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Haida masterpieces donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery

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Five pieces by legendary Haida sculptor Charles Edenshaw donated by dealer Donald Ellis


A silver bracelet by Haida carver Charles Edenshaw (1839-1820). The bracelet of one of five Edenshaw works being donated by art dealer Donald Ellis to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Ian Lefebvre/Vancouver Art Gallery


Ian Lefebvre Vancouver Art Galle / PNG

Charles Edenshaw is arguably the greatest sculptor in Canadian history. Working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Haida carver crafted dazzling, elegant, impossibly intricate pieces that took traditional Haida art into whole new realms.

New York art dealer Donald Ellis compares him to Michelangelo.

“He’s the most important 19th century Indigenous artist in Canada, possibly in North America,” said Ellis from New York. “He was the leader of the Haida people at a time when the smallpox epidemic hit. He was creating all this extraordinary work when the world around him was crumbling.

“We believe he was possibly the first Indigenous person on the northwest coast, maybe in North America, to make a living producing art.”

Edenshaw’s artworks are in many of the world’s great museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Field Museum in Chicago, and the Berlin Ethnological Museum in Germany.

Oddly, in Vancouver, the major Edenshaw collections are at the Museum of Vancouver and the UBC Museum of Anthropology, not the Vancouver Art Gallery. First Nations art wasn’t considered art in the gallery’s early years, it was considered ethnography.

The Vancouver Art Gallery had a groundbreaking Edenshaw exhibition in 2013. But it had to borrow the art for the show because the VAG only has two Edenshaw pieces in its collection, a model argillite totem and a Haida hat that his wife made and he painted.

The size of the VAG’s Edenshaw collection is about to jump, because Ellis has donated five Edenshaw works to the gallery: two bracelets (one gold, one silver), and three silver spoons.

“Both the bracelets have very important provenance,” said Ellis.

“Edenshaw gave the large silver bracelet to Chief Shakes (in Alaska) in the 19th century, which was then given to his daughter, Mary Ebbetts Hunt. She was Tlingit and brought Chilkat weaving to Vancouver Island.”

She passed the bracelet down through her family.

“The gold bracelet remained in the Edenshaw family until they sold it a little while ago.”

The VAG’s acting director, Daina Augaitis, was co-curator of the 2013 Edenshaw exhibition. She said his best work — a trio of platters that weave a single story — is simply exquisite.

“The design of them is so sophisticated they just take your breath away,” said Augaitis.

Of the Ellis donation,” she said, “I would say that the perhaps the most extraordinary is the wider silver bracelet that (belonged to) Chief Shakes. That’s a frog design. His ability to make the designs, make the drawings, but also his execution (is remarkable) — he had such a steady hand.”

“Do you know what push lines are?” asks Ellis. “In engraving, a push line is when you’re drawing a line with a small chisel in silver or gold. You stop and then you start again, and if you look under magnification, you can see a little ridge where the hand comes up when it stops, and moves down when it starts again.

“Edenshaw doesn’t have push lines. His hand was so certain that he could draw an ovoid in one movement without stopping and starting again. And when you look at all his contemporaries, you see push lines, little mountains. That fascinates me.”


A silver spoon by Haida carver Charles Edenshaw (1839-1820). The bracelet of one of five Edenshaw works being donated by art dealer Donald Ellis to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Ian Lefebvre/Vancouver Art Gallery

Ian Lefebvre Vancouver Art Galle /

PNG

Ellis is one of the world’s top dealers in Indigenous art. Many people recognize him from the American version of the Antiques Roadshow, where he did a famous appraisal of a Navajo blanket for $350,000 to $500,000. The old guy who brought it in starts to tear up, and it became one of the most famous appraisals in the show’s history.

Originally from Ontario, Ellis moved to New York when his business took off. But he now spends most of his time in B.C.

“It’s my adopted home,” said Ellis. “I’ve been living in New York and Vancouver, primarily in Vancouver now for the last eight years. I have a modernist house on the water (on the North Shore). It changed my life. I sort of don’t ever want to be anywhere else now.”

At 62, Ellis said he’s entering a new phase in his career. He wants to semi-retire from being an art and antiques dealer and plans to work with public museums to build their collections.

This includes the VAG, where he will be making a “significant” donation for the proposed new Vancouver Art Gallery at Larwill Park downtown.

