It’s never left home before! This Haida monster has never been anywhere but its home at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, but in order to help the Winnipeg Art Gallery celebrate its 100th birthday it was given permission to travel. It was carved by Bill Reid from a single piece of cedar. Called Wasgo this part wolf, part whale creature, is comfortable both on land and water and is depicted here with three orcas it has captured one in its mouth, another in its paws and a final one in its tail.
The Sea Wolf sculpture is part of my favorite room in the Masters exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Called Realism and Narrative 1960-1970 it features exclusively Canadian artists.
Students on tours are drawn to this colorful mural of flags from around the world. Jack Shadbolt uses the flags to show that Canada is a very multi-cultural country and the people who live here come from around the globe. This mural was painted in 1964 when Canada was discussing getting a new flag, which they did in 1965, but this painting still features the old flag.
What could be more Canadian than the northern lights? Here William Kurelek who grew up on the Canadian prairies, the son of Ukrainian immigrants, creates a stunning landscape illuminated by the aurora borealis. The title of the painting comes from a line in a poem The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson which talks about how nature can be both holy and hostile. The students on my tour today thought it might have been painted to show people on the prairies receiving a hopeful sign from nature during The Great Depression on the prairies.
When I taught high school English I used Alex Colville’s art pieces as prompts for short story writing. His faceless people and the hint of danger in almost every painting he did inspired young writers. Alex has trains on quite a number of his canvases and I usually tell the students on my tours the story of how five members of his wife’s family died when their car was hit by a train. Sometimes Alex Colville is called Canada’s Norman Rockwell because they both paint ‘ordinary’ people.
This is maybe the most colorful piece in this gallery. Norval Morrisseau is an Anishinaabe painter who was inspired by the petroglyphs he saw on the cliffs beside the northern Ontario lakes he crossed by canoe with his grandfather as a child. In this painting he depicts the Bearman, the chief of the Bear people. The bear has personal significance for Morrisseau since he encountered one on his vision quest as a young man.
This painting shows an unusual event in the early spring of 1987 when an ice floe made its way into the Halifax harbour. Devil’s Island near Dartmouth is in the background. Forrestall doesn’t use a camera to record scenes he wants to paint but relies mostly on sketches he makes on site. When asked about the elongated oval shape of this work Forrestall said nature “never comes in a squared rectangle.”
The 100 Masters show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is on till August. Don’t miss it!
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