Discovering lost cultural treasures

Date: Jul 12, 2016

To celebrate 25 years of the AFA, we’re taking a look back at how we came to be, favourite milestones, and some of the amazing artists we’ve encountered along the way. 

By Larissa Hauck, former Art Collections Consultant, and Kristin Stoesz, Art Collections Registrar

How often do you think the AFA Art Placement staff discovers an unknown and robust collection of Alberta art while out on assignment? Well, it’s happened at least once!

The Alberta Foundation for the Arts Art Placement Program began in 1976 as a way to ensure Albertans have the opportunity to enjoy the collection and enhance public spaces in government offices and buildings, non-profit institutions, and organizations. The AFA currently has approximately 150 Art Placement program loans throughout Alberta.

Rosebud, Carole Bondaroff, 1985, etching on paper

In July 2015, AFA collections staff travelled to the Government of Alberta Public Affairs Bureau’s downtown Edmonton office to remove all of the artwork on loan in preparation for their move to the Federal Building. As we removed artwork from the walls and wrapped the works to prepare for shipping, they discovered a unique collection of 25 additional artworks that were not part of the AFA art collection or the other 14 provincial collections managed by the Alberta Arts Branch.

At first, it seemed like discovering this collection was almost too good to be true. With early artworks by prominent Albertan artists, such as Joane Cardinal-Schubert and Carol Bondaroff, it seemed like they had uncovered a lost cultural treasure! Each of the artworks had envelopes secured to the back of them that held a fragment of information about the artist and artwork. As the staff pondered over these new discoveries a few questions came to mind like: where did this art come from, why was it created, and how it ended up in the Public Affairs Bureau? It was apparent to the staff that the research into this collection had only just begun.

Expo 86 Scan

The collection of 25 artworks was owned by the Public Affairs Bureau (PAB) and included Albertan artists Carole Bondaroff, Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Ken Christopher, Amy Loewan, Helen Mackie, Irene McCaugherty, Stan Phelps and Jim Stokes. The works were originally commissioned by the PAB for the Alberta Pavilion at the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication in Vancouver. Upon completion of the event, the artworks were relocated to the Edmonton Federal Building.

AFA staff suggested the possibility of a transfer of the artworks to the AFA art collection because they are well-suited for both placement and exhibition programming, and reflect the history of the Government of Alberta’s involvement in Expo 1986. Both parties agreed that the artworks would benefit from being transferred to the AFA as it would increase public access to the works, promote Alberta artists and ensure proper care through the AFA’s maintenance and conservation programs. In March 2016, the PAB collection was transferred from the Public Affairs Bureau to the AFA collection and approved at the March 2016 AFA Board meeting. The artworks are a valuable addition to the AFA collection as they address gaps in representation of artwork from sections of the Alberta visual arts community.

The collection includes 6 oil pastel on paper drawings by Joane Cardinal-Schubert. Cardinal -Schubert was a highly regarded member of the visual arts community, not only as an artist working in variety of visual mediums, but also as a poet, lecturer, activist, and advocate for First Nations People. In 1994, she was awarded the Commemorative Medal of Canada for contribution to the Arts in Canada. In 2003, Cardinal-Schubert was granted an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Law, from the University of Calgary. The 6 artworks were completed from 1980-1985, and are strong examples of the artist’s work from this period.

This is the EarthJoane Cardinal-Schubert, 1985, oil pastel on paper

The collection also includes 5 works by Helen Mackie who has been active in Alberta’s visual arts community for several decades. She has been a member of the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation, the Secretary and Treasurer of the Alberta Society of Artists, and a member of the Alberta Printmaker’s Society. Her work resides in local, national, and international collections, including the collections of the Glenbow Museum and Nickle Galleries in Calgary, MacEwan University in Edmonton, the Canada Council Art Bank in Ottawa, and the Windsor Castle Library in England. Mackie’s artworks continue to be popular in the Art Placement and TREX programs. Cows Near Night  will be included in the upcoming TREX region 2 exhibition entitled Cattle Call.  This etching and woodblock print on paper is a strong example of Mackie’s work that highlights Alberta’s prairie landscapes and cattle culture.

Cows Near Night, Helen Mackie, n.d., etching and woodblock on paper

The AFA collection continues to grow through acquisition methods including the Art Acquisition by Application Program, Curatorial Acquisition Program and through generous donations by individuals and organizations such as the Public Affairs Bureau.

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