Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Women artists celebrated at Gallery 1C03

Gallery 1C03 at The University of Winnipeg is celebrating Women's History Month and International Museum Week by joining social media campaigns on Twitter and Instagram to promote the accomplishments of women artists and various museum-related topics!

Although Women's History Month is recognized in Canada each October, for Americans it takes place in March. Gallery 1C03 was happy to jump on board with our neighbours to the south and celebrate again, so we began promoting it a few weeks back with a post on the Gallery's twitter and instagram feeds using the hashtag #5WomenArtists. Our post included the names and images by five women artists that have recently shown or are currently showing with Gallery 1C03.

This list includes Winnipeg artists Elvira Finnigan and Lisa Wood, whose collaborative exhibition Cafeteria will be feted tomorrow with a public reception at the Gallery from 4 - 6 p.m., followed by artists' talks in room 2M70 at The University of Winnipeg at 6 p.m. Please join us to see how their work in this process-based show has evolved!

 Left: Elvira Finnigan, excerpt from Cafeteria table; right: Lisa Wood, photo collage from Cafeteria happening.

Although we are one day behind on the International Museum Week social media campaign, we will begin today with the hastag #secretsMW to reveal behind the scenes information about an artwork in the University's collection. The featured piece is by a woman artist named Annora Brown. Learn more below from this text written by Gallery 1C03's Curatorial Intern Sarah Brereton!

Above: Annora Brown, Summer Afternoon, 1952, oil on masonite, 46 1/2" x 76 1/2". Collection of The University of Winnipeg. Gift of the Class of 1929.

Alberta-based artist Annora Brown created the large oil painting, titled Summer Afternoon and pictured above, in 1952. Visitors to The University of Winnipeg campus can view this work on the third floor of the Richardson College for the Environment where it is displayed at the entrance of the Institute of Urban Studies and Department of Indigenous Studies. Summer Afternoon was purchased by the University’s class of 1929 to commemorate a much respected classmate, R. Gerald Riddell, and it was originally installed as the centerpiece of the former campus library on the main floor of Bryce Hall.

Annora Brown (1899-1987) was raised in the settlement of Fort Macleod, Alberta. She was the daughter of Forster Brown, a North West Mounted Police officer, and Elizabeth Cody, one of the first school teachers in the area. Throughout her childhood, Brown’s interests grew from her love of the nature that surrounded her. Her drawing skills were noticed by her high school teachers, and they encouraged her interests in botany and sketching.  After a series of illnesses, Brown moved east to stay with her aunt in Toronto, applying to the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University), where she received a four year scholarship. Brown’s instructors there included Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald, members of the esteemed Canadian Group of Seven.

Upon graduation, Brown returned to Alberta where she taught art at Mount Royal College in Calgary and at the Banff School of Fine Arts. She spent a significant portion of her life, however, back in Fort Macleod, conducting field work and creating handicrafts for the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta. Brown was the only woman among the founding members of the Alberta Society of Artists. In 1955, she published Old Man’s Garden, the first book on Canada’s western flora. During her career, Brown saw her artwork included in collections throughout Canada, the United States, Britain, and Australia, illustrated multiple children’s stories, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law by the University of Lethbridge. 

Brown is most recognized for her paintings of southwestern Alberta landscapes and wildflowers that demonstrate her close observations of nature, born of a lifetime spent outdoors. Summer Afternoon depicts Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, a place where the artist often travelled to sketch and paint. While the influence of Brown’s Group of Seven art school mentors can be seen in her use of evergreen trees as a framing device in this painting, her work is distinct. Brown places people at the centre of this image, making their activity the focus of the scene. By the 1950s, Cameron Lake was a popular destination frequented by tourists and locals alike; here, we see vacationers enjoying a day of boating. Summer Afternoon is also indicative of Brown’s experimentation with bold colours and diverse brushstrokes, resulting in paintings that the Glenbow Museum has described as “realistic but sometimes fanciful.” These characteristics can be seen in her depiction of the water by the dock where she attempts to capture texture and movement in a loose manner.

During the course of her life, Brown developed and maintained friendships with many other artists, including a number of women artists. While she was a student at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Brown and three of her female cohorts from Alberta formed a collective known as the “Western Group.” She and Gwen Lamont, Euphemia McNaught, and Ruby Henry exemplified the camaraderie between women artists which Brown discovered to be valuable throughout her artistic career.

Brown's connection to Winnipeg and to the University’s class of 1929 was made through another friend, Jessie Doris Hunt (1909-1999). Hunt was an alumna of the class of ’29 and an artist in her own right who, like Brown, taught art to support herself. The two met while they were both instructors at Mount Royal College between 1934 and 1938, where the older Brown mentored Hunt. Brown and Hunt shared a mutual interest in nature and embarked upon en plein air sketching expeditions near the college. Hunt recounts these journeys and the context for the commissioning of Summer Afternoon in her unpublished biography of Brown titled Annora Brown of Fort Macleod, Her Life and Art. Indeed, if it was not for the commendation of Brown’s art by Hunt to her fellow classmates, Summer Afternoon would not be part of the University’s collection.

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