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Art, Visual

There has been visual art in Saskatchewan for as long as people have lived here; but the development of painting, sculpture and printmaking has occurred since the settling of the province in the latter part of the 19th century. Once the early settlers had gained a level of stability, some began to reflect their new environment in small paintings and drawings, which tended to be amateur in nature and were influenced by their European or eastern Canadian backgrounds. The arrival from England of Inglis Sheldon-Williams in 1887, Augustus Kenderdine in 1907, and James Henderson in 1910 gave the province three professionally trained artists who brought with them the academic style prevalent in British art schools at that time. Sheldon-Williams and Kenderdine were influential as teachers as well as painters. Sheldon-Williams taught at Regina College from 1913 until 1917, and Kenderdine went on to become lecturer in art and artist-in-residence at the University of Saskatchewan in 1927; he then moved to Regina in 1936 to undertake the expansion of the Art Department at Regina College.

The relative economic stability and level of affluence prior to the 1930s led to an increasing interest in visual art, and a variety of arts organizations were created. Collectors of art were also emerging, the most prominent being Norman MacKenzie, a Regina lawyer, who started collecting as early as 1900. While much of MacKenzie's efforts were centred on acquiring European art, he became a supporter of Saskatchewan artists, and it was his collection that became the basis of the permanent collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery when it opened at Regina College in 1953. The majority of visual art activities in the early years was centred in both Regina and Saskatoon. In 1926, Ernst Lindner came to Saskatoon from Austria. Both a respected artist and teacher, Lindner was head of the Art Department at the Saskatoon Technical Institute from 1936 until 1962, and a catalyst for much of the art activity in the city during that time. Fred Mendel arrived in Saskatoon in 1939, bringing with him a collection of 20th-century art, and he immediately began to acquire works by Saskatoon artists. A number of arts organizations came together to form the Saskatoon Arts Centre in 1944. In 1964, with the help of Mendel, the Centre spearheaded the building of the Mendel Art Gallery.

From 1950, the visual arts in Saskatchewan evolved rapidly. the Saskatchewan Arts Board had been created by the provincial government in 1948, with a mandate to provide financial support to artists through grants and by collecting their work. In 1950, Eli Bornstein came to work and teach at the University of Saskatchewan, and Ken Lochhead came to be head of the Art School at Regina College; in 1952, Art McKay joined Lochhead in Regina. In order to deal with the physical isolation of the province from the major art centres of the world, the two persuaded the University of Saskatchewan to organize an annual workshop at Emma Lake, with major international artists and critics as guest instructors. Starting in 1955, the workshops were to have a profound effect on art in Saskatchewan. They created international interest and recognition for artists living and working here, including Lochhead, McKay, Ron Bloore, Doug Morton, and Ted Godwin, who became collectively known as the Regina Five, as well as William Perehudoff and Dorothy Knowles of Saskatoon.

The Emma Lake workshops resulted in a new confidence in Saskatchewan art; this sentiment was strengthened by the next generation of artists and still permeates much of the work in the province. Painting has been the most prevalent discipline, the landscape being the dominant subject. Painters who have dealt with issues of abstraction have tended towards the use of colour as the primary theme, but today there are many approaches to the making of art, resulting in a wide range of imagery and styles. Three types of sculpture have dominated the three-dimensional work created in Saskatchewan: large, open, welded-steel abstract work emerged as a result of the Emma Lake workshops; ceramic sculpture developed during the late 1960s and 1970s and was influenced by the folk art of the province; and bronze casting was brought to prominence by Joe Fafard. Printmaking was limited for many years to lino and wood-block prints, but silkscreen printing became popular after 1950. The first etching press was brought into the province in 1965, and printmaking became a more serious discipline in both university art schools with the arrival of respected artist printmakers as teachers.

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This web site was produced with financial assistance
provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.