Detail from Pacific Gateway (100) - 50” x 42”, by John Koerner from the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver. From his website:

The Pacific Gateway Series began after several prolonged stays in Japan. Japanese culture and art had made a deep impression on me when I first saw Ukiyo-e prints at the Louvre at the age of 15.
The Japanese concepts of simplicity and restraint resonated with me, as I had already realized that a meditative mood and serenity needs understatement of colour relationships as it gains a lot in overall strength, balance and solidity. The principle of unity is helped by emphasizing monochromatics.
The theme of this series is the Pacific Rim, which expands over peaceful tide pools of the West Coast beaches toward the sand gardens of the Nihon temples. It also deals with the peaceful arch through which we all must someday cross – from one reality to another.

Yesterday was John Koerner’s 100th birthday. Earlier this year, John was presented with a copy of his new book John Koerner: Drawings and Observations at the Burnaby Art Gallery; Gary Sim wrote about this event here. More about these celebrations from the Province:

On his website, johnkoerner.ca, the artist describes himself as “the oldest still-active member of the Vancouver School of painters, a group that developed modernism in Canadian art.”
“I’m still working,” he noted proudly, “whenever I feel strong enough.
“Then, after a session, I need a rest. I can’t work as long as I used to, but it’s still working.”
Despite some initial trouble navigated the front steps of the gallery — give him a break, he’s 100 — Koerner’s positive attitude shone through in his ever-present smile and the twinkle in his eyes.
“Early in my career I decided what the general direction of my work should be and that, despite the horrors and disasters in this world, it would celebrate all positive values,” Koerner said.

Update! John is currently having a major show at the Penticton Gallery called John Koerner: The Hidden Side of Nature. The show runs from Friday, September 20, 2013 to Thursday, November 07, 2013. At 27:11 in this 32 minute video posted on YouTube, John reflects on his series Pacific Gateways. Here’s even more about the work above from the Penticton Art Gallery:

After retiring from teaching at the University of British Columbia, Koerner bought a house with a view across Burrard Inlet to Point Atkinson, which became the focus of his Lighthouse series which comprises today of over 115 works…The 1970s and 1980’s saw the development of a further three series which contained The Garden of Eden, the colorful African series, and The Pacific Gateway Series - consisting of over 312 visionary works depicting the temporal “arch from here-and-now to another world” and juxtaposing Canadian and Japanese landscapes. Koerner was commissioned to do various murals, the largest as a commemoration of Vancouver’s Centennial in 1986 was installed in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Detail from Pacific Gateway (100) - 50” x 42”, by John Koerner from the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver. From his website:

The Pacific Gateway Series began after several prolonged stays in Japan. Japanese culture and art had made a deep impression on me when I first saw Ukiyo-e prints at the Louvre at the age of 15.

The Japanese concepts of simplicity and restraint resonated with me, as I had already realized that a meditative mood and serenity needs understatement of colour relationships as it gains a lot in overall strength, balance and solidity. The principle of unity is helped by emphasizing monochromatics.

The theme of this series is the Pacific Rim, which expands over peaceful tide pools of the West Coast beaches toward the sand gardens of the Nihon temples. It also deals with the peaceful arch through which we all must someday cross – from one reality to another.

Yesterday was John Koerner’s 100th birthday. Earlier this year, John was presented with a copy of his new book John Koerner: Drawings and Observations at the Burnaby Art Gallery; Gary Sim wrote about this event here. More about these celebrations from the Province:

On his website, johnkoerner.ca, the artist describes himself as “the oldest still-active member of the Vancouver School of painters, a group that developed modernism in Canadian art.”

“I’m still working,” he noted proudly, “whenever I feel strong enough.

“Then, after a session, I need a rest. I can’t work as long as I used to, but it’s still working.”

Despite some initial trouble navigated the front steps of the gallery — give him a break, he’s 100 — Koerner’s positive attitude shone through in his ever-present smile and the twinkle in his eyes.

“Early in my career I decided what the general direction of my work should be and that, despite the horrors and disasters in this world, it would celebrate all positive values,” Koerner said.

Update! John is currently having a major show at the Penticton Gallery called John Koerner: The Hidden Side of Nature. The show runs from Friday, September 20, 2013 to Thursday, November 07, 2013. At 27:11 in this 32 minute video posted on YouTube, John reflects on his series Pacific Gateways. Here’s even more about the work above from the Penticton Art Gallery:

After retiring from teaching at the University of British Columbia, Koerner bought a house with a view across Burrard Inlet to Point Atkinson, which became the focus of his Lighthouse series which comprises today of over 115 works…The 1970s and 1980’s saw the development of a further three series which contained The Garden of Eden, the colorful African series, and The Pacific Gateway Series - consisting of over 312 visionary works depicting the temporal “arch from here-and-now to another world” and juxtaposing Canadian and Japanese landscapes. Koerner was commissioned to do various murals, the largest as a commemoration of Vancouver’s Centennial in 1986 was installed in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Canadian Fishing Company, Since 1906. This 12’ x 32’ mural was painted in Steveston by Murray Gibbs of Murray’s Signs, operating in the Lower Mainland & Vancouver Island since 1986.

