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How Canada stole the idea of Native art : the Group of Seven and images of the Indian in the 1920’s Dawn, Leslie Allan 2002

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HOW CANADA STOLE THE IDEA OF NATIVE ART: THE GROUP OF SEVEN AND IMAGES OF THE INDIAN IN THE 1920*S by LESLIE ALLAN DAWN B.A., University of Victoria, 1975 M . A., University of Victoria, 1981 M. A., University of British Columbia, 1982 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES Department of ArthHIilstory, Visual Art and Theory We accept this thesis as confirming to thexequired standard  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA June 2001 © Leslie Allan Dawn, 2001  In  presenting  degree freely  at  this  the  available  copying  of  department publication  in  partial  fulfilment  of  the  University  of  British  Columbia,  I  agree  for  this or  thesis  reference  thesis by  for  his thesis  and  study.  scholarly  or for  her  of  this  of  Art" Hisfanj  I further  financial  gain  shall  that  agree  purposes may  representatives.  requirements  be  It not  is  the  that  Library  by  understood allowed  The University of British C o l u m b i a Vancouver, Canada  Date  DE-6  (2/88)  2.  fLto  2-002_  f  \JtSU&i  f CXMCi  that  without  T%JUft<Tj  advanced  shall  the  permission.  Department  an  permission for  granted  be  for  make  it  extensive  head  of  copying my  my or  written  11  Abstract This thesis examines the conflicted relationships between the construction of a national culture and identity located in landscape painting and the continuing presence of Native art and identity in Canada in the 1920s. It contends that the first was predicated on the assumed disappearance of the second. The first of five case studies examines and questions the validation of the Group of Seven at the imperial centre: the British Empire Exhibitions held at Wembley in 1924 and 1925, from which Native presence was excluded. The critical responses, collected and republished in Canada, are analyzed to show the unspoken influences of British landscape traditions, the means by which Group paintings were used to re-territorialize the nation, and to destabilize the myth of an essential Canadian national consciousness. The first confrontation between Canadian native and Native art occurred when a small group of Northwest Coast carvings was included within a related exhibition in Paris in 1927. The French critical responses validated the Native pieces but withheld recognition of the Group's works as national and modern. The reviews were collected but suppressed. The third study examines the work of the American artist Langdon Kihn. He was employed by the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways to work with the folklorist/ethnologist Marius Barbeau in producing images of the Stoney in Alberta and Gitksan in British Columbia. His ambiguous works supported claims to Native presence and cultural continuity, which ran contrary to repressive government policies, but were critically disciplined to ensure a message of discontinuity. The fourth investigates a program to restore the poles of the Gitksan, while changing their meaning to one signifying cultural decrepitude. Gitksan resistance testified to their agency, cultural continuity and identity. The fifth examines a program fostered by Barbeau to turn the Gitksan and their poles into the subjects of Canadian painting as "background" for the emerging nation's identity. This confrontation, which included Jackson, Carr and others, foregrounded all the problems. The exhibition which resulted in 1927 unsuccessfully attempted to join Canadian native and Native art and effect closure on the "narration of the nation".  Ill  T A B L E OF CONTENTS  Abstract  ii  Table of Contents  iii  Acknowledgments  v  INTRODUCTION  1  CHAPTER I  The Englishness of Canadian Art  16  16  Canada: Constructing an Identity  19  The Group of Seven: Questioning a Critical Jargon  31  The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley: Surveying the Site  37  Wembley: Reviewing the Critical Responses  45  Wembley: Pictur(esque)ing a National Image Abroad CHAPTER II  Paris: a Play of Mistaken Identities at the JeudePaume  Staging the Exhibition  75  78 84  The Native Presence in the International Theatre Cueing the Audience  90  The Critical Responses Arrive  100  Masking the Critical Responses  CHAPTER III  112  The Strange Case of Langdon Kihn Who Got Lost in the Wiles of Canada . 122  Imag(in)ing the Indians of the Canadian West  128  The Discourse of Disappearance is Affirmed and Challenged  143  iv  151  Barbeau and Scott: a Crisis Appears, the Discourse Falters  Barbeau and Kihn: The Rupture Deepens, Framing some Pictures . . . .156 Identity and Ambiguity in Representations of the Gitksan Barbeau and Kihn: Excluding Another Outsider CHAPTER IV  189  Propping Up and Repainting a Discursive Ruin: Part I, The Skeena Totem Pole Restoration Project  Giving the Gitksan Poles a New Slant  CHAPTER V  169  205  205  The Irrepressible Potlatch  212  Supporting a Collapsing Discourse  225  Propping Up and Repainting a Discursive Ruin: Part II, Re-presenting and Re-possessing the Picturesque Skeena Valley . .240  The Success and Failure of A. Y. Jackson  243  Barbeau Re-tells a Story of Ruin  271  Exhibiting a Discursive Ruin: Canadian West Coast Art - Native and Modern Re-viewing the Ruins  285 303  CONCLUSION Ambiguity and Identity: Reclaiming a Lost Heritage  314  Bibliography  327  List of Illustrations  354  V  Acknowledgments I wish to express my profound gratitude to all those who contributed so much to this dissertation. It is impossible to list everyone here, but at the risk of omitting some, I would like to name a few. The thoughtful advice, directions, suggestions and corrections of my advisors, Dr. John O'Brian, Dr. Charlotte Townsend-Gault and Dr. Ruth Phillips have been instrumental in the development of the ideas and histories presented in this study. I would also like to thank my outside examiner, Dr. Gerta Moray, whose close scrutiny, generous reading and willingness to share her own research saved me from many errors. Those that still exist are entirely my own responsibility.  Librarians and archivists, as well as those who aided in gaining access to them, were extremely helpful. I am especially indebted to Cyndie Campbell at the National Gallery of Canada, Benoit Theriault at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and Nora Hague at the McCord Museum. Marie Mauze assisted me in navigating the bureaucracy of the Louvre archives and was generous with her own research.  None of this, however, could have been done without the support, encouragement, professional advice, assistance in research and endless proof-readings of Frederike Verspoor, who has so patiently put up with so much for so many years. This thesis is dedicated to her persistent belief in its possibility.  The University of Lethbridge, my employer for the past decade, supported the project with sabbatical leave which allowed me to both start and complete the work.  Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Serge Guilbaut both for advising me to pursue the topic and for loaning me the title. Perhaps it is true that theft is the sincerest form of flattery.  1  Introduction "The white Canadian looks at the Indian. The Indian is Other and therefore alien. But the Indian is indigenous and therefore cannot be alien. So the Canadian must be alien. But how can the Canadian be alien within Canada?"  1  "The ambivalence of settlers toward natives was sharpened by an emerging preoccupation with national identity. . . . Settlers also, of course, frequently wanted to emphasize their modernity and connections with Britain and Europe; hence the use of native reference to proclaim a distinct culture was never the sole basis for declaring identity, but rather one strategy that was often inconsistent with others."  2  This thesis examines the relationships between the formation of a myth of a homogeneous Canadian national culture and identity as defined in the visual arts, and located in the landscapes of the Group of Seven, and the role, or rather lack thereof, which Native identity and presence played in this imaginary and inventive construction, particularly during several crucial years in the mid and late 1920s. I posit that the existence of the