In my continuation of sharing the article written by Ellen Poole, FCA Historian, I'm feeling quite proud of BC and this artistic community that I find myself a part of. As it turns out, the strength of the chapter in the West helped to encourage chapters to the east to regroup and begin again. How wonderful. Here is the fourth and final segment of this wonderful historic recount of the Federation of Canadian Artists. I hope you enjoy it.
Please leave any comments you have at the end of the blog.
Chapter Four: Rebirth Dateline: August 26, 1978
"Who said the Federation of Canadian Artists was dead? The BC branch of the organization (which, at the moment, is the only branch) is still alive and kicking ... As a national body the federation had been in decline for years and is now extinct. Unable to attract young artists or absorb new trends, the group sank to sketch club status ... But the BC region of the FCA, with active chapters in Vancouver and Victoria, is obviously regaining some of its strength. Four hundred members, including such figures as Donald Jarvis, Gordon Smith, Sam Black, Raymond Chow, Ken Prescott, Harry and Caren Heine, Brian Johnson and Bruce Stapleton, can't be wrong..." 15
During the 60's and early '70s, small, dedicated clusters of members in the West were keeping the Federation of Canadian Artists alive and attempting its rejuvenation. Vancouver and Calgary branches registered their groups under their respective Provincial Non-Profit Societies Acts. The few remaining branches scattered here and there across the country had all but disappeared. Eventually, the 'national' society, operated from Vancouver, became a not-for-profit organization regulated by the Canadian Companies' Act.
The Federation had always been keen on encouragement and support of the next generation of painters. In addition to ongoing Painting in the Park summer classes for children, the Vancouver branch began organizing successful annual and open juried exhibitions for Young Artists under the age of 25 or 30. From 1958 to 1976 a Canada Council Grant was received annually for approximately $7,000.(16), as was funding from the Vancouver Cultural Fund for sponsoring workshops.
Continually short of funds and members, it became clear that the Federation of Canadian Artists desperately required strong, dynamic leadership with new ideas. And, just as the need was greatest, up popped the internationally-known interior designer and artist (he had not only designed all the furniture for a hotel in Honolulu, but painted 350 large pictures for the guest rooms), landscaper, author, teacher, poet and raconteur, Allan W. Edwards, returning to his birth place from years in Detroit, New York and California. He taught art in Victoria (to Pierre Berton, Sid Barron and Bill Reid, among others). Stories about Edwards are legend.
Long-time member Jean Greenwood wrote, "We've come a long way since the old days of 1976 when Allan Edwards, Bruce Stapleton, George Grant and Ken Prescott used to meet, almost daily it seemed, in the back office of Allan's design studio, plotting 'the way.' The air was smoky, with Bob Thornton, puffing and cussing because these characters had expropriated his office, copier, typewriter and telephone. The plotting was, of course, how to re-activate the once famous and flourishing Federation of Canadian Artists, which had all but disappeared across the country except for the small dedicated group here in Vancouver, chaired by Gladys Perrin, who were keeping it alive and attempting its rejuvenation."17
This planning group developed very definite aims:
- to rebuild the FCA by creating an organization and climate conducive to nurture beginners and encourage emerging painters to hone their skills
- to provide a meeting place and the opportunity to learn in classes and seminars from topflight professional artists
- to establish a public gallery for members to exhibit their work, including the trials of jurying
- to build up a strong group of supporting members
The energetic Edwards, the person primarily responsible for its resurgence and president of the FCA in 1977, wrote a new history of the FCA:
"The prime purpose of the FCA is to act as a showcase for the work of its members. In order to accomplish this it is the aim of the Federation to hold as many group exhibitions as possible throughout the year. Aside from these exhibitions other activities are planned such as workshops, demonstrations and lectures ... Eventually it is hoped that the FCA will function in a manner similar to the Royal Academy in London or the Society of Western Artists in the USA ... It is my hope that, by working together and exhibiting together, we will be able to make the FCA not only an important and vital part of the art scene in BC but also an important promotional and social tool for its many members."18
Membership grew from 80 to 400 members in Vancouver and Victoria. Edwards helped Brian Johnson build a new Vancouver Island Chapter. Membership fees were raised and Edwards encouraged donations towards exhibit prizes. Until they acquired their own space, the FCA showed regularly at Presentation House, Centennial Museum, Oakridge Auditorium, Eaton's Department Store and at Edward's own Design Gallery in West Vancouver.
