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THE INDIANS OF rfHE PRAIRIES AND THE ROCKIES A THEME FOR MODERN PAIN'fERS MARIUS BARBEAU W HEN Langdon l(ihn ten years ago sought pictorial themes amon.g the Indian ~s_herfolk of the Northwest Coast ·and the pratne hunters of Western Alberta, it was his good fortune to invade a colourful :field. That country holds a strong appeal, with its grandiose strangeness. It harbours beauty and never surrenders the last word of its mystery. The Coast, particularly on the Alaskan border, is Asiatic-like; it is on the frontiers of Japan. Its warm moisture breeds an extravagant vegetation, carpets the ground with flowers and covers the bush with wild fruit-the salmon-berries and the salal of the tide-waters, the juicy saskatoons and the bitter soapberries of the plateaux, and the exquisite huckleberries of the mountain slopes. The diversity of tribes and scenery did not fail to stimulate Kihn's imagination -particularly during the eight months we camped together among the Gitksan of the Skeena-, for the semitropical seacoast is as different from the rolling foothills of Alberta as are the red men from both areas who used to claim their undivided possession. The Indian portraits and totem pole landscapes of Kihn attracted much attention, when they were exhibited in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, after his return. Their clear colour note and decorative quality made a brilliant show of a large collection of his paintings. The exhibition aroused interest both in the artist-a young New Yorker-and the country which he seemed to be the 197 THE UNIVERSITY OF ·TORONTO QUARTERLY first to interpret. Not only was his work attractive and original, but it fanned a record of Indian life at a moment when it was passing out of existence. Our collaboration indeed-I was studying native art and customs for the National Museum of Canada-made it possible to resurrect many things now out of sight that otherw~se would have gone down to oblivion. A number of his Stony and Kootenay portraits were secured by the Canadian Pacific Railway for the Thompson Memorial at Lake Windermere. And an effort was made to preserve another part of the collection in public museums. The Southam brothers, newspaper publishers, purchased more than thirty of the best canvases and donated representative groups to Canadian art galleries from Montreal to Victoria. The success of the artist helped in spreading definite impressions of the picturesque Rockies, of the fine wood carvjngs of the Northwest Coast tribes and their totem poles which constitute a striking feature on this continent. Though an outsider himself, he has contributed to open up a new field, so far neglected, and thus to enrich national consciousness. Canadian painting for some years has broken new ground, under the leadership of the Group of Seven. Its advance has been rapid, if not spectacular. It has conferred upon the country a distinction and a character all its own, yet till then unexpressed. But its domain at first was restricted mostly to the Georgian Bay and central Ontario. l(ihn's success made it easy for me later to induce eastern Canadian painters, including some of the Group, to extend their activities to the Northwest. Alex. Jackson, of Toronto, and Edwin Holgate, of Montreal , were the first-after l(ihn-to initiate the 1novement. Their reactions to the Skeena river scenery ·were different 198 INDIANS OF THE PRAIRIES from Kihn's, and also among themselves. Jackson is one of our leading landscape painters among the seniors, whose gifts find expression in composition no less than a subtle colour scheme. The well-balanced solidity of his masses goes hand in hand with a great sensitiveness for significant details. Holgate, by many years his junior, at the time was interested mostly in Indian portraits, like Kihn. Yet his treatment was different. He sought character in a rather austere way, whereas K.ihn looked for it in relation with decorative associations. It was interesting to compare the results thus achieved by independent personalities . But all were agreed that inspiration soon is quickened in a country so r.ich in wild life, aboriginal themes_, and rugged scenery. The Northwest Coast and Skeena people are viJJage...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 197-206
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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