Over the past year I have been submitting and showing with The Federation of Canadian Artists. While I knew they were a well respected Gallery, I really didn't know much else about them. On their website they have this lovely article, which talks about their history. In my previous blog post I shared chapter 1. If you have not read it, then I encourage you to go back and take a look at that article.
__Chapter Two: The FCA and the Canada Council
Dateline, Dec 20, 1950:
"If the Federation had done nothing else, the action which it took in 1949, in connection with the hearings of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, was more than sufficient both to justify its existence, and to establish it as the most influential cultural body in Canada".6 Hunter Lewis, National President
With the war over, veterans returned to their families, sought new jobs or finished school and manufacturers turned from making bombs and military equipment to refrigerators and cars. After years of being head of household, women sought new roles that included some of the activities were accustomed to performing in additional to housework and raising their families. War-brides settled in Canada, along with immigrants who had fled war-torn countries for a better life. The new normalcy was under way.
During the first decade following the Federation of Canadian Artists' founding in 1941 the whole art and cultural life of Canada had been transformed. Activity surrounding the arts had increased enormously and geographically extended to all kinds of communities, in all parts of Canada.
As FCA President Hunter Lewis said, "It would be absurd to claim the credit for all these changes and all this growth for the FCA."7 It would be even more absurd, however, to ignore the very great influence the
Federation had exerted in achieving them. The FCA was one of, if not the very first, national organization to be established in the field of the visual arts which continued to work for the general cultural objectives it adopted.
Apart from forming its own branches, the FCA had provided the stimulus and the model for the formation of many local and provincial organizations. It was largely influential in the creating of the "Canadian Arts Council" of which it was a member (not to be confused with the "Canada Council For the Arts" established by the Federal Government in 1957). It sponsored the only national art magazine of the day, Canadian Art. The Federation was linked with other art organizations in other countries through its membership in the Canadian Council for Reconstruction, through UNESCO and other international organizations. It assembled and sponsored local, regional and national exhibitions. It integrated painting and the other arts in Canada...and it kept art constantly in the news and thus in the minds of the public.
In February of 1949, the Federal Government announced its intention to enact new long-awaited legislation with respect to cultural development in Canada. In April, the Privy Council appointment a Royal Commission on National Development of Arts, Letters, and Sciences (chaired by the Honorable Vincent Massey) - potentially the most important single event that had ever occurred in the cultural life of Canada. The FCA held its National Conference in Montréal that same month.
Following the announcement, the FCA resolved to revise and amplify their 1944 "Artists Brief" to this end. It's National Brief Committee (many of them university professors and most from BC - included Hunter Lewis [chair], Charles Scott, BC Binning, Gordon Couling, Donald Flather, Doris Hunt and Nancy Bakewell) took ideas from their earlier work about the setting aside of $10 million from which any community in Canada could be entitled to for assistance in the building of an art centre, with the communities and province contributing on an established pro rata basis.8 They also emphasized the need for a nation-wide extension to Canada's National Gallery.
The Massey Commission (as it popularly became known) held hearings across the country. FCA regions and their branches were urged to explore, discuss and submit points they particularly wished to present for consideration in their national brief. They were also encouraged to write to Ottawa in support of this action. The submission of this brief became the Federation's prime project and was publicized as such.
A sense of excitement aroused a nation of artists to participate. During the course of the Massey Commission's two-year inquiry, it received 462 briefs, hundreds of letters from Canadian citizens, and held 114 public hearings throughout Canada at which some twelve hundred witnesses appeared.9
The Federation's national brief (presented by Messrs. Lewis, Scott and Binning) became widely supported and had important educational effects upon the people and the Government of Canada. The Royal Commissioners were themselves gracious enough to admit the FCA was instrumental in producing the large number of submissions that made those hearing the most significant event that had yet occurred in Canada cultural life. Six years later, Parliament, through the Minister of Canadian Heritage, passed The Canada Council Act which resulted in a national arm's-length agency fostering the development of the arts in Canada through grants, services and awards for professional artists. It would also take over the Canadian Commission for UNESCO work. Initial funding for programs came from an endowment fund of $50 million. In 1957, the revenue related to arts activities equaled $2.7 million. (In 2002, the Government increased Council funding to $75 million).10
After its magnificent presentation to the Massey Commission, and communicating about art across the country became easier, the Federation of Canadian Artists began to phase itself out as a national body.