Here’s to Bill Reid for his extraordinary mural that adorned an entire seaplane hangar! And thanks to Al Clapp for making this happen! RIP.

thevancouversun:

Thirty-seven years ago, thousands of people descended upon a former seaplane base at Jericho Beach to check out the Habitat Forum.

The forum was a conference of non-governmental organizations that ran alongside the official Habitat conference downtown.

Politicians from more than 140 countries attended the official United Nations Conference on Human Settlements; the forum was designed for regular people. The forum started four days before the official conference.

Organizer Al Clapp and his crew had thrown together the site so quickly the sound system was installed only an hour before the opening speeches, but the forum proved to be a big hit out of the box. A standing-room-only crowd packed an old seaplane hangar which served as main hall of the site.

“The rattle of wind-snapped bunting at flagstaffs, chants of welcome from the Squamish Indians and the challenge of a livable future opened the Habitat Forum Thursday,” reported Patrick Nagle in The Vancouver Sun. “The brisk wind and sun-speckled day caught the mood of the crowd as they sat on recycled driftwood and listened to the Forum’s keynote speakers.” Canada’s urban affairs minister Barney Danson was swept up in the vibe, declaring “the spirit of Jericho is the spirit of humanity, a challenge to governments to help our people and all humanity.” It was a happening event. Mother Teresa, Buckminster Fuller and Margaret Mead all dropped by to give speeches.

Participants debated the merits of atomic power, discussed the influx of poor people from rural areas to cities and heard a social scientist speculate there could be a community in outer space by 1990.

The festive spirit was enhanced by a stunning First Nations mural designed by Bill Reid that adorned an entire end of one of the old seaplane hangars.

There were displays of alternative housing, including a rammed-earth wall. And there was a very popular bar in one of the hangars. But it lasted for only two-and-a-half weeks, because the Habitat Forum ended on June 11.

There were proposals to save the hangars for art studios and even as indoor tennis courts, but in the end everything was torn down, including the Bill Reid mural.

-John Mackie, Vancouver Sun

An article about Francis Robert (Frank) Lewis, from the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle on March 31, 1982 entitled Murals Vital Part of Program via Google News Archives. From the article:

An experienced artist, Lewis was a top commercial illustrator in eastern Canada in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was awarded both the Toronto and Montreal Art Director awards. He was named Canadian Illustrator of the Year in 1958.

His style of art began to change in the late 1960s, as he began creating what he calls ‘street art’, murals and pictures on temporary fencing, construction fencing, or buildings.

Since then the artist has done murals at the Carnegie Library, in Vancouver; the Westerly Hotel and Zorba’s Restaurant, in Courtenay; and a painting of 385 individual portraits for Daon, in Vancouver.

The City of Vancouver art registry also mentions that Frank painted this series of 385 portraits called Portrait of Vancouver. The site goes on to state the mural was painted on 1700’ of hoarding around the Daon construction site at Burrard and Pacific actually, it was at Burrard and Hastings (the gold building across the street from the Marine Building). This building at 999 West Hastings, now known as AXA Place, was previously known as the Daon Building. Construction began in 1980 and was completed in 1981. These hoarding sections were auctioned off to support the Children’s Hospital, so perhaps one of these works of art is still hiding in someone’s basement! 

I spoke with a former executive of the Daon Development Corporation who helped to point me in the right direction with these works. He mentioned that the late Jack Poole was also a co-founder of the company, and he described how the real estate and property development company also developed and built 666 Burrard, one of the largest buildings in Vancouver in terms of square footage. Daon Development Corporation was later acquired by BCE (Bell Canada Enterprises), though the Reichmann’s Olympia & York Developments were also interested in the firm’s assets. The Daon name, according to this page, was dissolved in April of 1986 (no relation to the current Daon, Inc). In 1989, Jack Poole went on to co-found VLC Properties, now known as Concert Properties.

I meant to post this article long ago, and sadly Frank passed away earlier this year. From his obituary:

…his last public painting, produced in his eightieth year, hangs in the Healing Centre in the Royal Jubilee Hospital. It is called Honour Creation and is full of symbolism from his Metis heritage. With his wife Margaret he travelled on projects to Bolivia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. They completed some of his largest murals working together for over twenty years…

If anyone has any pictures of Frank Lewis’ Portrait of Vancouver, please let me know! I am wondering if it served as a kind of historical reference or influence on the Beatty Street mural.

