How we filled the Vault
The MacKenzie Art Gallery takes a step back in time
In 1953, the MacKenzie Art Gallery was just starting out. It was a time where the directors were searching for work that would put them on the gallery map. Canadian nationalism was at an all-time high, and you can guess what the directors were interested in.
How We Filled the Vault is an exhibit that takes a viewer back in time to the early days of the gallery’s career and gives people a tour of how the gallery came to be the host of exceptional Canadian artwork.
It’s always best to start at the beginning, and in the gallery’s case, that would be during the 1960s and ’70s when art was in its contemporary stage. Abstract art was common, as seen with Hans Hofmann’s Capriccioso displayed in 1969. Big blocks of colour appeared on canvases and created this appealing quality that made people come back for more. At the MacKenzie, this wasn’t any different. During the 60s and 70s there were four directors, but as the exhibit explains, two made significant contributions to the gallery.
Ronald Bloore inaugurated an Inuit art collection into the MacKenzie as well as important works by the Group of Seven, which consisted of artists like Franklin Carmichael, A. J. Casson, and Lawren Harris. Nancy Dillow, another important director from the gallery, took a more orderly approach to Bloore’s “freewheeling flair”. She made a teaching collection of European works from the nineteenth to early twentieth century art.
Next came the 1980s, and for the MacKenzie this was a time where “contemporary Aboriginal art gained a new profile”, mainly because of director Andew Oko. One of the pieces by Roy De Forest titled “In the Great North Woods” is displayed in the 1980s part of the exhibit and its brilliance is obvious. The canvas with a man lighting a fire with his dog beside him catches the visitor’s attention but it is soon drawn to the colourful iron sculptures bordering the frame. It seems man is staking his claim in the wood, but the faces watching him suggest another matter.
Jumping ahead to the 1990s and 2000s, art sees a new theme in the gallery, mainly colonialism and westernization. The artwork displayed in this area of the exhibit sheds light on Canada’s history, especially with The Skins of our Fathers II by Mary Anne Barkhouse. Two stuffed beavers and one made of iron sit on three chairs that contain pillows with map-covered fabric. It’s a piece that forces you to stare at history.
In 1990 the MacKenzie moved to its current location in the T. C. Douglas Building on 3475 Albert Street where it has stayed. This section of the exhibit talks about how the gallery is now non-profit and the collections displayed often host new work by Saskatchewan artists.