A generous and affordable exhibition catalog is published by the National Gallery of Canada in separate French and English editions, with contributions from art, design, and architectural historians Christine Boyanoski, Andrea Kunard, Laurier Lacroix, Rosalind Pepall, Bruce Russell, and Geoffrey Simmins. Charles Hill’s piece, “For an Integration of the Arts” is the pièce de résistance. Taking a third of this 340-page catalog, the essay shines by its capacity to engage, in swift succession, international and national trends, local initiatives, individual contributions, and specific buildings and objects. It reads like the story of a multifaceted movement, born from Arts and Crafts and Beaux Arts ideals abroad, and carried forward by dedicated creators, who came together by way of associations and sought to bring about positive change in the world around them.
I was impressed by the wisdom of their ambitions, the quantity and variety of the associations they formed, and the breadth of the initiatives they advanced. Mary Dignam, for example, believed, after William Morris, that “an art made by the people and for the people as a happiness to the maker and the user is the only art there is and the only art that will be an instrument for the progress of the world.”2
She traveled and corresponded with proponents of the British Arts and Crafts movement and created Toronto’s Women’s Art Club in 1890, which triggered the creation of other clubs, with ever-broader reaches and ambitions. The Toronto base afforded its members live models for sketching and rooms for reading and discussions. Its 1892 offshoot, the Women’s Art Association of Canada, expanded in a number of cities and held regular exhibitions including work produced in the regions, by Aboriginal peoples and new settlers such as Russia’s Doukhobors, who had come to Canada as political refugees. By 1900, the exhibitions had become substantial, with 2,500 objects exhibited in the Montreal exhibition alone. “Out of this,” the wall text explains, “came a scheme for the promotion of home arts and handicrafts to train workers in their homes, establish standards, develop a market and bring immediate remuneration to the workers.” This, in turn, led to the opening of a permanent store in Montreal in 1902 and the founding of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild in 1905.