basket embroidered in the centre with a First Nations figure smoking a pipe, and white, red, and blue flowers on each side.

Birch bark basket with embroidered First Nations figure and pipe (e010948522)

Pipe smoking has dwindled, but the practice and symbolism still carries on as some of these pictures show.

Portrait of a woman wearing a plaid shawl and smoking a pipe.

Inuit woman wearing plaid shawl and smoking a pipe (e010692540)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

Charles Gimpel and the Canadian Arctic: 1958–1968

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Miranda Virginillo

Charles Gimpel was an English photographer and art collector who travelled in the Canadian Arctic many times between 1958 and 1968, capturing moments of Inuit life. In 1958, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) funded Gimpel’s trip from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, and to various ports around the Foxe Basin and northern Hudson Bay. In return, the HBC received photographs of their stores and the products in use in Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet), Igluligaarjuk (Chesterfield Inlet), Pangnirtung and other locations. The Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources Canada funded subsequent trips to the Arctic, in varying degrees. Gimpel’s patrons largely determined his activities in what was then part of the Northwest Territories (present-day Nunavut). Gimpel’s correspondence, articles, journals, notebooks and large number of slides in the Charles Gimpel fonds chronicle the beginning of an era of artistic production in the Canadian Arctic. The notebooks from his first trip in 1958 are particularly specific about his activities and demonstrate who and what would influence the rest of his career. Gimpel’s notebooks and photographs detail the places he travelled, the people he encountered and the conversations he had with them.

Colour photograph of an Inuk man, Kove, and Charles Gimpel dressed in brown-and-white fur parkas. The photo is very hazy because of a snowstorm.

Charles Gimpel (right), whose Inuit nickname was Ukjuk, with friend and guide Kove in a snowstorm near Inuksugalait (Inuksuk Point, Enukso Point), possibly Kinngait (Cape Dorset), May 1968 (e011212607)

My job as a Carleton University practicum student was to record the details of the places where Gimpel went and the people he met during his travels, to decipher his notebooks written in a personal shorthand, and to determine the location of a hand-drawn map. The first task was no small feat. The trip between Winnipeg and Churchill took five days by train, and Gimpel was interested in the stories of everyone he encountered on the journey. During his first trip alone, Gimpel recorded varying levels of information for approximately 40 named people, and for many more who were unidentified.

In deciphering Gimpel’s notebooks, the code followed the same pattern throughout: date, location, film conditions, subjects and, noted later, the four-digit identifier for the film roll in his collection. For example, “6241” indicated roll 41, taken in 1962.

The map refers to an arrangement of inuksuit (plural for inuksuk) at Inuksugalait (Inuksuk Point, Enukso Point). Inuksuit are cairns to mark a place for others or oneself. They serve many purposes, from being navigational aids to communicating good fishing spots or food caches. Gimpel recorded the height of each inuksuk and the distances between them, measured in feet. He also laid “claim” to the inuksuit by naming them after his friends and companions. The shorter inuksuit were named after children he had met on his trip: Nuvuolia (Nuvuoliak, Nuvoalia) and his adopted brother Irhalook, and Kove’s son Iali. The larger inuksuit were named after his interpreters, Pingwartok and Johanessie, and the sculptor Tunu. Gimpel even went so far as to give one inuksuk his own Inuit nickname, Ukjuk, which means bearded seal.

Hand-drawn map on white paper in a spiral notebook. The map consists of red circles with black lines between them, names of the inuksuit, numbers in brackets and a compass indicating East, South, West and North.

Map of inuksuit at Inuksuk Point, page 10 of document, 1964 (e011307430)

At the end of his 1958 journal, Gimpel recorded his meeting with James (Jim) Houston. This introduction solidified Gimpel’s interest in the Canadian Arctic for the rest of his life. Over the next decade, both men coordinated their efforts with Terry Ryan of the West Baffin Island Eskimo Cooperative (WBIEC) and the heads of other co-operatives in the Arctic to help develop this source of income for Inuit. Gimpel provided international venues, including the Gimpel Fils art gallery in London, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem, with art from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay) and nearby camps. Photographs from his 1964 and 1968 trips capture stone carvers at work in Iqaluit and at the WBIEC.

A colour photograph of an Inuk man wearing a dark jacket and cap as he carves white statues.