Revisiting the So Many Things mural not long after I photographed it reveals it has been white washed. It’s true it had seen better days; now it appears that the proprietors are shopping the site as a commerical / retail opportunity. While they managed to scrub some of the mossy green from the signage, I think they need to work a little harder than this…

Revisiting the So Many Things mural not long after I photographed it reveals it has been white washed. It’s true it had seen better days; now it appears that the proprietors are shopping the site as a commerical / retail opportunity. While they managed to scrub some of the mossy green from the signage, I think they need to work a little harder than this…

As a followup to last week’s Hotel Vancouver #2 mural, here’s another long lost mural from the Hotel Vancouver #3. 

 In 1939 Charles Comfort depicted Captain Vancouver as the guest of honour at a Northwest Coast Native potlatch ceremony for the foyer of the newly constructed Hotel Vancouver. 

In the previous mural, a group of completely out of place Plains Indians appear far off in the background on the right hand side. At least here, the Northwest Coast Natives are depicted with greater accuracy, prominently placed in the foreground with artistry.
But it’s hard not to view the depiction of the First Nations in a subservient manner. The three white men stand on podiums like track and field winners, looking rather pompous with their ship’s oar, navigational aids, and British flag. A massive totem pole looms in the background while birds fly idyllically overhead. With a target audience of visiting tourists, the intent of the mural was clearly to welcome and inspire the guests. There is no foreshadowing of the potlatch ban that would come years later.
This image is seen on the cover of the book National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s - 1930s by Marylin J. McKay. Ironically, the painting itself is on the other side of the country in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, PEI.

As a followup to last week’s Hotel Vancouver #2 mural, here’s another long lost mural from the Hotel Vancouver #3. 

In 1939 Charles Comfort depicted Captain Vancouver as the guest of honour at a Northwest Coast Native potlatch ceremony for the foyer of the newly constructed Hotel Vancouver.

In the previous mural, a group of completely out of place Plains Indians appear far off in the background on the right hand side. At least here, the Northwest Coast Natives are depicted with greater accuracy, prominently placed in the foreground with artistry.

But it’s hard not to view the depiction of the First Nations in a subservient manner. The three white men stand on podiums like track and field winners, looking rather pompous with their ship’s oar, navigational aids, and British flag. A massive totem pole looms in the background while birds fly idyllically overhead. With a target audience of visiting tourists, the intent of the mural was clearly to welcome and inspire the guests. There is no foreshadowing of the potlatch ban that would come years later.

This image is seen on the cover of the book National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s - 1930s by Marylin J. McKay. Ironically, the painting itself is on the other side of the country in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, PEI.

In my ongoing exploration of Vancouver’s murals, I present to you one rare and extraordinary survivor from one of Vancouver’s greatest hotels. The Landing of Captain Vancouver by American artist Marion Powers Kirkpatrick. This mural measuring 8 x 16 feet once hung in the magnificent CPR Hotel Vancouver #2 of 1916. Paul Sternberg, Sr. writes about the artist in his book "Art by American Women":

Born in London, England of American parents, Marion Powers excelled in vibrant still lifes that had textile designs in them and large-scale murals. She began art study in London and then in Paris.

She married the English painter, W.A.B. Kirkpatrick [
William Arber Brown Kirkpatrick], and in 1906, they settled in Waldeboro, Maine. Prior to living in Waldoboro and Friendship (summer studio) Maine, she and her husband maintained a studio in Boston. She executed a mural at the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Hotel Vancouver in British Columbia and also did still life with randomly displayed objects, painted only for the purpose of showing the objects.

She was an illustrator for “Harper’s” Magazine. She illustrated many magazine covers for Woman’s Home companion, Sunday Magazine various books as well as advertisements for Jello. Many of her still lifes involve food or flower arrangements with very brilliant colors. From 1906 to 1929, she exhibited numerous times at the annual exhibitions of the National and Pennsylvania Academies and was in many other exhibitions.

She is in the permanent collection of the Lourvre in Paris.

Not much is known about Marion Powers Kirkpatrick’s connection to Vancouver, but it is perhaps possible that Francis S. Swales, the architect of the hotel saw her work at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and commissioned this mural in time for the Hotel’s grand opening in 1916.

The August 1916 edition of the Architect magazine is dedicated to the hotel, featuring text written by none other than the architect himself, Francis S. Swales. I got very excited recently when I discovered that this entire issue of the Architect is available on archive.org; I had seen the copy at the Vancouver Archives last year, and it is a phenomenal view of the greatest hotel we ever had. I actually searched all other posted issues of the Architect but failed to find any other major articles about Vancouver. But back to the mural, about which the architect writes: 

A beautifully composed and richly colored decorative picture in the central lunette over the back bar, painted by Marion Powers Kirkpatrick, of Boston, is comparable with the work of Frank Braugwyn and gives the necessary glowing note of color that prevents what might otherwise be a somber effect.

The accompanying photos just barely show the mural in position over the bar on the lower level of the hotel. It’s hard to imagine having anything somber to say about the Hotel Vancouver #2, except for the fact that it was demolished just 33 years after it was built to make way for a parking lot.