By the 1960s, the FCA barely existed on a national level but still carried on under that name. It was structured a bit differently in a few areas of Canada - including British Columbia where it was reported the association had about 600 members. We shall explore these changes in the next Chapter.
5) What Is The Federation of Canadian Artists, brochure, c.1945, published by the Federation of Canadian Artists.
6) Excerpts from President Hunter Lewis' letter to the FCA Executive and Members of Regional and local Branches, Dec. 20 1950 found in the Hunter Lewis Family Fonds, UBC Library, Archives & Special Collections 7) Excerpts from President Hunter Lewis' letter to the FCA Executive and Members of Regional and local Branches, Dec. 20 1950 found in the Hunter Lewis Family Fonds, UBC Library, Archives & Special Collections
8) Excerpt reprinted from the Vancouver Daily Province, Feb 10, 1945 from a column by J. Delisle Parker headlined "Art For All - Federation of Canadian Artists, Looking Ahead, Would Draw Dominion Into One Great Cultural Venture - Dominion Government will be Invited to Set Aside $10,000,000 to assist communities to build art centres"
9) Library & Archives Canada: Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, 1949-1951.
10) Various facts excerpted from the Canada Council of the Arts website, 2004
I find this all so interesting.
Now I've never been much of a history buff, given that I think I'm slightly dyslexic with numbers. They never stick in my memory and often flip them around. This was a frustrating characteristic in school and plagued me when it came time to memorize date and numbers. However, I digress.
What I am gleaning from this informative article is that some of these names I have heard, obviously the Massey Commission was something spoken about around our dinner table. It's lovely to hear a bit more about how the Massey Commission was formed and what it was destined to do for Canada.
I hope you are enjoying these articles as much as I am. Do leave a comment if you have something you'd like interject. Perhaps you have a memory of these key figures and times in Canadian history.
Well, isn't this interesting. I found a wonderful article by Ellen Poole that I will share with you over the next few posts. Here is the first Chapter of her historical review.
65 years of Artistic Achievement: A History of the FCA by Ellen Poole, FCA Historian
Chapter One: The Birth of a Legacy June 1942, Toronto, Ontario: In his report to the first Federation of Canadian Artists' annual meeting, President André Biéler proclaimed, "Let the artist's hand be unbound! Let the emotions of his heart find expression! And let the work of art be shown to all, that our pride may find satisfaction!" 1
After teaching at the Banff Summer School and meeting western artists for the first time, painter and fine art professor Biéler recognized a great need for Canada's artists to meet, commune and understand each other. So, with the blessing of his employer, Queens University, and assistance from the National Gallery of Canada - who agreed to mount a special exhibition of Canadian art - Biéler organized the 1941 Conference of Canadian Artists at his university in Kingston, Ontario. These beginnings are well documented by his biographer, Frances K Smith.
Imagine over 150 professional artists, art critics and art educators from across the nation attending a series of technical workshops, seminars, and discussion groups. Wouldn't you love to have been there! Ernest Lindner from Saskatchewan reflected that "physically it took us all of three weeks to recover from the conference, spiritually we fortunately never quite recovered..."2
Delegates were faced with the issue of examining the role of the artist in Canadian society and whether the organization would be a federation of Canadian art societies - or a body of artists, independent but cooperative with any existing societies. Fortunately for all of us they chose the latter.
Canada was divided into five Regions, each with its own regional organizer: West Coast - Lawren Harris; Western - Gordon Sinclair; Saskatchewan - Ernest Lindner; Manitoba - Byllee Lang; Ontario - AY Jackson; and Maritimes - Walter Abell.