Henry Evaluardjuk carving, Iqaluit, April 1964 (e011212063)

A colour photograph of an Inuk man sitting behind a stone sculpture with his tools in front of it.

Unidentified sculptor, Iqaluit, April 1964 (e011212065)

Gimpel’s trips were taken at a time when many people from southern Canada and abroad were discovering the unique Inuit art and culture. His journals and the photographs he took during his trips to the Arctic are now available online. The Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds, the James Houston fonds and the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council series in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds also reflect this pivotal time in history.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Miranda Virginillo, from the School of Art and Culture at Carleton University, is an undergraduate practicum student in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Agnes Chamberlin’s Flower Prints now on Flickr

Agnes Chamberlin (née Dunbar Moodie and previously Fitzgibbon) came from a literary family. Her mother, Susanna Moodie, and her aunt, Catharine Parr Traill, were well known for their now classic descriptions of pioneer life in Ontario, Roughing it in the Bush (by Moodie) and The Backwoods of Canada (by Parr Traill).

Two white lilies, one open, one closed, and two yellow lilies lying on a bed of green leaves.

Canadian Wild Flowers, Plate VIII (e011308817)

Chamberlin was taught to paint by her mother and, following in her family’s footsteps, applied this skill to literature. Beginning in 1863, she started producing illustrations for her aunt’s proposed book on Canadian flowers.

Canadian Wild Flowers, Plate VII (e008300821)

When Chamberlin’s first husband died, she turned this work into a way to support her family. Collaborating with her aunt, Chamberlin produced Canadian Wildflowers, an illustrated botanical book combining Parr Traill’s text with Chamberlin’s hand-coloured lithographs.

Two white lady’s slippers standing upright among large green leaves, an orange lily, a lily bud, and small blue harebells.

Canadian Wild Flowers, Plate V (e011183290)

The book was a success and praised for the accuracy of its illustrations. Four editions were published between 1868 and 1895, each with Chamberlin’s hand-coloured plates. It was one of the first large illustrated books to be printed and published completely in Canada. Following this book, Chamberlin also contributed to Parr Traill’s Studies of Plant Life and exhibited her work in Philadelphia in the United States, as well as in England and Canada.

A red trillium standing upright among large green leaves, round purple flowers, and pale purple flowers.

Canadian Wild Flowers, Plate IV (e011308814)

Following this book, Chamberlin also contributed to Parr Traill’s Studies of Plant Life and exhibited her work in Philadelphia in the United States, as well as in England and Canada.

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “Prime Ministers and the Arts”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Prime Ministers and the Arts”.

Colour image of a puppet that resembles Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

Library and Archives Canada is the main repository for documents relating to Canada’s Prime Ministers. LAC not only has all the political documents relating to each Prime Minister, but also intriguing, less official and often unexpected items.

The exhibition entitled Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses curated by LAC employees Madeleine Trudeau and five time podcast guest Meaghan Scanlon, weaves artwork, artifacts, documents, objects, portraits and photographs together to reveal a less formal, but equally fascinating side to our former Prime Ministers.

The exhibition is on right now at 395 Wellington in Ottawa. It runs until December 3rd, 2019.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

Related Links:

Discover the Collection: Art

Discover the Collection: Biography and People

Discover the Collection: Politics and Government

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Butterflies, love triangles and the northern lights

By Shane McCord

The recently concluded Library and Archives Canada (LAC) exhibition Premiere included four drawings by midshipman Robert Hood (c. 1797–1821). These drawings were first presented on the Discover Blog in April 2015, shortly after they had been acquired by LAC. Robert Hood was a talented draftsman, cartographer, scientist, natural historian, and anthropologist before the term existed. He is remembered today for his participation in the 1819–1822 Coppermine Expedition, led by John Franklin. While on this expedition, Hood was the first to document various species of animals and insects. He was also the first to note the electromagnetic nature of the aurora borealis. Posthumously, some of his drawings were reproduced and published in Franklin’s account of the expedition, which included a glowing report on Hood’s work and conduct.

While Hood is known, to a degree, for the contributions to scientific knowledge he made during the expedition, his story is also remembered for the part he played in a now infamous love triangle between himself, a Dené woman known as Greenstockings, and Sir George Back, another artist who was part of the expedition. The story, which includes a failed duel between Back and Hood, has been told many times and is neatly summarized in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry for Hood.