This mural is currently on display at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, where it is part of their permanent collection. The fact that this mural outlived the hotel is something of small miracle. The mural’s second home also faced the wrecking ball, but fortunately for us, it was once again rescued at the last moment. From the description of the artwork at the museum:

Commissioned from an unknown source, Boston area artist Marion Powers Kirkpatrick created this mural to hang in the Hotel Vancouver. The painting was later installed in the lobby of Pier BC, over the double doors in the lobby that led to the walkway along the roof over the sheds of the pier. Pier BC was opened in 1927, but it is not known when exactly the painting was installed [I speculate it was probably just prior to the demolition of the hotel in 1949 when most of the hotel fixtures were auctioned off]. It hung there until 1980, a few days before Pier BC was demolished. Canada Place is where Pier BC used to be.

As for the depictions in the mural itself, I will refrain from being too critical of the subject matter. The scene is pure historical fantasy. If the Native Indians on the far right of the scene appear to be out of place, remember this was painted by an American woman from Boston who lived in a time long before the aid of the Internet. Captain George Vancouver’s musclebound crew are seen showing off their shirtless bodies while feasting on a tropical bounty no doubt just in from Hawaii. The small child in the foreground acts as a reminder of man’s responsibilities, fitting for all those who find themselves seated in front of the bar for too long.

This nearly 100 year old work of art is one of our city’s great hidden gems. I highly recommend a trip to the Maritime Museum to see it in person, and when you do, try to imagine what it must have been like to sit at this bar when the hotel was just one year old and prohibition kicked into effect for four long years (October 1, 1917–June 14, 1921).

Lost David Spencer Department Store Diamond Jubilee Murals Pt 2

This is a followup post on the long lost Spencer’s department store murals originally posted here. A few clarifications I need to make over last week’s post; I originally said Golden Jubilee, but in fact, it was the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927. And to be clear, David Spencer had passed away in 1920, but it was still common to refer to the department store as David Spencer Limited. To bring you up to speed, I’ve been trying to find out just what happened to these 1927 murals painted by John Innes and G.H. Southwell. The trail goes cold in December of 1948 when Spencer’s is acquired by the Timothy Eaton Company.

At this point in time, Eaton’s takes control of the Spencer’s store in Vancouver, transforming it into an Eaton’s store. In 1972, it was time for Eaton’s to move into the brand new Pacific Centre complex. Then on May 5, 1989, Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre officially opened its doors in the Spencer Building at 515 West Hastings. In search of the murals, I looked high and low, asking everyone I could think of, including the Vancouver Archives, the Vancouver Art Gallery Library, SFU, the Archives of Ontario which holds the Eaton’s archive, Gary Sim, Jaleen Grove, the VPL and more, but no one seemed to know the murals’ whereabouts.

I recently acquired from MacLeod’s Books the actual brochure that Spencer’s handed out in 1927 titled Tableaux of Canadian History and Industry. The VanArchives also has a copy. Regretfully, it contains no images of the murals, but it provides some context to the scenes and the Jubilee celebrations. It seems there was also a display of significant historical events in Canada’s history which they called the Historical Tableaux. This was executed by George Patterson, adapted from pictures by Charles W. Jefferys and Henry Sandham in Nelson’s Pictures of Canadian History. Furthermore, there was a series of Industrial Exhibits from Canadian manufacturers which were displayed in the store. It was like a mini Exposition!

I was about to give up early when I finally uncovered a significant clue! Page 76 of the book National Soul - Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s - 1930s by Marylin J. McKay states:

In 1927 John Innes (assisted by George Southwell) painted ten panels for the Vancouver department store of David Spencer (some panels destroyed, some panels in storage in the Art Gallery of the University of British Columbia). They represent logging, mining, fishing, and agriculture. One panel includes an image of Simon Fraser on the Fraser River…

So there you have it! I forgot to ask UBC! The book continues to offer clues, stating the paintings were removed from the store and donated to UBC, as noted in the Vancouver Sun on March 24, 1949. And I subsequently learned that according to the Spencer’s file at UBC, these two paintings did not survive this donation:

  • Captain Vancouver’s Ships at Nootka
  • Mackenzie Menaced by Indians at Bella Coola

Perhaps culturally, this is no great loss; early colonial depictions of First Nations are too often historically inaccurate, demeaning, and demoralizing. Had these scenes been painted by the most respected First Nations artist of the day, they certainly would have had different titles! While these murals may have a colonial naivete about them, I still feel they are a notable reflection of their time.

