Massive haul of ancient art forgeries discovered in Saskatchewan! Would you believe it? - - Canadanewsmedia
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Massive haul of ancient art forgeries discovered in Saskatchewan! Would you believe it? –



For nearly a century, a strange and eclectic collection of artifacts has been hidden from public view, and while the exact origins remain a puzzle, its recorded history begins in Depression-era Saskatchewan.

It’s there, in Prince Albert, that the local bishop, Msgr. Joseph Henri Prud’homme, opened his door to discover a mysterious package. The crate bore no return address, no letter, no coded message — no clue as to how, exactly, it got there. But Prud’homme decided to accept the unexpected delivery, and indeed, he kept it safe until his death three decades later when the gift was bequeathed to a circle of friends — folks who, like the bishop, appreciated its bizarre provenance.

Because the box contained an assortment of cultural curiosities: antiquities from Rome and China, artwork, scientific notebooks. And every last item was a fake!

A fraud!

Flim effing flam!

And actually…

The same goes for that whole story.

But it’s a yarn that serves a purpose, and it was dreamed up by Claire Battershill and Heather Jessup, authors/academics who’ve curated a travelling art exhibition hinging on that tale.

Make Believe: The Secret Library of Mr. Prud’homme appears at the Vancouver Public Library’s Main Branch to Aug. 20, following stops in Toronto and Saskatoon and Halifax. And what you’ll find there imagines what this fictional collection would have been: a series of unusual forgeries and the intriguing accounts of their origins.

To pull off their hoax of hoaxes, the duo first recruited roughly 40 artists and writers from around the country. Most of the exhibit’s historical fakes (or is it fakes of fakes?) began as stories dreamed up by a team of authors. Artists then produced artifacts to match these tall tales — though there are a few exceptions to the rule. (A supposed medieval thermometer began as a found object, and the exhibit also includes a couple of previously existing artworks by Evan Lee and Yana Kehrlein.)

Adding to the mystery, nobody’s signed their name to anything, making the whole experience double as a sort of “roman à clef game,” as Battershill puts it, and — for those outside of Vancouver — the entire Prud’homme Library can also be viewed through a digital catalogue. Unmistakably academic in its navigational style and language, it was designed, says Battershill, to be as “authentically museum-y” as possible. (Their web designer even invented a fake software company for the project  — “Curator Pro” — and according to Jessup, the site’s riddled with similar Easter eggs.)

Even more curious, Prud’homme was a living, breathing bishop from Prince Albert, and his descendants gave the curators their blessing. A selection of their old family photos and Prud’homme’s authentic personal effects are still being prepared for the Vancouver exhibition.

But why do any of this? Why apply for a Canada Council for the Arts New Chapter grant, then devote three years to organizing a cross-country collaboration between roughly 120 people — writers and artists and librarians and translators and 3D printing experts and everyone else who had a hand in the faux swindle?

If there’s one good thing about hoaxes, it’s that once we’re fooled, we’re forced to stop and think. Why did we fall for that? What details did we miss? And what made us want (so very, very badly) to believe?

They’re opportunities to reflect, a little more critically, on the stories we implicitly hold to be true — and that includes chapters of Canadian history, even those as obscure as the tale of a Saskatchewan clergyman’s personal shrine to fraud.

Here, Battershill and Jessup reveal how and why they pulled it off.

So how do you go about building a library of fake fakes? What’s the process?

Heather Jessup: Originally, I had sent out a writing prompt to some friends because I was thinking of incorporating some creative writing into my academic work.

[Note: Jessup’s doctoral dissertation focused on hoaxes in Canadian art and literature. She’s set to release a book on the subject later this year.]

“If you were to find a fake object in a library of fakes, what would the object be and why would someone have faked it?” And the pieces I got back were just remarkable. And they were from writers all over Canada.

Claire was originally one of the writers. Her piece is no longer in the exhibit because she’s now a curator.

Claire Battershill: The [responses] you had gotten back were amazing, but there was this question of, “Should these be a book?” But then, they’re talking about objects. I was kind of thinking like, “What if they actually existed? What if we had artists actually do the exhibition?”

HJ: I had [written] pieces from Michael Winter, Sarah Selecky, Johanna Skibsrud, Claire — a bunch of others. And they were beautiful pieces and I didn’t want them to go to waste.

CB: They were also a totally mixed bag. So what happened three years ago is we were like, “OK, how do we make this into a narrative that would work for an exhibition?” So that’s where the Prud’homme story came in to frame the whole collection — because they’re very eclectic, these fakes. There’s an ancient Chinese vase, there’s some websites, there’s everything in between.

Exhibition view of Make Believe: The Secret Library of M. Prud’homme. (Photo: Meghan Tansey Whitton/Courtesy of the Prud’homme Library)

Why did they fake it: why was that an important question to ask?

HJ: I think the question most people have about fakes generally is the motivation. Why? I think in life we want people to be mostly straightforward and truthful to us, so what is the motivation for faking something? And what’s been really interesting to Claire and I [is that] out of all the writers, every single writer and artist we gave this prompt to, none of them chose monetary gain [as a motivation], which is kind of fascinating.

