Extra, Extra! Newsflash! Full house for amazing Vancouver Sun photo archive show!

It was an amazing burst of the historical floodgates this weekend at the Presentation House Satellite Gallery, 560 Seymour Street (correction - initially I said Belkin Satellite). The Vancouver Sun’s photo archives were put up on display in a show filled to the brim with 8x10 glossy photographs, full page newspaper covers, and ephemera. On Saturday afternoon, Kate Bird and John Mackie spoke about the history of the collection, and overflow audience sat at the edge of their seats for the entire presentation!

One profoundly significant recent discovery was made just before Saturday’s talk. John Mackie came upon photographs of one of the most exceptional murals ever painted in British Columbia, the murals for the BC Pavilion at the Golden Gate Exposition in 1939. A set of extraordinary photographs depicts the three artists at work with the mural, along with images of the interior of the BC Pavilion. I believe the three images you see being painted are in fact, the miniature versions of the murals that were painted for the hometown crowd, and which reside in the Royal BC Archives in Victoria. The paintings are largely completed, so the photographs appear to be somewhat ‘staged’. I am still holding out for the discovery of some colour images featuring the murals, but for 1939, that might be just fantasy!

Sadly, no one really knows what happened to the original murals, which were larger than life in size and wrapped around the entire interior of the building in 12 panels. Considering they were the work of 3 accomplished war artists who all went on to critical acclaim, I think it’s safe to say the mural would have been worth millions. The Golden Gate Expo made a comeback in 1940, but BC was too preoccupied with the war effort to return, and I have not yet determined who took over the BC pavilion (hunch: it may have been Alaska). Thus, I believe the loss of this mural is one of the sad cultural casualties of war; had we not been at war, perhaps someone would have thought to bring the murals back home where they belonged.

I highly recommend a visit or two to this show; it really is overflowing with treasures and deserves repeated visits. The show runs until March 30th. Here’s John Mackie’s article in the Sun as a background to the show.

Cross-posted to VancouverIsAwesome.

Last week I featured The Epic of Western Canada by John Innes; this week, it’s his followup series from 1930 titled From Trail to Rail; The Epic of Transportation. In the words of the brochure, this is the story of man’s achievement pushing back the frontiers of Canada in twenty-one oil paintings. Again, it was a collaboration between artist John Innes, art patron Arthur P. Denby, and the Hudson’s Bay Company where the works were exhibited. Below is a listing of the 21 paintings:

  1. A Trail in the Wilderness
  2. Dog Travois
  3. Horse Travois
  4. The Buffalo Hunt
  5. The Skin Canoe
  6. A Portage
  7. The Company Canoe
  8. Batteau Running a Chute
  9. Carriers of the North
  10. The Pack Trail
  11. Dog Trains
  12. Red River Carts  
  13. Prairie Schooners  
  14. The Bull Train  
  15. The Buckboard 
  16. The Stage Coach 
  17. The River Steamers  
  18. The Trail of Destiny  
  19. The Challenge
  20. The Battle of the Rocks
  21. Triumph

Fortunately, I don’t need to track down any lost paintings because I have confirmed all of these paintings became property of the Glenbow Foundation in Calgary. They are not on public display at the moment, but I have acquired an image from the series exclusively for your benefit.

I’ve chosen to show the very last painting in the series called Triumph, featuring a steam locomotive headed straight for the artist! Actually, I can attest, this was not John Innes’ last painting, but it was the end of his collaboration with Arthur P. Denby. It’s unclear exactly what their arrangement amounted to, and even less clear how things fell apart, but John Cowan briefly describes things in his book John Innes: Painter of the Canadian West:

Unfortunately misunderstandings and disagreements arose, for which neither the artist nor patron was wholly to blame, and an alliance that had accomplished much good was ended. The truth is, Innes had driven himself for some years beyond his strength and was worn out. Denby, eager to see these prodigious feats of creative work completed in the artist’s years of vigor, had perhaps urged too great effort.

Cowan mentions that Innes had covered the topic of transportation earlier in his career. While working in New York, Innes drew a series of pictures that were purchased by a Philadelphia publisher and released as colour postcards. Apparently it was a huge hit with millions of cards sold.

Alas, commercial success did not come easily after the two epic series. It was now the start of the depression, and over these next few years John Innes saw his health begin to suffer. As the years progressed, he was forced to give up his downtown studio, and later paintings of his favourite subjects took on a much smaller scale. Perhaps this was for the best, as working at large scale did not always work in his favour, never mind the impact of all those paint fumes.

But rather than diminish the work of Innes in his later years, I’d like to sum up this chapter with one last quotation by John Cowan from John Innes: Painter of the Canadian West describing the studio of the artist at work:

The studios John Innes worked in, many in number, were never sumptuous, and were usually littered with an unholy and unsightly collection of junk—pack-saddles, riding boots, stirrups, blankets, books, magazines and miscellaneous debris. As friends left town—miners, prospectors, engineers; a nomadic crew in this western country—the long-suffering artist became custodian of their stuff. But always amid the litter there was reserved a free corner by north windows where sifted, shadowed, smoke-browned light struggled through to the painter’s stand where his “chunks of western epic” came to life. It was to such unpretentious, junk-littered, smoke-cured quarters a rare company of democratic spirits—poets, pilots, soldiers, ranchers, miners, prospectors, mounted police, artists, newspapermen—found their way to enjoy his talk and swap yarns. “Jack Innes’s studio is an oasis in a business Sahara! I find a visit there as refreshing as a sea-breeze on a sweltering day!” a friend once remarked. This horde of visitors, however, did not further the painter’s work, but he loved company and there was seldom any complaint at interruptions.