Since the book A National Soul was written in 2001, things have changed. Upon contacting the Belkin Art Gallery at UBC, I’ve learned that some of the 8 surviving murals were deaccessioned from their archives in August of 2008. After requesting photographs, 5 images including 4 hastily made panoramic photographs were sent documenting their poor condition. The murals were indeed a pale reflection of their former glory. The colours muted and the canvases scratched and torn, these murals certainly did not resemble the vibrant colours seen in the printed Spencer’s pamphlet from 1936. The quality of the artwork, logistical issues surrounding their storage, and the daunting task of restoration seemed too great a burden for the art gallery to maintain.

I’ve taken the roughly stitched panoramas and tried to simulate a restoration of colours to give you a slightly better indication of what the paintings may have looked like. Unfortunately, the quality of the photograph of Simon Fraser’s Canoes Descending the Fraser River is too poor to accurately correct, but at least you have some indication of the colours that cannot be seen in the black and white photograph. This painting was perhaps aesthetically the best work in the series, and it’s a shame it has not found it’s way to the art collection at SFU.

Of the four panoramic murals, the Pioneer Fishing mural and Pioneer Farming mural appear to have the same dimensions. Likewise, the Pioneer Logging and Pioneer Mining murals appear to have matching dimensions. While we may not be able to determine precisely where these paintings hung inside Spencer’s, future photographic discoveries may one day help to answer this question. I do think the Pioneer Fishing mural would have looked handsome on display somewhere in town today, even in its unrestored state. The scene clearly depicts the Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains, one of the most popular and recognizable views in the city. It did appear to have been in the best condition of the 5 photographed murals.

I had presumed that deaccession most certainly meant these paintings were now lost, but in fact, this is not the case. There was one other person I wanted to ask about these murals, and as it turns out, this was precisely the person I needed to speak with. Upon emailing Cheryle Harrison of Conserv-Arte, I’ve learned that these four pioneer murals have been entrusted to her! Cheryle was the conservator for the Southwell paintings in the B.C. Legislature and she led the restoration of the Malaspina Hotel murals created by EJ Hughes, Orville Fisher, and Paul Goranson, so there is perhaps no more qualified guardian for their future. As for the other four murals of historical scenes, I’m not quite certain where they’ve ended up. Lost, destroyed, stolen, or deaccessioned, I have yet to track them down. To review, here are the missing titles once again:

  • Captain Vancouver Exploring Burrard Inlet
  • Ships of Spain off Point Grey
  • Simon Fraser’s Canoes Descending the Fraser River
  • Trading with the Indians at Fort Victoria, 1845

And so, I must conclude my epic search for the long lost Spencer’s department store murals (for now at least). Like so many murals around the world, they have slipped into the past, nearly forgotten. The story behind these murals seems to me almost as fragile as the murals themselves. Having pieced together the details above, I take some consolation in the fact that their story has once again been told. There are so few specimens that do survive, increased awareness of the rarity and fragility of historical murals is perhaps one of the best possible outcomes of this quest. The next time you see a mural in situ, be sure to treasure it!

Lost David Spencer Department Store Golden Diamond Jubilee Murals Pt 1

This is the epic story of a forgotten art project that dates back to the time of Canada’s 50th 60th birthday celebration of Confederation, July of 1927. Allow me to briefly paint the backdrop to this story. The location: the newly renovated David Spencer department store in Vancouver (now the home of SFU Harbour Centre). The commission: a series of 10 historical paintings by two prominent artists of the day, John Innes and G.H. Southwell. What has become of these murals today? Read on…

The earliest account I have mentioning the murals at Spencer’s is the Tuesday, July 5, 1927 edition of the Vancouver Daily Province (page 22). The article gives notice of the upcoming unveiling of 10 paintings and is illustrated with this Vancouver Archives photo.

It describes how the pictures have been painted as part of Spencer’s commemoration of Canada’s Diamond Jubilee, and that they will remain on display on the main floor of the building as permanent wall decorations after the Jubilee celebrations. It’s my guess that the series of 8 historical paintings John Innes had completed a few years earlier helped to secure this commission.

This article also gives an indication of the scale of these paintings, citing four by eighteen feet (seems to be the dimensions of Captain Vancouver Exploring Burrard Inlet) as well as seven by eight feet (perhaps Simon Fraser’s Canoes Descending the Fraser River).

The day after the paintings were unveiled, another article appeared in the Vancouver Daily Province on Thursday, July 7, 1927 (page 7). This Vancouver Archives photo depicting Simon Fraser is shown hanging on the wall of the store, along with the President of UBC, the artists, and onlookers (page 24).

The Province article on page 7 goes into greater detail, indicating that the paintings hang on the east, west, and south walls of the main floor of the new building and that the 10 commissioned paintings were completed in a span of just 4 weeks! This suggests to me that the entire commission was something of a last minute afterthought, perhaps coming as late as June, 1927 with a deadline for the first week of July? No wonder John Innes recruited his studio mate G.H. Southwell to assist with the project!

About the presentation of the paintings:

Before the unveiling, Mr. Chris Spencer briefly outlined the thought which prompted the execution of the pictures, declaring he hoped they would serve as a pictorial representation to the rising generation of the part which British Columbia has played in the history of the Dominion.

