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The Dignity of Every Human Being

The Dignity of Every Human Being: New Brunswick Artists and Canadian Culture between the Great Depression and the Cold War

Kirk Niergarth
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    The Dignity of Every Human Being
    Book Description:

    "The Dignity of Every Human Being"studies the vibrant New Brunswick artistic community which challenged "the tyranny of the Group of Seven" with socially-engaged realism in the 1930s and 40s. Using extensive archival and documentary research, Kirk Niergarth follows the work of regional artists such as Jack Humphrey and Miller Brittain, writers such as P.K. Page, and crafts workers such as Kjeld and Erica Deichmann. The book charts the rise and fall of "social modernism" in the Maritimes and the style's deep engagement with the social and economic issues of the Great Depression and the Popular Front.

    Connecting local, national, and international cultural developments, Niergarth's study documents the attempts of Depression-era artists to question conventional ideas about the nature of art, the social function of artists, and the institutions of Canadian culture."The Dignity of Every Human Being"records an important and previously unexplored moment in Canadian cultural history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6319-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-32)

    “I hate art,” a student confessed to me recently. It might be imagined that this was a risky admission for a student in a class studying the history of Canadian visual culture, but I had a pretty clear suspicion about what she meant. I was correct: the word “art” for her conjured memories of a mandatory school tour of an art gallery. As she was guided through the exhibitions, she was told to see things that she did not see and feel things that she did not feel. She concluded that art was to be hereafter avoided – insofar as...

  6. Part One: Art and Democracy

    • 1 The Atmosphere: Art and Politics in Canadian Magazines, 1935–1939
      (pp. 35-68)

      In what Louis Muhlstock calls the “atmosphere” of the 1930s, politics were everywhere, even if, in 1973, he insists they had “nothing to do with painting.” Can it be proven that drawing and exhibiting portraits of unemployed people sleeping in a parkwasa political act in 1930s Canada (albeit not the same kind of political act as depicting “the strong-muscled worker and the boss with the big fat cigar or belly”)? Only insofar as we are immersed in the atmosphere of the 1930s, without hindsight coloured by the political and aesthetic developments of the Cold War era, can we...

    • 2 Walter Abell, Canadian Culture, and the Maritime Push
      (pp. 69-104)

      In 1949, writing from the United States, Walter Abell consoled his friend, Montreal painter Frederick B. Taylor, who was depressed by recent developments in Canadian culture. Abell hoped that there was still a legacy that might inspire a democratic future. “Nothing can take away the spiritual residue of the Kingston Conference – or the Group of Seven, or of the original Maritime push,” he wrote. “Perhaps in more such things lies the promise of the future.”² The Kingston Conference and Abell’s role in it have already been introduced. The second “spiritual residue” Abell mentioned, the Group of Seven, requires no...

  7. Part Two: The Collective Dream in New Brunswick Art

    • 3 Saint John
      (pp. 107-116)

      Saint John is a City of 47,000 people (1931 census) located on the Bay of Fundy on a rocky peninsula, almost surrounded by water, and completely submerged in fog.¹ It was settled by the Loyalists who backed the wrong horse in the American Revolution, and followed it up with another error in judgment.

      It has two harbours, an Eastern Harbour and a Western one: four of the first and two of the second would make a fairly decent harbour. The Western harbour is overlooked by a large and flourishing Lunatic Asylum, and the Eastern one is overlooked by the Poor...

    • 4 Two “Giants”: “Pro-Artists” Jack Humphrey and Miller Brittain
      (pp. 117-164)

      Among Depression-era Saint John artists, Jack Humphrey and Miller Brittain are the most studied, by a considerable margin. They usually rate mention in survey histories of Canadian painting and their works hang in many major galleries, including a significant number of works in the National Gallery of Canada. If, like most of the painters of their generation, the historical attention they have received is scant by comparison to the large amount of work devoted to the Group of Seven, it is still vastly larger than that allotted to other significant Saint John artists, such as Julia Crawford.³ If Humphrey and...

    • 5 Artists Are Like This: Common Interests of the “Crowd”
      (pp. 165-238)

      Paris has its Montparnasse, London its Bloomsbury, New York its Greenwich Village and Saint John, New Brunswick, its busiest business section – drab, conventional Prince William Street.

      The flat-faced office buildings of the Loyalist City’s Wall Street, so conventional-looking and so smug, house a bizarre colony of artists who would do credit to their fellow craftsmen gathered in the Café du Dome or at “bottle parties” in Chelsea attics … Although they don’t wear their hair long or their feet in sandals, these painters are Canadian replicas of European types. But they are not eccentrics, they are conscientious workers, their...

    • 6 Arising from the Thirties Dream: Saint John Artists and the Post-war Period
      (pp. 239-250)

      The 1930s have no shortage of eulogists. The three examples above move backwards in time towards the hope Abell expressed in 1949 for the survival of at least the “spiritual residue” of the “Maritime push.” In 1949, however, there seemed to be more than “residue” for those still pursuing creative activity in Saint John and Fredericton. Fred Ross, back from his first trip to Mexico, was embarking on the ambitiousCity Slumsmural in the foyer of the “Voc.” In that year, Ross, along with Humphrey, Brittain, Campbell, Gillett, and Crawford, was featured in a solo “Know Your Own Artist”...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 251-342)
  9. Index
    (pp. 343-352)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 353-355)