In Good Hands

In Good Hands: The Women of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild

Ellen Easton McLeod
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt80jh1
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  • Book Info
    In Good Hands
    Book Description:

    The Canadian Handicrafts Guild broadened the definition of art and the artist in Canada. Linking decorative arts with home arts and handicrafts, the Guild consistently showed them together at annual exhibitions at the art gallery in Montreal and formed a permanent collection documenting old and contemporary crafts. The Guild women combined creativity and philanthropy, voluntarism and an entrepreneurial spirit, education and concern with quality, in a movement that provided income and recognition to craftspeople and a craft legacy to Canada.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7417-5
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-10)

    THE RUGS, WEAVING, AND NATURAL DYES they admired in rural Quebec kindled the inspiration of a group of privileged Montreal women. By selling these crafts at small outlets, they hoped to revive home art production and provide an income to needy farm women. With this idea, they began an arts and crafts movement in Canada in the late 1890s.

    The movement was led by two mid-Victorian women, then in their forties. Alice Peck¹ was a well-to-do Montreal mother of seven with a summer home at Métis Beach on the lower St. Lawrence. Schooled in England, well travelled in Europe, she...

  7. I REMARKABLE WOMEN
    (pp. 11-49)

    ALICE PECK AND MAY PHILLIPS were two accomplished Montreal women from different backgrounds, yet on their principal ambition to revive handicrafts in Canada, they collaborated closely for over 30 years. Mary Dignam of Toronto, another accomplished woman, was a respected colleague who became a formidable rival over the handicrafts movement. Alice Peck and May Phillips founded the Canadian Handicrafts Guild in 1905, partly in defiance of Mary Dignam. Mid-Victorians born in the 1850s, they were undoubtedly a product of their age. Their middle and later years were devoted to founding and developing the Guild, spanning the Edwardian era, the First...

  8. II ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENTS AND WOMEN IN BRITAIN, THE U.S., AND CANADA
    (pp. 50-71)

    AT THE END OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, crafts were known by various descriptive names. One of the most common terms was “handicrafts.” Today, the term seems old-fashioned and trite. Unfortunately, it does not convey the artistic connotation it once did. Other terms like “applied arts” and “decorative arts” have retained more of their meaning. These terms and others such as “minor arts” and “lesser arts” were associated with urban arts and crafts societies, and they usually assumed some formal education or apprenticeship by the craft workers. Terms such as “home arts,” “home industries,” and “cottage industries” were more often associated...

  9. III ATTEMPTS TO PROMOTE CRAFTS IN CANADA: 1880-1902
    (pp. 72-89)

    WOMEN HAD LONG BEEN INVOLVED in certain handicrafts. In the mid-nineteenth century, arts and crafts in Canada had been regularly exhibited side by side with fine arts in provincial agricultural fairs. In Ontario, at the Kingston Agricultural Fair in September 1849, prizes were awarded not only for oil painting and watercolours, but for embroidery, crochet work, worsted work, quilts, woollen carpets, woollen blankets, handmade flannel, shawls, flax and linen goods, furniture, bookbinding, writing paper, stained glass, and wood engraving.¹ After 1879, a permanent central headquarters for the new Ontario Industrial Exhibition Association, forerunner of the Canadian National Exhibition, was located...

  10. IV MONTREAL STAKES ITS CLAIM FOR HANDICRAFTS
    (pp. 90-113)

    ALTHOUGH NONE OF THOSE PRESENT knew it then, the first step toward a national crafts movement in Canada was a meeting on April 16, 1894 in the St. Catherine Street studio of May Phillips. The 21 women who met to form a Montreal society of women artists included Sarah Holden, Margaret Houghton, Fannie Plimsoll, Margaret Sanborn, Mary Godfrey, Elizabeth Whitney, and probably, Alice Peck. These women had already studied art either abroad or in the United States, so their priority was not art instruction. Rather, they sought the regular stimulation of exchanging ideas and seeing one another’s work.

    The meeting...

  11. V BREAKAWAY: 1904-1907
    (pp. 114-139)

    BY THE END OF 1903, the WAAC Montreal Branch’s Handicrafts Committee had been leading the Canadian handicrafts movement for several years. The 1903 Handicrafts Committee Report proclaimed Montreal as “Headquarters of this [handicrafts] movement,” asserting its pre-eminence not only by virtue of its early interest but also its geographical “advantage of controlling the Province of Quebec where characteristic work may still be found to such an extent that [development] would not be difficult.”¹

    However, members of the Handicrafts Committee were becoming increasingly concerned about the financial implications of sending out so many exhibits of stock before they were paid for....

  12. VI THE CANADIAN HANDICRAFTS GUILD: ESTABLISHING A REPUTATION
    (pp. 140-166)

    THE 1906 INCORPORATION of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild gave Montrealers Alice Peck and May Phillips a boost over their Toronto rival, Mary Dignam. Having won national recognition for their arts and crafts organization, Peck and Phillips set about establishing a professional for it. Yet Mary Dignam, the president of the Women’s Art Association of Canada (WAAC) did not want to relinquish WAAC handicrafts. The rivalry between the women and institution continued, no doubt exacerbated by the growing sense between the cities of Montreal and Toronto.