A colour lithograph of a woman sitting on the ground and mending a snowshoe, with a man standing on the right. Both figures are wearing long fur cloaks.

Keskarrah a guide from the Yellowknife Denes and his daughter Green Stockings, mending a snow shoe (e011156563)

All the members of the expedition were suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion, and Hood did not survive. He was likely near death when he was killed by a fellow member of the expedition, the voyageur Michel Terohaute. Terohaute was executed for the murder, and was later suspected of cannibalism.

A watercolour of two young Inuit men wearing western-style clothing. One is captioned “Augustus”, the other “Junius”.

Portraits of the [Inuit] interpreters from Churchill, employed by the North Land Expedition. (e011154367)

The first of the four drawings shown in the Premiere exhibition is a double portrait of two Inuit guides and interpreters, Tattanoeuck (“Augustus”) and Hoeootoerock (“Junius”). Tattannoeuck was a member of three expeditions, two with Franklin (1819–1821, 1825–1827) and one with Back (1833–1835). He was heavily involved in these expeditions and was well respected by his companions, to the point that Sir John Richardson, a member of both the first and second Franklin expeditions, named a species of butterfly Callophrys augustinus in his honour. Hoeootoerock was separated from the members of the Coppermine Expedition during the crossing of the Coppermine, and is presumed to have died there.

Two of the drawings are depictions of northern mammals: a mink and a cross fox. At the time these works were produced, such species were becoming objects of study in Western European science. Images such as these were among the primary reasons why Hood, an officer with a talent for drawing, was selected for the expedition. Apart from their aesthetic value, these images were important as evidence of wildlife in the region of the expedition and provided valuable information for the expansion of the fur trade.

A watercolour of a mink peering into the water by a rocky river shore.

[Mink] (e011154368)

A watercolour of a white fox hunting a mouse in a snowy landscape.

[Cross Fox catching a Mouse] (e011154369)

The final and most interesting drawing shows the interior of a Cree tent. The inscription is “Interior of a Southern Indian tent; taken on the Basquiase Hill, Cumberland House, Hudson’s Bay. The tent is made of Moose skin parchment; the cloathes [sic] of the indians are made of skins. The cloth obtained from the English factories. March 25th 1820 Robert Hood North Land Expedition.” The drawing is valuable for the anthropological information it provides and for its historical context. In Hood’s journal from the expedition, he describes making such a drawing on March 31, and he provides several anecdotes regarding the people in the tent. It is yet to be determined if this is that same drawing and there is an inaccuracy in the dates, or if Hood made a second drawing.

A watercolour showing the interior of a tent. Seven people are sitting around a fire. One is a mother with a child in a cradleboard. Pelts or meat are drying on a cross beam and a pot of food is over the fire. A musket and a bow and arrows are leaning against the side of the tent. One person is eating and another is smoking a pipe, while the others appear to be observing the artist (Hood) at work.

[Interior of a Cree tent] (e011154370)

All four of these drawings relay important documentary evidence about the region of Cumberland House, in what is now northern Saskatchewan. These drawings are also fascinating simply as items carried on that ill-fated journey. The Franklin expeditions are an important part of the history of Canada’s development as a nation, and the tragic aspects of the first expedition in particular have made it one of the most popular and well-known episodes in Arctic history.


Shane McCord is an art archivist in the Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

The Artist’s Mirror: Celebrating a new exhibition of artist self-portraits at Glenbow

On June 15, 2018, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Glenbow Museum come together in Calgary, Alberta, to officially celebrate the beginning of a very successful collaboration. March 10th marked the opening of the first in a series of five co-curated exhibitions. All of the exhibitions feature portraits from LAC’s collection. In some cases, they also include portraits from Glenbow’s collection.

This exciting collaboration provides the opportunity for more Canadians to see many of Canada’s most important national treasures: all of the exhibitions will be presented at Glenbow, in Calgary. Each of the exhibitions in the series has a different theme related to portraits and portraiture.

A colour photograph of the entrance to the exhibition space at the Glenbow Museum.

