British Columbia Letters Number IV

The Canadian Architect and Builder
Volume 13, Issue 12, 1900
(author not named)

Probably the most important event that yas yet taken place in the provincial world of art is the first annual exhibition of the Vancouver Arts and Crafts Association which was held in Vancouver at the Alhambra Hall on 24th, 25th, and 26th of Sept. In the absence of the association's patron, His Excellency the Governor General, the exhibition was declared open to the public by the Mayor. Several hundred visitors were admitted during the period mentioned. Somewhat more than three hundred exhibits were catalogued, and of this number far too great a proportion belonged to pictorial art; architecture, design, furniture, carving and so forth were all too thinly represented, but some exceptionally good collections of photographs, several good examples of pyrography, of stained and painted glass and embroidery and some really excellent painted china invested the crafts section with considerable interest.

Dealing with the subjects in catalogue order: the first screen was devoted to the work of Mrs. Marcus Lucas whose clever sketches in the impressionist school deserved much of the favorable comment made on them; a small low-toned picture of Botany Bay, N.S.W., and a delightfully hazy morning in Burrards Inlet being perhaps the best of this member's exhibits. W.M. Forrest's amazing industry is proved by a vast amount of work. We think he would do himself greater justice if he devoted his capacity for down-right hard labor to a more sympathetic treatment than to such prolific production in a somewhat stereotyped manner; his technique is too hurried and there is frequently a photographic effect noticeable; the color and motion of water is happily caught in several sketches. W. Ferris, who is another great worker, contributed many pretty subjects, nearly always well chosen, but not so frequently pleasing in color, which is too dense, particularly in the forest shades. Mrs. Waterfall's study of still life was in many respects excellent and we shall expect to see a marked all round improvement in this lady's work; the other exhibits in oil were mostly very amateurish, and in too many instances were merely copies of no great promise.

Of the water colors, it was generally conceded that Mr. T.W. Fripp's drawings simply stood alone, being the only work which may be said to be really representative of the genuine old school of water color, painting and following the traditions of this truly English art; in some of W. Fripp's warm, broad, sunny effect, notably in a charming little sketch of Southwold, and near Streathy, on the Thames (England), one recognizes the influence of a great master who for nearly half a century was closely connected with the water color society.

Mr. Mower Martin, R.C.A., was well represented by nearly a dozen sketches and drawings, executed with much vigor; the rather hard contrasts offered by the white, snow-topped mountains and the black green timber is scarcely true to nature, for there is always a haze, a mist, an atmospheric softening, as it were, even at sunset when the contrasts are most markedly hard; that Mr. Martin does find this softening effect is proved by some of his work, deep and rich in tone and color and certainly not lacking atmosphere; a little bit of wet cloudy April sky with patches of wet soft blue breaking through is a charming piece of sky, rock and tree; and a brilliant and luminous sketch of a siwash canoe silhoutted (sic) against a western sky out of which the sun has disappeared is admirable. Mr. Ferris's screen of water colours is chiefly made up of sketches in and around Vancouver, many pretty bits of sky and water, but we would suggest that he subordinate his foregrounds far more than he does at times, and that if he stippled less and washed or stained more he would gain both in breadth and transparency. This same lack of transparency is apparent in nearly every exhibitor's work. Water color should not be applied as an opaque, and the use of body color is entirely contrary to the traditions of the art and its best traditions; if it is desired to work in opaque mediums, why not adopt oils, pastels, tempora (sic) and so forth? The greatest beauty of water color is in its transcendental transparency of effect, which is never obtained in any other medium - the use of body color with water color is to acknowledge the want of ability to work in a legitimate manner.

Among the other exhibits in this class Miss McClung's "Fruit and Flowers" and Mrs. M. Garney's work in the same direction must be accounted much superior to the rest. Why does not the first named artist turn her attention to decorative painting, to which fruit and flower subjects are so peculiarly adaptable? A portrait study of a head by Miss Marstrandt was far and away the best black and white exhibited. The color of the neck cloth too closely approaches the rest of the flesh and mars to some extent the moulding of the chin; we should have referred to this lady's sketch in oils of a Chinese servant which shows considerable decision in treatment. Miss Marstrandt's second sketch in oils, a bit of a Lulet we think, is crude in color and harsh in treatment.

A capital piece of carving (W.F. Coulfield), of a chain of Dolphins leaping through a broken and following sea is boldly carved in English oak. A table with an inlaid top (W. Campbell), shows much technical skill and is certainly a handsome piece of work rather crudely designed, the legs being quite trivial and overladed with meaningless detail, but the workmanship throughout is first rate. A good type of quaint old Somersetshire table, known as a "court table," made in cedar by W. Bowman from a detail by the President, was almost the only other exhibit in furniture. A fire screen designed by W.J. Bloomfield and executed in wood and leather with pyrographic decoration by Mrs. Ellis is admirable; the drawing of the chief's head on the leather hanging is not quite in keeping with conventional treatment of the wood frame; the drawing of the head should have been in the crude form characteristic of the genuine Indian drawing. Miss McClung's display of pyrography included a fine cedar chest and a number of smaller trifles in which were displayed taste and ingenuity.