So is this the end of my coverage of the work of John Innes? Not quite. Next time I’d like to cover the Spencer’s murals, made for Canada’s Diamond Jubilee / 60th birthday in 1927, these paintings are now relegated to the dustbin of history…

Cross-posted to VancouverIsAwesome.com.

The Epic of Western Canada, a series of thirty oil paintings by John Innes that were shown on the sixth floor at the Hudson’s Bay in Vancouver on September of 1928. Apologies for such a lengthy post, but I couldn’t leave anything out. Below is a listing of all 30 paintings in the series:

  1. Silence
  2. Lords of the Wild [also titled Lords of the Plains]
  3. Buffalo Scouts
  4. When the Blackfeet Hunt
  5. The Pioneers’ Highway
  6. Treaty
  7. The Trading Post
  8. The Travellers
  9. In the Grip of the Frost
  10. The Red River Cart
  11. Prairie Schooners
  12. The Guardian of the West
  13. League-Long Furrows
  14. The Last Survivor
  15. The Trail of Ashes
  16. The Red-man’s Reverie
  17. Cattle-Land
  18. The Cattle Cruiser
  19. The Prospector
  20. The Eternal Quest
  21. In Rory Bory Land
  22. The Fur Hunters
  23. Pioneer Lumbering
  24. Fishers of the Western Gateway
  25. The Trail Rider
  26. The Pathfinder
  27. The Engineer
  28. The Roaring Devil of the Paleface
  29. Scarlet and Gold
  30. Flood-Tide of Opportunity

As described by the Vancouver Maritime Museum, this collection of paintings made their way into the HBC collection after touring across Canada:

…Innes reached Vancouver in 1905. On the way, he painted the beginning of a series of works in which he intended to capture the early days of western Canada - a time of the first nations, fur traders, trappers and cowboys. The result, which Innes called “The Epic of the West,” ended up being purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company after a Canada-wide exhibition.

Actually, the book John Innes, Painter of the Canadian West mentions these paintings were also shown in London, England and later at the Fur Congress in Leipzig, Germany (possibly the International Fur Trade Exhibition and Congress in 1930). They were also displayed at the Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site for many years. Where are these paintings now? In 1994, the Bay donated the HBC Collection to the Manitoba Museum.

After contacting the curator of the HBC Collection, I was told the museum has a total of 26 oil paintings by John Innes, as well as 4 watercolours showing HBC posts in northern BC. Twenty five of these oil paintings are from the Epic of Western Canada series, but that leaves 5 paintings from the series outstanding. They are:

  1. The Travellers - described by the 1929 copyright catalog as “Two Indians on horseback riding through storm. Horse without rider at their right.” This painting was previously in the Manager’s office of a Zellers warehouse in Pointe Claire, QC. The facility was sold in 1987 and certain artworks were part of that sale. As this occurred before the 1994 donation, the painting has been separated from the series. Update! This painting is confirmed to remain with the North West Company, and it hangs in Gibraltar House in Winnipeg.
  2. In the Grip of the Frost - this painting dated 1917 appeared in the publication The Gold Stripe, Number 2 (1919), and at the time it was owned by J. B. Cowan, Esq. Incidentally, it was John Bruce Cowan who wrote the biography of John Innes published in 1945. The painting also appears in the book John Innes, Painter of the Canadian West, and so we can presume it was one of the paintings repurchased from collectors to create the Epic of Western Canada series. Current whereabouts unknown.
  3. The Cattle Cruiser - also appears in the book John Innes, Painter of the Canadian West, shown above; whereabouts unknown.
  4. The Pathfinder - described by the 1929 copyright catalog as “Man on horseback leading pack-horse, fording a stream. Forest and hills in background”; whereabouts unknown.
  5. Flood-Tide of Opportunity - armed with this description from the 1929 copyright catalog, I made an important discovery! “Skyscrapers in background. Field of wheat in middle distance. Pioneers and Indians in right foreground”

I am quite pleased to announce that I have personally solved the whereabouts of ONE of these five missing paintings! I had received a picture of the painting from HBC in response to my query, and by matching it to the description in the 1929 copyright catalog, I determined this last painting remains with HBC! As for the other four outstanding paintings, I shall keep searching. Perhaps one day these paintings will turn up and rejoin the rest of the collection in Manitoba.

Special thanks to HBC, the Manitoba Museum, Jaleen Grove, and everyone on the Internet for their assistance compiling this information. Next week, I will feature his followup series of paintings called From Trail to Rail; the Epic of Transportation. Stay tuned for more!

Cross-posted to VancouverIsAwesome.com with alternate text.