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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