The second president of UBC, Dr. Leonard S. Klinck spoke about the spirit of the gesture, and Rev. J. Williams Ogden, an artist himself, also gave a few words of appreciation in a concluding speech.

Between these two articles, I’ve put together titles for all 10 paintings. The first group includes 3 historical scenes all set in the year 1792:

  1. Captain Vancouver Exploring Burrard Inlet
  2. Ships of Spain off Point Grey
  3. Captain Vancouver’s Ships at Nootka or
    Captain Vancouver Saluting the Spanish Fort at Nootka

    The second group deals with exploration and trade:

  4. Mackenzie Menaced by Indians at Bella Coola
  5. Simon Fraser’s Canoes Descending the Fraser River
  6. Trading with the Indians at Fort Victoria, 1845

    The third group pays homage to British Columbia’s pioneering industries:

  7. Pioneer Agriculture
  8. Pioneer Fishing
  9. Pioneer Logging
  10. Pioneer Mining

In the absence of showing all 10 murals here, I’ve included 2 drawings from John Innes’ 1926 series of ads for Shelly’s Bread which featured over 50 scenes from British Columbia’s history. These ads ran in newspapers throughout the year, and fortunately, the Vancouver Archives possesses a complete set of these ads in this treasure trove of a scrapbook, donated by the North Shore Museum and Archives in 1987.

Perhaps by now you have an idea how hard it is to piece together the details surrounding this series of murals when the murals themselves no longer appear to exist. With no clear documented chronology, it’s hard to know where to begin. That’s why I was extraordinarily excited when I found the 1936 Golden Jubilee anniversary brochure, featuring a COLOUR image of Captain Vancouver Exploring Burrard Inlet! The brochure states:

This painting, Captain Vancouver Exploring Burrard Inlet—1792, is one of a series of six, depicting memorable scenes in the early history of British Columbia, specially commissioned by David Spencer Limited, and hangs with its companion pictures in the Vancouver branch of this pioneer British Columbia company.

Having found ONE of the 10 paintings in colour, I was now determined to find more! The hunt was on to track down more evidence of these long lost murals! I started asking everyone I knew! This led me to the All Nations Stamp and Coin store in the Dunbar neighbourhood on the off chance that they might know something. Sure enough, they DID know something—the original solid wooden cabinets from the Spencer’s store have been re-purposed in this very store! (unfortunately, they knew nothing about the murals). Hot on the trail, I was hungry for more, and I was not about to give up! But alas, time is running out! This story will continue with a followup post soon! Stay tuned!

ps: Note to the Vancouver Archives: after close scrutiny, it seems to me that at some point in time, one of the photographs in the archives has been mislabeled. Captain Vancouver’s ship Chatham should in fact be called the Ships of Spain off Point Grey, based on the following: 

  1. There never was a painting called Captain Vancouver’s ship Chatham in this series.
  2. The large cross on the sail looks characteristically more Spanish than British. While it’s true that both British and Spanish ships were known to use a red cross, the British were more likely to display the cross of St. George, whereas a ship in the Spanish Armada would be more inclined to display a variation of the Templar cross.
  3. The flag at the top of the mast does not appear to be the Union Jack. Even without seeing the painting in colour, the flag more closely resembles the Spanish flag—two bands of red and a band of yellow in the centre.
  4. There is one other possible title for this painting; it could be Captain Vancouver’s Ships at Nootka / Captain Vancouver Saluting the Spanish Fort at Nootka. However, looking at the surrounding geography, my educated guess says this scene is depicting the North Shore Mountains and not the landscape at Nootka.

So Many Things cruise ship mural, located at 325 Columbia Street in the DTES, artist unknown. As you can see from Jeremy’s photo a few years ago, this mural has gotten a bit smaller with the removal of those cheering the cruise ships from the shore.

A few more closeups of the great Vancouver Paint-in from VanArchives. The last painting here is by prolific folk artist Gordon Kit Thorne; the other works appear to be unsigned. In Gordon’s painting, he has painted a garden scene with flowering cherry trees, with the words “Gone but not FORGOTTEN”. He appears to be lamenting the loss of some cherry trees located in front of the art gallery, before the fountain was installed (you can see the Hotel Georgia in the background). For further reading, see Carol DeFina’s fairly extensive history of Vancouver’s cherry trees for the Vancouver Park Board, posted on the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival website.

pasttensevancouver:

The Big Paint-In, Thursday 7 April 1966
Info here.
Source: Photo by Ernie H Reksten, City of Vancouver Archives #2010-006.073

