By Shannon Boklaschuk
The University of Saskatchewan (USask) is celebrating works of art created by students, alumni, faculty, and local artists during a period of more than 70 years through an exhibition recently installed on campus.
The show, The Snelgrove Salon: Part I, features 219 pieces of art that will remain on display at the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery until Feb. 13. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all USask art galleries remain closed to the public; however, staff are sharing images of the artwork through social media accounts as well as through the gallery’s website.
The Gordon Snelgrove Gallery, located in the Murray Building, is a teaching and research facility as well as a public exhibition and presentation space. It also stewards the Department of Art and Art History Collection, which primarily consists of select works from graduating students and faculty.
Prof. jake moore, director of the USask Art Galleries and Collection, said some of the works of art featured in The Snelgrove Salon have been previously on display at the university, but even more were stored in two storage spaces connected to the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery.
“It is such a pleasure to bring it all out into the light again,” said moore, who is also a faculty member in the Department of Art and Art History in USask’s College of Arts and Science.
The works of art featured in The Snelgrove Salon have been installed in a salon-style hanging at the gallery, and all were selected from the Art and Art History Collection—which has grown to include more than 700 pieces acquired by the department since 1946. The Snelgrove Salon is part of a larger research creation project that is working toward the sustainable preservation and continued growth of the Art and Art History Collection. As part of this sustainable practice, the collection is shifting to a digital platform hosted by the Museums Association of Saskatchewan and cared for by the Gordon Snelgrove team.
“By putting the works into a digital collection, we will be able to share them in perpetuity, allow scholars and afficionados access to them, and offer the artists the works to display, sell, or cherish in their own way,” said moore. “They can still honestly say they have works in the Art and Art History Collection, but now they can send their friends, family, or interested curators, galleries, or museums to see it.”
Gallery staff are reaching out to USask alumni who may have artwork in the collection as they attempt to return the physical works to their makers. The Art and Art History Collection is separate from USask’s permanent collection, which features more than 6,000 works of art collected by the university since 1910.
Joseph Anderson (MFA’09), who currently serves as the office coordinator in the Department of Art and Art History, is one of the USask alumni with artwork featured in The Snelgrove Salon. On display is his piece Sweet Tooth (watercolour on paper, 2007), which he created during his first year of graduate studies. At the time, he had been studying a lot of fairy tales and cautionary tales for children, and he wanted to make the connection to the body in his art, drawing inspiration from old books on dental surgery and oral hygiene in the Health Sciences Library.
“After I made several small studies of faces based on these health textbook illustrations, I finished with this much larger Sweet Tooth watercolour,” he said. “I think it was one of the largest paintings I had done at that point in my studies. The main idea behind the work was to show an image of a person who was dealing with something damaging, and possibly unappealing, but presented with the delicate softness of watercolour paints. I wanted a contrast between a perceived ugliness and beauty. The open mouth hints at a trip to the dentist’s office but could also show a person speaking or singing.”
Anderson said The Snelgrove Salon brought back memories of his graduate student days and all the time he spent in the studio. The exhibition has also provided him with the opportunity to recognize the work of other alumni and friends, noting it “really shows the incredible output of work by all of our talented students over the years.”
“Every corner of the show was a reminder of an exhibition at the Snelgrove or the work of another artist I admire,” he said. “There are countless stories and memories behind every piece of art.”
Current graduate student Breanne Bandur, who is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at USask, was involved in the installation of The Snelgrove Salon—which, she said, “involved working to understand and trying to see through the intention of each artist with regards to the presentation of their work.” The next part of Bandur’s role in the project involves conversations with the artists and members of the USask Art and Art History community.
“These conversations will be had in (an) effort to find out more about the histories of these works and the collection as a whole, and with the aim of making these stories available to the public through our online database,” she said.
Bandur, who serves as the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery exhibitions coordinator, moved from Montreal to Saskatchewan to attend USask in the fall of 2019. She is now in the second, and final, year of her MFA program. As a current USask student, and as someone who is relatively new to Saskatchewan, she found looking through the Art and Art History Collection to be “extremely insightful.”
“Sitting with this collection has begun to offer me a kind of rich context for the (USask) art community. Being introduced to its histories in this way has been a unique experience and has felt like a rather intimate way to begin to know a place and a community,” said Bandur.
“It’s been incredibly exciting to see new connections between works reveal themselves through the salon-style hanging of this exhibition; possible narratives began to emerge as the exhibition came together. This has left me even more eager to hear and learn about the actual histories these works are part of from the artists and people who were present at those times.”
A second exhibition, called The Snelgrove Salon: Part II, is set to open in June.