Thursday, April 20, 2017

Museum notes: the Glenbow in Calgary

Calgary's Glenbow Museum
I am in Calgary this week, and got a little time free yesterday to drop by on of Canada's great museums, the Glenbow Museum.

Glenbow doesn't have one of those starchitect statement buildings.  It occupies a pretty generic office building but one that is close to the downtown core, adjacent to Convention Centre, the Arts Commons, and a lively bars and restaurants street. It is one of the really good museums of Canada, one that can bring a visitor up short with examples of the excellent -- often underappreciated -- materials available to document the histories and cultures of specific parts of Canada.

Hopkins, Canoes in the Mist (better seen in person)
With not a lot of time, I went to the special exhibits rather than the permanent collections I had seen before. "Picturing the Northwest" is an example of historical art from the region.  Who knew that the Glenbow holds "Canoes in the Mist"?  Frances Anne Hopkins has always been a bit of a crush of mine among early Canadian artists. She strikes me as a good artist, in a kind of Beaux-Arts style, though I think she gets categorized as a painting housewife because her terrific fur trade images came from travels she did with her HBC husband. The exhibit also had a nice Charles Jeffreys from his Qu'Appelle valley series (introduced to me by his grandson Robert Stacey), examples of Carl Runguis's big game art (what did I once write about Rungius?), and a good selection of Charles Russell's cowboy and western art. 

Across the hall "North of Ordinary" introduced me to Geraldine and Douglas Moodie, she a commercial photographer, he an RCMP officer. In the early 1900s he was posted to Hudson Bay and the Arctic islands, and the exhibit draws on the Glenbow's thousand-image collection of their photography there, which is supplemented by their detailed photo logbooks and diaries -- the whole collection recently received from Moodie descendants.  Never heard of them before, but there has to be a book and travelling exhibits coming from this.

Glenbow's Canada150 exhibit "Canadian Stories" has another Hopkins (I'd never seen this one; how many are there?), and some terrific imagery of the west, mountain landscapes, buffalo images, art from Ken Lochead, Edward Burtchinsky,  and even Andy Warhol's Wayne Gretzky.

Along with galleries of Alberta "maverick" culture of sodbusters and pipelayers, the Glenbow has very substantial galleries on prairie and mountain indigenous history and culture, and I was impressed by the substantial number of young indigenous kids around those galleries and the museum in general.  So it was disappointing to see a caption in the Canadian Stories that explained an 1885 military 1873 NWMP sketch with the colonial-minded explanation that "John A. Macdonald knew that... he had to secure the largely lawless west."

You should go.

(Hopkins image source here. Glenbow photo: well, me actually -- can't you tell?) 

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