I always like seeing colour images of the Paint-in, and I didn’t realize there was such a big series at the VanArchives. I posted the cover of Vancouver Life magazine to Twitter a little over a year ago, but thought I’d put that on flickr as well.
Jes Odam reported that up to 100 artists were involved painting 130 panels, specifically mentioning Bernhard Thor, Joy Caros and student Linda Hately. In addition, I’ve compiled a list of the names that I can read from the signatures on the paintings themselves. As far as I can tell, they are:
Bernhard Thor
Joy Caros
Linda Hately
A Longcake
H Halliday
G E Brown
Chim?
Joan Foster
K Smith
Merx
Gordon Kit Thorne
Frank Lewis
Saunder Gee
R Smith
J Dives
J Wilkinson
J Burn and Timi S? Courtesy C-FUN
Peter Hurvik?
N Seidl & H J Seidl
Inge
VSA?
Lesley June?
Stonebridge
Mario Fanzone
Weldors? (sculpture)
Feel free to comment if someone you know painted one of these murals!

pasttensevancouver:

The Big Paint-In, Thursday 7 April 1966

Info here.

Source: Photo by Ernie H Reksten, City of Vancouver Archives #2010-006.073

I always like seeing colour images of the Paint-in, and I didn’t realize there was such a big series at the VanArchives. I posted the cover of Vancouver Life magazine to Twitter a little over a year ago, but thought I’d put that on flickr as well.

Jes Odam reported that up to 100 artists were involved painting 130 panels, specifically mentioning Bernhard Thor, Joy Caros and student Linda Hately. In addition, I’ve compiled a list of the names that I can read from the signatures on the paintings themselves. As far as I can tell, they are:

  1. Bernhard Thor
  2. Joy Caros
  3. Linda Hately
  4. A Longcake
  5. H Halliday
  6. G E Brown
  7. Chim?
  8. Joan Foster
  9. K Smith
  10. Merx
  11. Gordon Kit Thorne
  12. Frank Lewis
  13. Saunder Gee
  14. R Smith
  15. J Dives
  16. J Wilkinson
  17. J Burn and Timi S? Courtesy C-FUN
  18. Peter Hurvik?
  19. N Seidl & H J Seidl
  20. Inge
  21. VSA?
  22. Lesley June?
  23. Stonebridge
  24. Mario Fanzone
  25. Weldors? (sculpture)

Feel free to comment if someone you know painted one of these murals!

Ladies Parlor of the Castle Hotel, a vintage postcard-like image via Glen A Mofford's outstanding collection of hotel and beer parlour ephemera on flickr. This photograph shows a series of large scale murals above each booth, which I presume to be paintings they but could also be tapestries? I do suspect these are original art and not merely reproductions or wallpaper. I have never seen this interior before and it looks to be phenomenal!

This hotel was once located at 750 Granville Street tucked in next to the Vancouver Block, and it operated at that location from 1915-1990. Previously it was known as the Windsor Hotel which operated from 1888-1914. This postcard image is circa 1930, and it appears to mix art deco styles with some very organic folk art, creating quite a contemporary visual feast. It must have been spectacular to see in colour! This would have been such a great place to hang out after a show across the street during any of these eras: the old Opera House (1891), the Orpheum [#3] (1913), Loew’s Vaudeville (1914), the Orpheum [again, this time owned by the Orpheum Circuit] (1915), Vancouver Theatre (1927), Lyric Theatre (1935), International Cinema (1948), and Lyric Theatre again (c.1965-1969).

If anyone ever finds any further documentation surrounding these murals or the artist responsible, please leave a comment! I stretched a few of the panels for a simulated view of the art, but it is very difficult to reconstruct at this dramatic angle. It also appears to me that there are at least 8 large scale panels on the right hand side, with at least 3 more on the left, possibly with room for 4 or 5 more on the left! Conceivably, there could be as many as 16 original panels in this room - astonishing.

For more ephemera related to Beer Parlours and the Castle Hotel, see Glen’s additional posts on flickr. Thanks to Tom Carter for assistance clarifying the complicated theatre chronology above! The years listed above roughly indicates the year the name changed. Furthermore, between the last name change, the theatre was actually turned into a bank for a while! Alas, if only I could find a time machine, this would be the first block I visit!

Mural commissioned for the Officer’s Mess at HMCS Discovery on Deadman’s Island in Vancouver by Robert Samuel Alexander (August 25 1916 - April 20 1974). Commissioned in 1944 while he was stationed at HMCS Discovery, the mural was completed in 1945.

There is much to study in this mural, though the physique of the sailor at the far left often attracts extra attention. The two sailors at left are caring to the cannons below the deck, and they appear to be holding a tool called a sponge used for cleaning the bore after firing. A ribbon stating “In Which We Serve" scrolls along the bottom of the mural; this phrase also happens to be the title of a 1942 British patriotic war film directed by Noël Coward. The film revolves around the exploits of Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, commander of the destroyer HMS Kelly when it was sunk during the Battle of Crete. The left half of the mural shows naval technology from the era of Captain Vancouver, while the right half of the mural shows modern day technology, circa WWII. It would appear that Captain Vancouver himself is reaching out to offer a hand to the modern day captain and his crew. 

