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Picturing Her: Seeing Again and Again
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For the past ten years, my research as an art historian has focused on the meanings of Canadian images of children and youth. I have been exploring imagery, the premise being that imagery offers a unique arena of knowledge for developing an understanding of the experiences and expectations of young people. Recognizing the complexities inherent in creating these pictures and the need for an analysis that takes into account the plurality of such images over time and place, my research has drawn together depictions of children in various media as well as child-related works by artists from different eras. When Mavis Reimer invited me to participate in a roundtable discussion at the Association for Research in Cultures of Young People at the University of New Brunswick in spring 2011, she asked me to "outline the primary propositions of a theorist or a group of theorists" whose writings have assisted me in my research "about the lives and representations of children and youth." In responding to this daunting task, I decided to examine some approaches I had in mind when I curated Picturing Her: Images of Girlhood / Salut les filles! La jeune fille en images, an exhibition at the McCord Museum of Canadian History in 2005 (see fig. 1).

I begin with an overview of this exhibition. Following that, I introduce some of the critical thinkers I turned to for theoretical frameworks, contexts, and studies. As this paper will make clear, I am committed to a pluralistic approach, with methods that incorporate different epistemologies, traditions, and practices. More specifically, narrative and semiotic analyses, theories of art and cultural history, cognitive and perceptual psychology, and a postcolonial perspective have guided me to define an interpretive paradigm dedicated to discovering the constellation of meanings associated with images of young people.

Picturing Her considered the evolution of visual expressions of Canadian girlhood between the 1860s


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Figure 1. 

Picturing Her: Images of Girlhood / Salut les Filles! La jeune fille en images, McCord Museum, November 25, 2005 to March 26, 2006. Installation view.

and the year of the exhibition. Paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs, sourced primarily from the McCord Museum, were selected because they not only reflected various ideas of what girlhood was but participated in creating new visions—some restrictive, others liberating—that illustrated society's continuing interest in investing "her" with beliefs, desires, fantasies, and expectations.

The exhibition was divided into four sections. The first, entitled "Myths and Allegories," used paintings, drawings, political cartoons, and war posters to show the projection of ideologies onto the female body (Lerner, "'Canada'"). When Canada was a young country, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, artists often employed the metaphor of a girl to define the status of the new nation and its relation to Mother England. For example, in the 1886 photoengraving A Pertinent Question, Mrs. Britannia accuses her daughter, Miss Canada, of encouraging a union with her American cousin Jonathan. The possible annexation of Canada by the United States was a matter of concern for both Britain and Canada in the 1880s. The cartoon refers to aborted attempts for Canada to renew with the United States the Reciprocity Treaty that had doubled trade between the two countries. Hail Dominion, a 1906 oil study by Gustav Hahn, was part of a design for a mural entitled Canada Receiving the Homage of Her Children that had been proposed by eight artists for the entrance hall of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. In Hahn's painting, "Canada" embraces her young provincial daughters, posed casually around her in a way that suggests a close family. In the Great War poster Do It Again Daddy Please! Buy Me a Victory Bond by Joseph Ernest Sampson, a girl begs her father to buy more Victory Bonds in order to raise money for the war effort. She represents civilians affected by the war, urgently in need of protection from the enemy.

From the mid- to late nineteenth century, the house was the space most closely associated with girlhood. Girls were expected to stay at home, where they were taught how to be good wives and mothers. For the bourgeoisie, the feminine ideal required daughters to bring...



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