The first Federation Gallery, what is believed to be the first completely artist-sponsored gallery-workshop-studio in Canada, was opened on Wednesday, August 30, 1978 at 367 Water Street in Gastown, located in downtown Vancouver. Mrs. Henry Bell-Irving, the wife of British Columbia's Lt. Governor, cut the ribbon during the opening ceremony. A special juried exhibition was mounted to establish the community value of the new gallery and after two weeks it traveled to Prince George, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and Victoria.
The Federation committed over $30,000 to the venture, renovating the premises of a former printing shop into a modern gallery, studio and headquarters. It supported its gallery through painting sales (Allan, practical about painting prices, realized that the buying public would snap up artworks priced at $100 but not $200) and by conducting workshops and study groups on the premises.
The first Fall Exhibition in the new gallery, with the Hon. Grace McCarthy as special guest at the opening reception, attracted 215 entries from 115 artists, the calibre of work never being as high. Because this show also went on tour, a replacement "Runners Up" exhibit followed. In the first month, the new gallery attracted 3000 visitors!
Small sculpture was still being exhibited at Federation Gallery until the early '90s when it became understood that this type of art required more specialized expertise than the Federation could provide. Two-dimensional visual artwork of high technical quality by emerging and professional artists was what the gallery had become known for. Furthermore, it became understood that with such a large membership, one or two-person shows were no longer possible.
From the beginning of the FCA's resurgence it was evident that in addition to Active and Supporting membership levels, there should also be a structure for established professional artists, those with at least 20 years of experience in professional art and capable of producing high-calibre work. The original Senior Signature Members appointed were Sam Black, Nel Bradshaw, Valerie Brouwer, Allan W. Edwards, Harry Heine, Brian Johnson, Fenwick Lansdowne, David Maclagan, Ken Prescott, Bruce Stapleton, Brian Travers-Smith and Alan Wylie. A quorum of ten of these Senior Members would elect further members to either full Senior or Associate status and, originally, any five would serve as a jury for juried exhibitions.
Conceding that although all were well-trained and talented artists, critics had often accused the Federation members of being "traditional realists," and those who painted "nice and easy to look at" pictures. The press was advised that the Federation was now making every effort to exhibit the broadest range of styles and expressions in the art field, encouraging practitioners of abstract and non-objective art as well as representation provided that they each show evidence of ability and sincerity.
Traveling shows were organized to other parts of BC and Alberta, and sometimes shipped as far as eastern Canada or to the USA. An indication of calibre is the exhibition of FCA work that the prestigious Charles and Emma Fry Art Museum in Seattle mounted in November 1980.
The FCA's annual Saltspring Island Seminars were introduced in the '80s, bringing students from Alaska and the Queen Charlotte Islands in the north, from Winnipeg in the east and from California to the south. Distinguished artists came from as far as Alabama, California, Washington, Oregon and even Hawaii, with pleasure, to join the Federation's favourite senior painters in tutoring at the Saltspring workshops. Teachers and pupils all loved the total immersion of painting on Saltspring, outdoors and in, from morning until night.19
Many painters having received instruction on Saltspring during the 80's will always recall instructors William Reese, Kathy Wengi O'Connor, Linda Doll, Rex and Joan Brandt, Carol Barnes, Judi Betts, Carl Christophersen, Al Brouillette, Carrie Burns, Jane Burnham and Carl Dalio. And, of course, the irrepressible Allan Edwards.
After Edwards' death in 1993, Alan Wylie wrote, "A man of unwavering artistic beliefs, a sharing and compassionate man with an unbridled enthusiasm for the arts and the artists." Said Dave Maclagan: "It was Allan's inspiration, hard work and unflagging enthusiasm that put the FCA back on the map." Tom Huntley: "Allan was principally responsible for starting the Seminars on Saltspring Island. He had expanded plans for a permanent art school - which had to be put on hold for a better time when the economy became healthier (sadly, the time never came). And the late George Weber: "The national body of the Federation disbanded...then early in 1981, Allan Edwards of Vancouver was responsible for Edmonton and Calgary's revival as Chapters of the organization with headquarters in Vancouver."20
15 The Vancouver Sun, "Áiling artists' group rallies in Gastown gallery," by Andrew Scott, August 26, 1989
16 "About the Canada Council for the Arts" website, 2004
17 The FCA Newsletter, May 1985: "We've Come a Long Way," article by Jean Greenwood 18 1977 Membership Brochure written by Allan W. Edwards
19 The FCA Newsletter, May 1985: "We've Come a Long Way," article by Jean Greenwood
20 The FCA News, December/January 1993.