Indigenous peoples of the Arctic have been making art for thousands of years. In this exhibit, we will look at an ancient artifact fashioned by unknown hands, the work of the first generation of Inuit artists, and two contemporary Inuit artists whose work has become part of the international art world.
For most contemporary art critics, the term “decorative” is pejorative, implying that a work, while perhaps pretty, lacks content and depth. The decorative arts, it is commonly assumed, have two features that are at odds with what we think of as fine art: decorative art is typically associated with function – glasses, plates, bowls, jars, carpets, clothes – and its purpose is to project a style or mood rather than to transmit meaning and incite dialogue.
This Collection explores visual arts in Canada through articles, photo galleries, Heritage Minutes and more, and is presented in partnership with Charles Bronfman’s Claridge Collection. Above image: Untitled. Acrylic on canvas, painted by Max Johnson. Courtesy of the Charles Bronfman's Claridge Collection.
Founded in 1958 by Ludmilla Chiriaeff, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal is the most progressive and experimental of Canada’s three big ballet troupes (the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet being the other two). It is noted for a diverse repertoire that has emphasized new works as well as traditional 19th-century story-ballets and 20th-century classics. The company has also had a strong record of commissioning original works that are often choreographed, composed and designed by Canadians (see also Dance in Canada).
The Empress Hotel is a luxury waterfront hotel and national historic site in Victoria, British Columbia. Designed primarily by architect Francis M. Rattenbury, it is noted for its picturesque Château-style design and decadent interiors. It opened in 1908 and was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) as part of its network of hotels, which also includes the Banff Springs Hotel, Chateau Lake Louise and Le Château Frontenac. Now officially known as the Fairmont Empress, the hotel, along with its afternoon tea, is arguably Victoria’s most popular tourist attraction.
Contemporary Indigenous (Aboriginal) art is that which has been produced by Indigenous peoples between around 1945 up to the present. Since that time, two major schools of Aboriginal art have dominated the contemporary scene in Canada: West Coast Aboriginal art and the Woodlands school of Legend Painters.
Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre was founded in 1998 by 13 actors with the assistance of a grant from the Stratford Festival. Considered the best year-round repertory company in Canada, it has presented such acclaimed productions as Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya (2001, 2002, 2008) and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (2013). Since relocating to Toronto’s Distillery District in 2006, Soulpepper has presented such Canadian plays as Sharon Pollock’s Doc (2010), John Murrell’s Waiting for the Parade (2010), and Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience (2012). In January 2018, the company was rocked by allegations of sexual harassment against founding artistic director Albert Schultz and accompanying lawsuits against Schultz and Soulpepper.
Indigenous peoples in Canada developed rich building traditions thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans. Each of the six broad cultural regions of Indigenous peoples in Canada, defined by common climatic, geographical and ecological characteristics — the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains and Eastern Woodlands — gave rise to distinctive building forms which reflected these conditions, as well as the available building materials, means of livelihood, and social and spiritual values of the resident peoples.
The totem pole (also known as a monumental pole) is a tall structure carved out of cedar wood, created by Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples to serve variously as a signboard, genealogical record and memorial. Some well-known carvers include Mungo Martin, Charles Edenshaw, Henry Hunt, Richard Hunt and Stanley Hunt.
Theatre Passe Muraille (meaning “theatre beyond walls”) was the first alternative theatre in Toronto. It focused on breaking down barriers and exploring new ideas and methods of storytelling. Despite financial crises over the years, it has maintained its alternative roots as a producer of provocative and groundbreaking Canadian theatre, as well as a launching pad for emerging companies and artists.
Chateau Lake Louise is a world-renowned mountain resort and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Banff National Park, Alberta. Known as the “Diamond in the Wilderness,” the chateau was built beginning in the late 1800s, and was developed as part of the CPR’s network of hotels. It shares a lineage with the Banff Springs Hotel, Le Chateau Frontenac in Québec City and the Empress Hotel in Victoria. Considering its remote location and its eventual scale, the Chateau Lake Louise marked an important point in the development of the Canadian West.
Sod houses, or “soddies,” were a common style of dwelling built in the Prairies during the second half of the 19th century. Soddies were small structures cheaply built out of blocks of sod and rudimentary house fittings. Sod refers to grass and the soil beneath it that is held together by the grass’s roots. Although the term “sod house” is primarily associated with Canadian and American structures built during westward expansion, the structures found their architectural roots in Indigenous and Norse practices. Sod houses have come to symbolize the hardship of homestead life, despite shacks and log cabins being the primary form of housing.
Acadian cinema (films by francophone filmmakers from Canada’s Maritime provinces) consists of about 300 documentaries and 50 fiction and animated films. The first films by Acadian filmmakers were shot in 1956. The National Film Board’s Studio Acadie opened in Moncton, New Brunswick, in 1974. As of 2017, about 10 independent, French-language film production companies were operating in Moncton and Caraquet, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Ookpik, which means “snowy owl” or “Arctic owl” in Inuktitut, is the name of one of the most popular of Inuit handicrafts, a souvenir sealskin owl with a large head and big eyes. In the 1960s, Ookpik became a popular national symbol after the federal government chose it to represent Canada at the 1963 trade fair in Philadelphia. Today, Ookpik is less popular among consumers, but it still holds significance for some Inuit artists and toy collectors.
At least until the 1830s, and even later in some regions, the architecture of the English regime was polarized between Georgian forms, symbolizing British imperial order, and the various regional tendencies, already established or in the process of formation throughout the territory.
More than 3,000 years ago, Indigenous peoples of the coast of British Columbia (and adjacent areas of Washington State and southeastern Alaska) such as the Haida and Kwakwaka'wakw developed artistic traditions that are heralded throughout the world for their imaginative and stylistic qualities.