Messrs. Henry Bloomfield & Sons had a fine exhibit of leaded glass and painted glass in which native flora appear frequently as the decorative motif, a step quite in the right direction. Some of the work, all of which is designed and executed entirely by members of the firm, was genuine leaded glass, that is to say, it was wholly dependent upon the utilizing of the lead lines for its drawing and to stained glass for its color, in contradiction to painted glass, which is a picture painted upon a transparent ground.

In embroidery Mrs. Balfour Ker maintained her reputation. We regret to hear that Mrs. Balfour Ker intends to devote herself entirely to painting in the future. We trust this intention will not be adhered to as this lady's skill in the applied art quite exceeds her success as a pictorial artist.

When it is considered that the number of architects practising in British Columbia probably is nearly half a hundred it is surprising to find but three of that number exhibiting on the walls of the association. The disregard, not to say ignorant neglect, of the art of architecture by the public is not at all surprising. If the practice of the first and highest of the arts lies with men who are themselves so little appreciative of the real position of architecture in the world of art, or so little desirous of impressing upon the public the high nature of their vocation, what can be expected from that same public but a continued attitude of indifference? In this province an architect is so seldom believed to be an artist that if one does happen to dabble, say in water color sketching in a slight and amateurish manner, folks agree that "he is quite artistic" as though it were possible for a man to be worthy of the name of architect without being an artist, and as though there were so little scope for the exercise of artistic taste and knowledge in the vast field of unlimited opportunity to be found in decorative composition alone that the quite artistic one should be compelled to turn to trifling with pictorial art to there find scope for his artistic aspirations, restrained and cramped as they must be by the narrow limits of architecture! This is, no doubt, somewhat of a digression, but really, an Arts and Crafts Association with scarcely a sign of the architectonic foundation upon which such associations must of necessity rest is a noteworthy curiosity. Beyond a sketch of the C.P.R. station at Vancouver by W.J.S. Parr and a neat pencil drawing of an everyday "alteration and addition" by W. Eveleigh, the only architectural drawings are by the President, whose large brown ink perspective of the Provincial Home at Kamloops was illustrated some four years ago in this magazine, as was also a design for a church in New Zealand. Among others we noticed a "rejected address" in the form of a design for a public school which was probably quite beyond the understanding of the school trustees, sketches for furniture, mantels, a chancel screen, all fully illustrated by details, and strongly drawn in brown ink and sepia after the president's characteristic method.

Mrs. Taylor exhibited a collection of photographs showing artistic perception in pose; all were soft in tone yet rather lacking in detail, probably the result of incorrect focussing of the subject to obtain the pleasing "so like a black and white, you know" effect. Messrs. Wadds Bros. also had an interesting show of photographs, one of which, a little child's head, is unaffectedly pretty and noticeably true as a photograph. But the photograph par excellence of the exhibition is a Rembrandtesque head by W. Eveleigh. Here we find all the extraordinary detail and sharpness of genuine photography, coupled with excellent pose and light, and beautiful printing. Two very large bromide enlargements by Miss Edwards must have been made from a remarkable negative, there being scarcely a defect in the enlargements.

Though mention is made last of the painted china shown by various members of the association, it must be frankly admitted that it was one of the decided successes of the exhibition. Miss Cohen, of Toronto, was represented by several pieces of decorated ware, beautifully painted and rich in tone. Among the pieces by Mrs. R.B. Ellis, a charming little jewel box and a fine punch bowl deserve more than passing attention, though all this member's work is good. Miss McClung had some excellent work on the same tables, a pair of placques being particularly nice in color. Miss Drainie also contributed an interesting collection of examples of her skill and taste. Upon the whole, the china, as stated, was really good, showing clear painting and burning, but the natural forms so well reproduced were not always as decorative in their application and composition as they should be, and the conventional form was scarcely used - Mrs. Ellis' jewel box, decorated with a form of Persian arabesque, being the noticeable successful exception. No doubt difficulties present themselves when the decorative motif is a conventional treatment of a natural form, that do not appear where the natural form is merely copied more or less faithfully, and is really only a little picture of fruit or flowers painted on china, but the triumph of success is altogether disproportionately greater when the conventional treatment is happily brought about.

The association owes a large measure of the success of this, its first annual exhibition, to the energy of its zealous young secretary, W.C. Bloomfield; indeed all the officers have worked earnestly to place the association upon a firm footing, and the promising nature of the exhibition just recorded, should encourage them to persevere in their good work. We had almost forgotten to make mention of the school competitions, open to children of various ages, not exceeding 16. Some 60 entries were adjudicated upon, some of them showing quite a little originality and care. It is to be hoped that the trustees of the public schools will in their turn do something to encourage and to develop a little artistic feeling and knowledge among the rising generations.

...article continues with discussion of architecture in Vancouver...