Installation photograph of The Artist’s Mirror at Glenbow, courtesy of Glenbow Museum

A special kind of portrait

The first exhibition in the series focuses on one of the most fascinating types of portrait: images that artists create of themselves. The proliferation of mirrors during the 15th century is said to have contributed to the popularization of artist self-portraits. When artists hold the mirror to themselves, it is very difficult not to be drawn in.

A painting of a mirror and a still-life arrangement on a dressing table with several books, a brush, a radio, and two oranges on a plate on top of a newspaper. The mirror’s reflection shows the artist and another painting.

Self-portrait in Mirror, William Lewy Leroy Stevenson, ca. 1928, e011200954

Artist self-portraits are particularly intriguing because they appear to give privileged insight into the creative process. They are also exciting for their variety. The choice of medium is just one way in which artists have experimented with self-portraits, over the years, as statements of creative identity.

The exhibition includes 17 historical and modern self-portraits of Canadian artists, drawn from LAC’s collection. There are examples of video and sculpture self-portraiture as well as paintings, drawings and prints.

Many faces, many stories

A stand-out self-portrait in the exhibition is this sculpture by Inuit artist Floyd Kuptana.

A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man with his tongue sticking out.

Self-portrait by Floyd Kuptana, 2007, MIKAN 3922914

It is important to view this self-portrait from a variety of angles. The playful stone sculpture smiles, when viewed from one angle, and sticks out his tongue when viewed from another:

A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man with his head tilted to the side. A colour photograph of the front of a stylized sculpture of a man sticking his tongue out.The humour in this self-portrait masks a much more serious exploration of self, on a variety of levels. Kuptana created this self-portrait with traditional ideas as well as modern ones. The multiple faces and angles reflect shamanic beliefs about transformation. Yet, the idea of multiple personalities, within one self, is also associated with modern psychology.

A colour photograph of the side of a stylized sculpture of a man.Self-portrait… or portrait?

The exhibition provides a chance to see a portrait that remains at the centre of one of Canadian art history’s most interesting unresolved mysteries. Certain scholars feel strongly that this portrait, created by important British Columbia artist Emily Carr, is a rare, early self-portrait. However, others have argued that this drawing is merely an image Carr may have made of somebody else.

A charcoal drawing on paper of a young woman with bare shoulders seen from the back with her face in profile. Her hair is styled in a loose bun with short curls framing her face. Her gaze is off to the right.

Self-portrait thought to be of Emily Carr, ca. 1899, e006078795

Most agree that Carr created the drawing when she was an art student in London, United Kingdom. The drawing is done in a traditional academic style, not typical of Carr’s later work, but very much typical of a student demonstrating her mastery.

Those who believe this to be an image of Carr herself point to the strong resemblance between the drawing and contemporary photographs of her. They acknowledge that Carr was notoriously prudish and thus unlikely to pose with bare shoulders. However, they point out that it would be quite common, in women’s drawing classes of the day, to practise drawing the human form from suitably draped ancient classical sculptures. An artist could place their own head on a body copied from one of these unexceptionable nudes.

A vignette of the Emily Carr portrait showing the drawing’s classical lines of the shoulders and chin.With this image, Carr may have been striving to project herself within a particular style, fashionable when she was a young woman.

The exhibition invites you to judge for yourself.

A western connection

The exhibition provides a chance for LAC to present self-portraits that have a particular connection to Calgary.

One example is this amusing self-portrait by Calgary-based artist Gary Olson.

A pencil drawing of a man’s face squished up against a piece of glass. Most of the left side of his face is indistinguishable, but his right eye is keenly focused.

I Am Up Against the Picture Plane Again, by Gary Olson, 1977, e011195950. @ Gary Olson

The image is part of a series created by Olson while he was a college art instructor. He came up with these lighthearted images to convey the difficult theoretical art concept of the picture plane to his students. He portrays the plane literally, in these images, by flattening and distorting his own features against it. At the same time, Olson takes the opportunity to poke fun at the theory of art, capturing something of his own irreverent desire to push the envelope

Come see the exhibition

A colour photograph of a dimly lit room with various art pieces hung on the walls.

Installation photograph of The Artist’s Mirror at Glenbow, courtesy of Glenbow Museum

Be sure to visit The Artist’s Mirror, if you happen to be in Calgary. The exhibition runs from March 10, 2018 to January 6, 2019 and is open every day. For more information, please contact Glenbow Museum.