The panoramic image above has been digitally stitched together from 3 separate images I took last fall, when Sub-Lieutenant Brunton gave me a tour of Vancouver’s Naval Reserve Division. I found it interesting that HMCS Discovery is a building but still referred to as a ship or stone frigate (a naval establishment on land); when you are inside HMCS Discovery, you state you are ‘on board’. From the Navy’s portal:

HMCS DISCOVERY was named in honour of HMS DISCOVERY, which, under the command of Captain George Vancouver, was responsible for surveying much of the northwest coastal area of North America.

The final photo above of a self promotional brochure by the artist is included in Gary Sim’s BRITISH COLUMBIA ARTISTS:

This photograph was taken courtesy of the artist’s daughter, Renee Alexander. The artist is seen at work drawing and painting the mural at HMCS Discovery’s Officers Mess in Vancouver. Art techniques listed in the brochure are fresco, baked enamel, tempera, glass, graffito, and oil on plaster.

Renee Alexander also posted these comments about her father to Mother Tongue Publishing’s website:

He was born 1916 and died 1974. He was a contemporary of Toni Onley, Gordon Smith, Gordon Caruso etc. He was an honours graduate from the Vancouver School of Art and received a scholarship to study at the Art Students’ League in New York. He won many art competitions including two for the Seattle Art Museum. UBC commissioned him to do two portraits, which are both hanging in the main Library. In the early 1960s he received a Canada Council Grant. He also published a couple of books. The Penticton Library and Civic Centre restored a mural he did in the early 60s for the then new Penticton Airport and it now hangs in the Civic Centre. In the book ‘Letters from Nan’ one of his paintings was referenced as the only great painting in the Confederation of Artists show.

For some reason he has not been recognized in the Vancouver scene today like many of his contemporaries though he was viewed as a rising star in the early Vancouver art world. I can only put it down to the fact that he was not an aggressive self-promoter and died at the age of 57.

A number of years ago I did a CD of my father’s work. Copies may also be found at the Vancouver Art Gallery, UBC special collections, the National Gallery of Canada, Emily Carr, Penticton Library and Civic Centre etc.

Surviving murals are a rarity, especially in Vancouver, and to ensure their preservation, public awareness about these murals needs to exist. Fortunately, this mural has been well preserved, and based on its current condition, I expect RS Alexander’s mural will survive for many generations to come.

Cross-posted to VancouverIsAwesome.com.

Update! More interesting anecdotes from Renee: her father also painted some black light murals at the Waldorf, one of the murals in the old Grosvenor Hotel in the Potlatch Room, as well as a mural somewhere in The Ritz hotel at 1040 West Georgia (this is the hotel that took over the St Julien Apartments circa 1929).

Another great bit of Alexander family trivia: this brush script logo for the Woodward’s Store was designed by Renee’s mother, Irene Alexander (Porter), when she was head show card writer at the downtown Woodward’s store in the 1940s. An amazing family legacy!

The lost murals of James Blomfield. Until I read the book A National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s-1930s by Marylin J. McKay, I was not aware that James Blomfield had painted these two murals in the former Royal Bank building at the corner of West Hastings and Homer (now part of VFS). From  Volume 18 (1905), Issue 10, page 149 of the Canadian Architect and Builder (available online btw), here’s the brief text description:

These wall paintings have an allegorical reference to Vancouver and the Royal Bank. Vancouver Triumphans represents the rising City of Vancouver with Industry on one side and Agriculture on the other. The figure in the lower panel is a personification of Acadia, representing the Maritime Provinces in which the Royal Bank had its origin. The coats of arms inserted in the frame round Acadia are those of the Crown, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and, (at the bottom) the City of Halifax, which is the parent city of the Bank.

Vancouver Triumphans may have actually inspired Paul Goranson consciously or subconsciously when he drew this proposal for the British American Bank Note Company in the 1930s

I can’t tell exactly where these murals would have been painted, but perhaps we can determine this after a closer look inside the building. Though I can’t be sure, these murals may actually be buried under a few layers of paint!

Speaking of lost murals, another one of James Blomfield’s greatest works was destroyed by fire on April 15, 1957. James had painted the ceiling of the ballroom at Government House in Victoria in 1903. From page 31 of A National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s-1930s

The work was composed of colossal figures of Indian warriors on the spaces between the ceiling arches, connecting by an interlace design of pine cones, pine needles, dogwood, and other local flora. Painted with the totems (protective spiritual images) of various Northwest Coast Native tribes, these figures appear as “Canadianized” classical personifications.

Images B-08471, C-07768, D-03031, E-02750 of Government House are from the BC Archives. But if anyone has any pre-1957 images in colour, please let me know!

Special thanks to the VPL librarian for your assistance with this post!