ArtworksA.Y. JacksonTotems, Kitwanga (Gitwangak), 19261882-1974Sold
Inscriptionssigned twice, “A.Y. JACKSON” (lower left and right); typed on McCready Galleries Inc. label ‘Totems at Kitwanga, Skeena Country' / 1926 / Ex collection Dr. Marius Barbeau’ (verso bottom centre)
Marius Barbeau, Ottawa;
McCready Galleries Inc., Toronto, after 1973.
The Collection of Mitzi and Mel Dobrin.
ExhibitionsToronto, Art Gallery of Toronto October – November 1953 and Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, December 1953 – January 1954, A.Y. Jackson Paintings 1902-1953, no. 212 as 1927/29, loaned by Dr. Marius Barbeau, Ottawa.
LiteratureA.Y. Jackson, “Rescuing Our Tottering Totems,” MacLean’s Magazine, 15 December 1927, pp. 23, 37.A.Y. Jackson first met Marius Barbeau, ethnologist at the National Museum in Ottawa, in the spring of 1925. Keenly interested in the work of Canada’s artists and aware of the potential publicity art exhibitions could bring to his projects, Barbeau invited Jackson and Arthur Lismer to join him on the Île d’Orléans to document and depict the traditional architecture and arts of the island. The trip resulted in the Art Gallery of Toronto’s acquisition of a sculpture by Louis Jobin and an exhibition of Painting, sculpture and wood carving of French Canada at the art gallery in May 1926. At the same time, plans were initiated for an exhibition of masks by Aboriginal artists of British Columbia’s North West Coast.
To further this latter project Barbeau arranged for Jackson and Edwin Holgate to travel to the Skeena River in the summer of 1926. One of the sites Barbeau was keen for the artists to visit was the village of Kitwanga or Gitwangak where a major restoration of totem poles was being carried out by Indian Affairs, Canadian Parks and the National Museum in association with the Canadian National Railways. Jackson had passed Gitwangak, sited between the railway tracks and Skeena River, on the Canadian National’s “triangle tour” in August 1924 on his first and only trip to paint in the Rockies. He found it fascinating, though he added he would like to see it in the wintertime.
Jackson and Holgate arrived on the Skeena in August 1926 and stayed into October, spending a week in Gitwangak. Jackson probably had more time to draw than paint in the villages and his numerous drawings often have a documentary intent consistent with Barbeau’s interests. Among his drawings of totem poles, houses, carvings, villages and boats on the Skeena River in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada are several drawings of Gitwangak and of the poles depicted in this oil sketch (acc. nos. 17452v, 17478v, 17512, 17513, 17515, 17522,17523v, 17524r and 17526). In some Jackson has drawn the adjacent houses and the surrounding landscape while others are studies of details of the carvings.
In Totems, Kitwanga (Gitwangak) Jackson abandoned the documentary intent save to situate the village within the surrounding landscape. The poles face the rapidly running Skeena River with the trees in autumn foliage and mountains beyond. While one can identify the two poles at the right by their crowning figures, catalogued by George MacDonald in his book, The Totem Poles and Monuments of Gitwangak Village (Parks Canada, 1984) as the pole of the Mountain Lion and pole of the Ensnared Bear, the poles operate as vertical punctuations across the horizontal river and mountains, and abandoned house and shadows of the foreground painted with rich blues, mauves, greens and sandy oranges. The two figures walking away from the river animate the village scene. When Jackson sketched at Gitwangak the poles were still arranged along the riverbank but would soon be moved closer to the tracks for the visiting tourists.
The exhibition of masks first proposed in May 1926 was realized and expanded in the important Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art Native and Modern organized by Barbeau with the National Gallery of Canada and shown in Ottawa in December 1927. One of the great discoveries arising from the exhibition was the work of Emily Carr who had painted on the Skeena in 1912. From the sixty-one oils and watercolours Carr sent east for the exhibition, the National Gallery purchased three watercolours, including a 1912 view of Gitwangak. (fig. 1) Jackson only met Emily Carr in Toronto in November 1927 when he saw her work for the first time. This watercolour was not included in the West Coast exhibition but was purchased from the National Gallery’s Annual Exhibition of Canadian Art in January 1928. Two artists working in Gitwangak at different dates were attracted to similar viewpoints.
Charles C. Hill11of 22