He said part of his inspiration was the legacy of artist Gordon Smith, who died this week at the age of 100.

“You could probably argue the reason I’m doing this now with the VAG is rooted in Gordon,” said Ellis. “One of the many things Gordon taught me through observation is the value of generosity. Gordon was the most generous human beings I’ve ever encountered.”

In recent years, Smith was known for giving visitors to his home a work for art as a gift.

“It got to the point where it was difficult to visit,” Ellis said. “I think 98 per cent of the times I visited Gordon, I left with a gift.”

jmackie@postmedia.com

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Visit the city's tiniest art gallery: Five things to do in Saskatoon this weekend – Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E.

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Whether you’re interested in art, a virtual party, some outdoor activities or cleaning up around the house, there’s a little bit of something for everyone this weekend in Saskatoon.

1. Visit the Free Little Art Gallery

In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E. Designed in the style of community libraries and kitchen boxes, visitors to the gallery can take a piece of art, leave a piece of art, or do both. You can check out some of the artwork on Instagram @Freelittleartgalleryyxe.

Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring “a little joy to the community” by installing a tiny art gallery on her front lawn in Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood.
Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring “a little joy to the community” by installing a tiny art gallery on her front lawn in Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

2. Hit up The Bassment’s virtual party

Featuring the music and talents of eight Saskatoon bands, The Bassment presents InTune 2021 — a free online party playing from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The shows will be streamed live through the Bassment’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

3. Check out local performers

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Watch as some of Saskatoon’s performing artists share their work in Episode 1 of Persephone Theatre’s Open Stage, which was published earlier this month. The episode is available to watch whenever you want at persephonetheatre.org and features Peace Akintade, Kathie Cram, Amanda Trapp, Sketchy Bandits, Carla Orosz and Ellen Froese.

4. Have some family fun

The Fuddruckers Family Fun Centre (2910 8th St. E) is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, weather permitting. Families can practice their skills on the 18-hole Putt N’ Bounce miniature golf course, reach new heights on The Rock climbing wall or take a swing at the Grand Slam batting cages. More information is available at fudds.ca or by calling 306-477-0808.

5. Drop off your hazardous waste

The City of Saskatoon is holding its first Hazardous Household Waste Drop Off of the year on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Civic Operations Centre (57 Valley Rd.). The drop off is open to Saskatoon residents from residential properties only. Products eligible for drop off include aerosols, automotive fluids, batteries, cleaners, light bulbs, yard chemicals and more. Learn more at saskatoon.ca/hazardouswaste.

  1. Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring

    Little art gallery brings colour, connection to Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood

  2. Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon

    Persephone Theatre brings in community co-leads for new Artists’ Working Group

The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.

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YK ARCC celebrates 10 years by pushing for NWT art gallery – Cabin Radio

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Its trailer doubles as one of the NWT’s only art galleries. Now, the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre is turning 10 years old.

The group, YK ARCC for short, formed in 2011 in a downtown Yellowknife church scheduled for demolition. “There was always something going on,” recalled Métis artist Rosalind Mercredi, owner of the city’s Down to Earth Gallery, who was YK ARCC’s first president.

“I think it was so good to be able to have a space where people wanted to work on stuff and, if they had bigger projects they wanted to do, there was a space to do it. It was pretty vibrant times, I would say, for art.”

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Though the organization stayed in the church for less than a year, it has brought art and shows to Yellowknife since. Temporary homes have included an apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant and empty spaces in the Centre Square Mall.

Casey Koyczan, a Tłı̨chǫ artist from Yellowknife pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Manitoba, held some of his first shows with YK ARCC’s help.

“It really helped to be able to show work within an environment that was conducive to more of a fine arts aesthetic as opposed to … a coffee shop, or a pub, or something like that,” said Koyczan, who was on YK ARCC’s board.

“YK ARCC felt like it was getting to more of a formal-exhibit kind of feel.”

‘We need a territorial gallery’

The group made headlines shortly after opening a mobile art gallery in a trailer. At the beginning of the pandemic, the team took art to residents by accepting reservations through Facebook then driving the gallery to make house calls in different neighbourhoods.

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“Because it’s so small, we might be the only gallery in Canada that didn’t have to close,” said longtime board member Sarah Swan. “It has a limited capacity. We knew we could still operate it safely.”

