The Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg, HBC Museum Collection, Photo: © The Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg
Martha Eetak, "Amauti," around 1918
Martha Eetak, "Amauti", around 1918, caribou hide and teeth, wool, sinew, cotton and beads, 70” x 28”
BRITISH COLUMBIA: The Artist Herself: Self-Portraits by Canadian Historical Women Artists, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Oct. 1 to Jan. 3
This nationally touring exhibition redefines the concept of “self-portrait” and simultaneously brings new importance to women’s traditional crafts, often overlooked by the art world. A mix of conventional self-portraits by painters, photographers and sculptors, it also includes self-representations in the form of clothing, quilts, scrapbooks and embroidered samplers.
Thus, we see two moody Emily Carr self-portraits and the moving expressionist 1961 painting, Infinite Cycle, by Daphne Odjig, who shows herself surrounded by spirits as she kneels, grieving, at the grave of her first husband, Paul Somerville. There are also mischievous works by Hannah Maynard, a pioneering Victoria photographer of the 1890s, whose single prints sometimes contain multiple self-portraits. In one example, three identical Maynards have a tea party; one pours tea on the head of another.
But the show also includes self-portraits without representations of face or body. For instance, button blankets reveal the histories of Marion Wilson and Margaret Frank, both Kwakwaka’wakw of the Pacific Northwest coast. And a quilt from the early 1900s by Maud Darling shows that this Almonte, Ont., woman came from a large family, worked as a dressmaker, loved gardening and belonged to the Daughters of Rebekah, a service group.
Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont., Photo: Larry Ostrom
Maud Darling, "Crazy Quilt, " around 1900
Maud Darling, Crazy Quilt, around 1900, silk and cotton, 76” x 56”
With some 50 works spanning the late 1700s to the early 1960s, the show includes noted artists such as Frances Anne Hopkins, Paraskeva Clark, Pegi Nicol MacLeod and Molly Lamb Bobak, although many others are little known beyond their home communities.
The exhibition is a joint project of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., where it opened last summer, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton, where it closes next summer. The show will stop at the Kelowna Art Gallery from Jan. 23 to April 3.
The co-curators, Kingston’s Alicia Boutilier and Hamilton’s Tobi Bruce, decided early on they wanted to broaden the concept of what a self-portrait could be. Says Boutilier: “It would be kind of boring if we just had a bunch of faces of white women on the wall.”
The Artist Herself is definitely not boring. Consider the spectacular caribou parka sewn around 1918 by Martha Eetak, a Padleimiut Inuit from Yathkyed Lake, west of Hudson Bay. In 2013, some teachers from that area of Nunavut saw the parka at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg and, based on the story told by the elaborate embroidery and beadwork, identified its creator. Sadly, Eetak had sold the parka almost a century earlier to buy food for her starving family.