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Equally in the old country as in new communities utility must be considered first, but when the wooden shacks and log cabins give way to stone buildings, and streets are widened, there must be public gardens and a use of the art of the sculptor; the picture gallery must be inaugurated. Otherwise the new city is neglecting an important phase of progress in the real civilization.
The city of Hull, on the Humber, has just completed a fine art gallery, with an impressive marble staircase, and other features of a fitting temple for the conservation of those things in life which are fine and beautiful. I do not know of a less likely city for such an art building. Hull, as I remember it many years ago, is by no means that which would attract an artist. But the city is very "sporting" as regards offering inducement to painters to make the best of Hull, and I have no doubt that before long some fine paintings will be sent forth from the city to let the wide world know that there is a glory, never dreamed of by the general public, in that cheerless, noisy manufacturing town by the colorless river.
Artists, as a rule, are sensitive to surrounding influences, and require sympathy in others before their best work can be done. When they reach a place where there is no sympathy, they move on. The point for a city to consider is whether art is useful as a commercial asset or not. One need not be an artist when travelling in Europe to know that the first question of the tourist on arriving in a strange town is, what pictures and churches are there to be seen? Both are everywhere in profusion, because in times long passed, cities as well as individuals did their best to foster art in all its branches. I remember a very old and fine church in Prague, where was some of the finest stone carving I ever saw. It was so old that the name of the architect and almost the date of the building had been erased by the finger of time. But down in a dark crypt, and behind a door which opened back against the wall, where none could see unless they went to look for it, was an exquisite piece of carving, just as beautiful as that which appeared in the full light of the day above. This is the true spirit of art - the same spirit which made Fra Angelico paint his sacred subjects on his knees, and which give us the beautiful work of the monks of the middle ages. In this hurrying age, where utility is of the first importance, consideration of the beautiful is apt to be overlooked, and undervalued.
The arts and crafts societies all over the world have done much to prevent many industries and crafts from being completely forgotten - and in a new country they are calculated to do at least as much good, for, living so far from centers of art, there is little to remind us of what painting and sculpture really are. It is well known that until a few years ago American artists had to go to London and Paris for recognition. The reason was not far to seek. The millionaire who bought pictures had, as a rule, no knowledge of art, and, not caring to trust his own judgement, purchased only the works of artists well known in the great cities of Europe. His children, better educated, are better qualified to judge, and act accordingly, thus encouraging artists to remain on this continent. The right education of the children will bring picture galleries to every city.
It has long been held as a matter of regret among lovers of art in Victoria that artists come to the city, but do not remain; and it is to create some feeling of friendliness and goodwill toward them that the "Island Arts Club" has been started. Though it came into existence only a year ago, it now has about eighty members. Great things often develop from small beginnings, and it has been felt that if something can be done to arouse interest in the arts and crafts generally, much in this direction can be accomplished.
A great deal can be done by cooperation that cannot be effected otherwise. The club already has good work to its credit. Mr. J.J. Shallcross, the President, has thrown himself into the work in a whole-souled manner that is beyond praise, and his well known good taste as a critic is one of the best guarantees of the future of the club. The entry fee is the nominal one of two dollars a year, and the club meets once a month at the Alexandra Club rooms, where art matters are discussed, and specimens of handicrafts of all kinds are displayed, as well as prints, etchings, engravings and examples of Oriental arts and crafts.
The first exhibition of the club, held at the Victoria Fair last September, was acknowledged by those best qualified to judge to be the best collection of modern pictures ever seen in Victoria. The specimens of handicraft, though few in number, were of a high order of merit. Some very fine and beautiful designs executed in wood, copper, etc., in highly finished style, were greatly admired. There were also fine examples of book covers, the making of which is an art in itself. I should like to see again some of the charming necklaces and ornaments which are often seen at arts and crafts exhibitions elsewhere, and which are very popular in England. No doubt we will have these later on. There is bent iron work, too, which would find many admirers if good examples of it could be seen. I know of one lady in the West End of London who has quite the monopoly of fire screens in this material. It is not as hard to manipulate as it looks, and the results are most satisfactory. No doubt this beautiful craft, and also work in brass and copper, will be taken up as it should be here. At any rate, the Island Arts Club has come to stay, and it is hoped that it will receive the support and encouragement due it from all lovers of the beautiful.