YK ARCC’s first home is pictured in 2011. Photo: Submitted
Casey Koyczan stands in front of a painting at a YK ARCC show in 2014. Photo: Submitted

Yet the trailer’s success simultaneously illuminated what YK ARCC’s members believe is a glaring deficiency in the NWT: the absence of a territorial gallery.

The cost of rent makes it difficult for the non-profit to hold on to one space for any length of time. Many of the spaces that are available in Yellowknife don’t work well for art shows.

“We need a territorial gallery,” former board member Dan Korver said.

That doesn’t mean a commercial gallery geared toward profit, he clarified. Instead, Korver wants a space where artists can show their work and engage with an audience “for art’s sake.”

The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is the only large-scale, non-commercial, gallery fitting that bill in the NWT. It hosts two fine art exhibits a year.

“It’s just simply not enough,” said Swan. “There are so many more artists and so much more work out there to show, so many more ideas.”

“We created the mobile gallery in the first place to feel that exhibition gap, but also, we created it to be a piece of agitation in itself. That’s why we called it the Art Gallery of the Northwest Territories.

“It’s really pathetic that our territorial gallery is a trailer. We all joke that if there ever is a real gallery of the Northwest Territories that’s not in a trailer, we’ll happily give the name back.”

YK ARCC debuted its mobile gallery in the summer of 2019. Pictured are board member Brian McCutcheon and artist Terry Pamplin. Photo: Submitted
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mobile art gallery, yk arcc

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Art by Shelley Vanderbyl is displayed in Yellowknife’s mobile gallery in May 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A YK ARCC show in 2018, called Social Fabric, was held inside a former bank in the Centre Square Mall. Thirty-two artists were featured and 800 people attended. Photo: Submitted

Koyczan described obstacles in establishing his career that stemmed directly from the lack of a territorial art gallery.

“Back when I was showing at YK ARCC, it wasn’t recognized by the Canada Arts Council,” he said. “Therefore, when you go to apply for grants and funding … and you provide your CV saying that you showed work at YK ARCC, they check their records and say the show basically didn’t exist because they don’t recognize it as a legitimate gallery.

“I’ve had to work really hard on exporting myself and making artwork that is impactful so that, regardless of where I was located, it would be recognized by people in the south, or around North America, or internationally.

“The NWT needs a contemporary gallery. It’s just holding us back, not having that space.”

‘No GNWT mandate’ for a gallery

In a written statement to Cabin Radio, the territorial Department of Education, Culture, and Employment said it has no plan to create a territorial gallery.

The department said it “does not have a mandate to create physical infrastructure for the arts.”

“However,” the response continued, “the GNWT would be happy to work with regional organizations to see how the GNWT can support their plans.”

Korver believes government involvement in creating an artist-run centre or non-commercial gallery should be limited to provision of funding, so any gallery can remain community-driven and independent.

“We need that physical space, but how do you run it?” he wondered. “Is it better to just provide a grassroots organization – or organizations, maybe there shouldn’t just be one – with stable funding so they can provide those spaces and run those spaces?”

More spaces that can host art are on the way.

Makerspace YK moved into the old After 8 pub this January and is planning workshops and exhibits. The City of Yellowknife expects to open a visitor centre in the Centre Square Mall that would include art displays.

Meanwhile, the territorial government is set to release its updated NWT Arts Strategy this June. The previous territorial arts strategy, released in 2004, had identified a need for more arts spaces.

As a gallery owner, Mercredi said she is curious to see how the strategy is implemented.

YK ARCC staged an outdoor installation in 2017. Photo: Submitted
Rosalind Mercredi, first president of YK ARCC, at the mobile gallery. Photo: Submitted

“You can make a strategy but if the plan doesn’t have an implementation idea behind it, then really just sits,” she said. “How do you implement it when most of the arts organizations don’t have enough infrastructure or people to put those things together?”

Swan said YK ARCC will continue to run its mobile gallery while celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Members have applied for funding to run a series of “emerging curator workshops.”

“Art is our passion,” Swan said. “I think there’s just this drive to share.

“Because we know how good art can be, or how amazing and fully developed it can be, we want to fight for that. We want to try to grow the art community in Yellowknife.”

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