One of their aims was to try and dissipate any feeling among artists and Eastern art societies that the Federation was in any way an usurper of their rights. Soon after, a chain of groups and individuals sprang up from coast to coast consisting of both artists and art lovers. "With a large, unified membership, the Federation hoped to become the voice of the artist - strong enough to be heard from Nanaimo to Nova Scotia."3
1) Federation Bulletin, published by the FCA, Summer 1942 (including President Bieler's report entitled No Blackout For Art)
2) André Biéler: An Artist's Life and Times by Frances K. Smith, published by Merritt Publishing Co.Ltd., Toronto/ Vancouver, 1980
3) André Biéler: An Artist's Life and Times by Frances K. Smith, published by Merritt Publishing Co.Ltd., Toronto/ Vancouver, 1980
The "Artists" part of our association's name originally referred to artists from every walk of life - painters, sculptors, architects, graphic artists, designers and craftspeople as well as art lovers, critics and curators. There were even music, poetry and drama divisions!
In announcing the newly formed FCA, the Vancouver Art Gallery stated, "This is not just another art society, nor is it intended to replace any existing art society. It is an organization formed to unite all the artists in Canada, whether member of existing societies or not, in a federation which it is hoped will become a power in the country. The Federation hopes to bridge the isolation of artists in different parts of the country, discover talent and organize regional as well as country-wide activities and to publish an art magazine to serve the interests of art and artists in the country as a whole..."4
In addition to various exhibitions, instructional workshops, classes and painting studios, the FCA sponsored lectures and plays (but rejected the proposal to sponsor a new opera due to high costs.) This started to change about 1949 as the Federation began to focus on the world of visual art.
National headquarters shifted from city to city in which the FCA President resided at the time, although all correspondence was handled by capable National Secretaries. Remember, this was the era of carbon paper and erasers, well prior to the computer age. In the late '40s these extraordinary women (notably, Alison Palmer and Nancy Bakewell) were paid the princely honorarium of $250 per year!
Membership benefits included the periodical Canadian Art, published under the auspices of the National Art Gallery in Ottawa with co-editors, DW Buchanan and Robert Ayre. Members received both regional and national bulletins as well.
WWII was still raging in Europe. Under the heading of "War and the Artist," the executive passed resolutions that the government be asked to employ artists professionally for purposes of national defense, that the government permit artists to draw and paint in military areas for the purposes of record, that the Federation be allowed to organize loans of painters to army camps and the artists be assured of a place on committees for post war reconstruction.
Among Canada's war artists, FCA members included Eric Aldwinckle, Abe Bayefsky, Molly Lamb (Bobak), Bruno Bobak, Paraskeva Clark, Albert Cloutier, Charles Comfort, Orville Fisher, Charles Goldhamer, Rik Kettle, Rowley Murphy, Jack Nichols, Peigi Nicol McLeod, William A Ogilvie, George Pepper, Moses Reinblatt, Goodridge Roberts, Carl Schaefer, Jack Shadbolt, and Charles H Scott.
4) Vancouver Province, Feb 10, 1945, "Art For All: FCA, Looking Ahead, Would Draw Dominion Into One Great Cultural Venture - Dominion Government will be Invited to Set Aside $10,000,000 to assist communities to build art centres," by J Delisle Parker
In June, 1944, the Federation, in concert with other national art organizations, was responsible for drawing up a significant Brief concerning the cultural aspects of Canadian reconstruction. The main feature of the Brief was the responsibility of the FCA. Ultimately, this action spawned the Canadian Arts Council, forerunner to the Canada Council for the Arts.
During his presidency, Lawren Harris said, "It is significant that the Federation was born in the early years of World War II, when people were beginning to realize that war not only meant a struggle for existence but also an urgent search for a new pattern of living."5
5) What Is The Federation of Canadian Artists, brochure, c.1945, published by the Federation of Canadian Artists.
Stay tuned for the next chapter, coming soon.
I find this so fascinating. I hope you do as well.
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