Most of our artists and writers ended up actually writing stories that were more about narratives of inclusion and exclusion, or barriers that people were encountering in their fields or their passions that hindered them from taking a next step, or being recognized for their work or their role in their particular part of society.

It makes for a great story, but is that make believe? Heather, you study hoaxes. In your research, is that indeed what motivates a lot of forgeries?

HJ: I think it really depends on each individual work of art or writing, to be honest. Definitely the idea of being excluded from something is 100 per cent a part of why people forge something, I think. They haven’t been recognized by an art community, they haven’t been accepted by a literary community, they haven’t achieved the fame that they want. Some of the Canadian hoaxes I study, I would classify that way. [They’re] seeking fame, but also sometimes it’s an artistic wall people have found themselves in.

If you were to find a fake object in a library of fakes, what would the object be and why would someone have faked it?– Heather Jessup, co-curator of Make Believe: The Secret Library of Mr. Prud’homme

Prud’homme was a real person. Why did you want to include someone who actually existed in this whole fiction?

CB: Well, it kind of happened by accident [laughs]. So Heather had made up the name Prud’homme Library. It’s a common name in France, a relatively common name, and I can’t remember how I ended up down this rabbit hole, but I was researching Prud’hommes when I discovered the bishop. We were sitting in my living room reading about this guy and he sounded amazing. He had travelled a ton, and he knew all these languages and he just seemed like a very curious character.

We found this story and we were thinking, in a strange coincidental way, this is the kind of guy who would have a whole bunch of fakes, and this is the sort of man who would be interested in the academic question of why art is forged and so on.

It doesn’t seem like you’re actually trying to dupe visitors, so what do you hope people take away from the exhibition?

HJ: We really hope people have fun. You know, there’s a dress-up box and probably 200 crayons out on the floor right now. So much fun is part of the exhibit.

I think fun is a part of it, but I think it maybe has a more serious message attached to it, which is that I think we need to poke fun at our hallowed institutions occasionally to understand that they’re not the only way of thinking about truth — that a people’s truth, a reader’s truth, a viewer’s truth is also an extremely important part of making a piece of art or telling history.

CB: To circle back to some of the fakers’ motivations that we were talking about before, Heather and I’s motivation is similar in some ways. This unstuck us a little bit — from being writers on our own, working on novels. This kind of started to get us to think about creativity in a different way and how we could make something in all these different mediums and involve all these people in our process. It’s so much more messier and complicated.

HJ: And so much more fun!

A selection of the Prud’homme Library’s treasures:        

Swindle. 1917-1930. “A faked version of a 1917 modernist magazine including poetry, prose, and art, unified by a focus on the game of chess.” (Courtesy of the Prud’homme Library)

The Book of Love and Chivalry. 1948-1963. “Basket containing miscellaneous items, including a hand-written and illustrated manuscript with missing chapters.” (Courtesy of the Prud’homme Library)

Page from A Further History of Uncommon Birds. 1855-1889. “A Further History of Uncommon Birds, most of which have not been figur’d or describ’d, and others very little known from obscure or too brief descriptions without figures, or figures very ill designed. Illustrated ornithological manuscript. 32 pages. Contains paired illustrations and text descriptions on facing pages of 18 birds, as well as three unaccompanied illustrations.” (Courtesy of the Prud’homme Library)

Täydellinen Laula. 1945-1984. “A scrap of sheet music containing a single, undecipherable note contained within a button jar and a sound recording of a radio interview with Mackintosh Quain.” (Courtesy of The Prud’homme Library)

Beaded Sacred Heart. 1873. “Oil painting and beadwork depicting a red burning heart encircled by a crown of thorns against a light blue background and vermillion border.” (Courtesy of The Prud’homme Library)

Selection from Collected Objects Belonging to Bird Biologist, Cleo Petros. 2011. Various items collected in a wooden box, including: a piece of canvas, an Auk skin, a dream journal and scrapbook and miscellaneous clippings of types of birds. (Courtesy of the Prud’homme Library)

Selection from The Self-Portraits of Florence Baldisseri. 1958-1982. “A collection of self-portraits in various media created daily by the artist.” (Courtesy of The Prud’homme Library)

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Make Believe: The Secret Library of Mr. Prud’homme. To Aug. 20 at the Vancouver Public Library’s Main Branch.

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White House to honour Jon Voight, Alison Krauss with National Medal of Arts –




Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight, singer and musician Alison Krauss and mystery writer James Patterson are among the artists and philanthropists being honoured by President Donald Trump for their contributions to the arts or the humanities, the first recipients of prestigious national medals since Trump took office.

The White House announced four recipients of the National Medal of Arts and four of the National Humanities Medal in a statement Sunday night. Voight is one of Trump’s few vocal Hollywood backers, and has hailed him as “the greatest president of this century.”

Trump is also honouring the musicians of the U.S. military, who frequently entertain at White House events.