    The rivalry probably helped the handicrafts movement. Competition for territory, exhibitions, and publicity motivated both...

  13. VII NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL EXPOSURE
    (pp. 167-202)

    IN ADDITION TO SEARCHING out new craftspeople and new members, Peck and Phillips had set themselves other key imperatives. The preservation of arts and crafts knowledge was an important priority. Since the Guild was constitutionally mandated to revive Canadian handicrafts and to prevent their “loss, extinction and deterioration,” the Montreal women seriously set about recovering valuable old recipes and methods. In 1905, the Guild’s Technical Committee began compiling its records on designs, techniques, and recipes for tanning skins

    and preparing vegetable dyes for fabrics and permanent colouring of leather.

    The recovery of recipes for dyes was paramount. Peck and Phillips...

  14. VIII EMBRACING THE “OTHER”
    (pp. 203-233)

    THE CANADIAN HANDICRAFTS GUILD always had an inclusive embrace. Even in the late 1890s, when Alice Peck and May Phillips first identified the need to revive Canadian arts and crafts, they saw that some of the strongest design and workmanship was in rural areas least affected by urban industry. To strengthen a Canadian artistic identity through crafts, they looked beyond their own society: “It is to Indians and French Canadians where we must look for primitive and characteristic national work.”¹

    They were attracted to the handwork of rural French Canadians and Indians partly because class and ethnic differences made them...

  15. IX THE GUILD’S MULTICULTURAL MOSAIC
    (pp. 234-249)

    WITH THE SAME OBJECTIVES and from a similar position ofnoblesse oblige,the Guild women promoted the handicrafts of new immigrants. Indeed, the 1906 constitution specifically mandated the Guild to “encourage and preserve any such crafts and industries possessed by new settlers.”¹ Guild women courted immigrants, advertising the Guild’s work on ships bringing them to Canada,² and keeping in touch with government officials to learn about the handicraft abilities of new arrivals. Although 20 years later, other organizations would become interested in the cultural promotion of “new Canadians,” the Guild’s early encouragement of immigrant handwork attests to their progressive stance....

  16. X THE SAGA OF THE GUILD’S BOOK ON CRAFTS
    (pp. 250-260)

    THE IDEA FOR A BOOK took shape during 1927 when the Guild campaigned to have supporters write publicly about crafts and the Guild’s work. In January 1927, Madeleine Bottomley published an article on Canadian handicrafts inCanadian Homes and Gardens,and Alice Peck published inThe Canadian Gazette(London, England).¹ In June, Guild member, George Pearson, had a piece on rug hooking inMaclean’s.²A series of articles appeared in Montreal’sFamily Herald and Weekly Star.One was Elizabeth C. Murray’s “Quilt Making for Pleasure and Profit” on October 12, 1927, which brought many letters from interested women.³ Two weeks...

  17. XI CRAFTS COME INTO THEIR OWN: 1920s TO 1940s
    (pp. 261-279)

    SINCE THE EARLY HEADY DAYS under Alice Peck and May Phillips, changing circumstances and differing agendas created some setbacks and disappointments. The Guild persevered and a new organization evolved in the 1930s. Many of the founders’ ideals survived, as have examples of the crafts they fostered and collected. The Guild’s early leadership in promoting crafts continued through its own branches and affiliates across Canada, but was also taken up enthusiastically by many separate organizations and government programs.

    The Guild was never the sole promoter and distributor of Canadian crafts, even in Quebec. By the 1920s, Quebec handicrafts had become so...

  18. XII THE LEGACY
    (pp. 280-295)

    ONE NOTABLE ELEMENT OF THE GUILD’S LEGACY is its Permanent Collection of crafts. Primarily intended for educational purposes, the collection, like others in that era, also had a national and historic motivation. Historically-minded Victorian Canadians collected significant objects to support a national mythology that helped bind the country together and celebrate its history. In Montreal, both the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society (ANS) and David Ross McCord acquired objects to document the Indian past, French Canada, and Canada as a Dominion in the British Empire. David Ross McCord actively collected between 1880 and 1920, the same period as Canada was building...

  19. CONCLUSION: SOMETHING WORTHWHILE
    (pp. 296-300)

    IN 1934, WHEN SHE WAS ALMOST 80, Alice Peck looked back on the group of women whom she had helped to lead, and described their perspective:

    [T]hey felt that they should devote every energy to reviving and making profitable all such crafts as could be carried on in cottage or castle, in town or in the remotest part of the country. They were sure that if such effort were successful the country would become happier, healthier and wealthier, and that hundreds of homes would be lifted into a different sphere through the contacts that would result.... People are now asking...

  20. APPENDIX A: THE CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS OF THE CANADIAN HANDICRAFTS GUILD
    (pp. 301-306)
  21. APPENDIX B: PRESIDENTS OF THE CANADIAN HANDICRAFTS GUILD
    (pp. 307-308)
  22. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 309-341)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 342-361)