Trump will award the medals during a ceremony at the White House on Thursday.

While the honours had been an annual affair during past administrations, they have not been awarded since Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. The most recent arts or humanities medals were bestowed by President Barack Obama in September 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to singer Diana Ross during a ceremony in the White House East Room in Washington, U.S., Nov. 22, 2016. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The recipients of the National Medal of Arts are:

  • Alison Krauss, the bluegrass-country singer and musician, “for making extraordinary contributions to American music.” The White House misspelled her name in its release.
  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller “for being a renowned champion of the arts, generous supporter of charity, and a pioneer of new ideas and approaches in the field of public policy.”
  • The Musicians of the United States Military “for personifying excellence in music and service to country.”
  • Jon Voight “for his exceptional capacity as an actor to portray deeply complex characters.” Voight starred in Midnight Cowboy, the 1969 film that won an Academy Award for best picture, and he won the best actor Oscar for 1978’s Coming Home. He appears in the Showtime series Ray Donovan.

The recipients of the National Humanities Medal are:

  • The Claremont Institute “for championing the Nation’s founding principles and enriching American minds.”
  • Teresa Lozano Long “for supporting the arts and improving educational opportunities” through scholarships and philanthropy.
  • Patrick O’Connell, the chef at The Inn at Little Washington, “for being one of the greatest chefs of our time.”
  • James Patterson “for being one of the most successful American authors of our time.” Patterson wrote a book about Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who killed himself while awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls. The book includes several references to Trump, including an account of the men’s falling out.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities solicit candidates for the medals and compile proposed winners. The White House, which sometimes adds its own nominees, traditionally approves and announces them ahead of a presidential ceremony.

Trump has had an uneasy if not hostile relationship with many in the arts and the humanities who oppose his policies and have denounced his presidency. He has been largely shunned by Hollywood and has skipped events like the annual Kennedy Centre gala that is one of Washington’s premier social gatherings after some honorees said they would not attend if Trump was part of the ceremony.

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Alison Krauss to Be Awarded National Medal of Arts – Rolling Stone




Alison Krauss is among those chosen to receive the National Medal of Arts from President Trump. The honorees, including the country-bluegrass musician, actor Jon Voight, and the bands of the United States military, mark the first recipients of arts and humanities medals of Trump’s presidency.

Trump is set to present the medals at the White House during a Thursday ceremony. It’s unknown if Krauss will attend. A rep for the Grammy-winning vocalist did not return a request for comment.

The White House announced the honorees in a release on Sunday night that extolled Krauss’s “extraordinary contributions to American music” and noted how she has “entertained and enriched the souls of millions.” It also initially misspelled her name as “Allison.”

Known for her exemplary fiddle playing and angelic voice, Krauss has released music as a solo artist and with the group Union Station, featuring Dan Tyminski and Jerry Douglas. In 2007 she joined Robert Plant to release the Grammy-winning album Raising Sand. Overall, Krauss has received 27 Grammy awards.

Last week, she was announced as one of the headliners of the 2020 MerleFest, the annual string-music festival in North Carolina.

Recipients of the Medal of Humanities — the counterpart honor to the Medal of Arts — include chef Patrick J. O’Connell and mystery novelist James Patterson.

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Kamloops arts centre vote will be held on April 4 – Kamloops This Week




A referendum requesting voter approval to borrow funds for a performing-arts centre will be held on Saturday, April 4.

Kamloops council on Tuesday chose that date after looking at recommendtions from staff based on legislative timelines, staff resources and how the time of year might affect voter turnout.

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The yes-no question will be: “Are you in favour of the City of Kamloops borrowing up to $45 million to construct a Kamloops Centre for the Arts?”

Now that the referendum date has been set, next steps include appointing a chief election officer and deputy chief election officer, likely in early December, and notifying the province.

The Kamloops Centre for the Arts is proposed to rise at the former Kamloops Daily News location downtown at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seymour Street. The proposal is being organized by the Kamloops Centre for the Arts Society, with a land donation and financial backing from local philanthropists and businesspeople Ron and Rae Fawcett.

The $70-million centre would include a main theatre (1,200 seats), a small theatre (450 seats), a black box theatre (75 seats), along with space for rehearsal, production and meetings for various groups.

The society hopes to secure between $25 million and $40 million in fundraising and grant funding, leaving the city on the hook for between $30 million and $45 million in capital costs.

The city said it would not need to increase taxes as a result of the Tournament Capital Centre being nearly paid off by the time it borrows money for the arts centre.

The city would, however, be on the hook for operating costs, similar to other facilities like the Westsyde Pool, Sandman Centre or Tournament Capital Centre, and $3 million in site servicing for underground utility work.

A previous proposal to borrow up to $49 million for a $91-million performing-arts centre failed in 2015 by referendum, 54 per cent to 46 per cent. If next spring’s referendum question gets the nod from voters next spring, construction could begin in the summer of 2021, with the arts centre completed by the spring of 2023 for a fall 2023 opening.


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