Owens Art Gallery receives significant donation of alumnae artwork
Applied arts alumnae and their families donate 40 pieces to the Owens’ collection
The applied arts exhibition, All Things Useful and Artistic — Applied Arts at Mount Allison University 1906-1960, held at the Owens Art Gallery from May to September 2015, was a great success in more ways than one.
For a start, it highlighted wonderful, never-before-exhibited works by former Mount Allison applied arts students and explored an often overlooked part of the University’s history.
It also resulted in the single largest donation of work by alumni that the Owens Art Gallery has every received.
“We have had bigger gifts, but not in terms of the number of artists in a single gift,” says Gemey Kelly, director/curator of the Owens.
A total of 17 donors entrusted approximately 40 pieces to the Owens’ collection.
Kelly says the donations are particularly important as the gallery previously had very few pieces created by the University’s applied arts students.
“And what we had was not very focussed. These ones were chosen to represent every medium and every time period,” she says. “We are now a fairly important centre for anyone wanting to do a history of craft in Canada. The Applied Arts program at Mount Allison has been left out of this history until now because we didn’t have access to the material.”
The donated items include woodcarving, leatherwork, jewellery, weaving, beadwork, basketry, pottery, silver, and stencilling.
The mass donation is largely thanks to the work of exhibition curator Jane Tisdale (’89), and David Mawhinney, the university archivist, who both spent months searching out the pieces for the exhibition and building relationships with former students or their families.
In many cases, the donated pieces had been in the family for decades, but family members felt the Owens was the right home for them.
Elizabeth Stark and her brother John Jamieson donated a large desk and a chest carved by their mother, Margery (Hayes) Jamieson (’31), more than 80 years ago.
“They would have gone to auction, so it was wonderful that we were contacted to be part of this exhibit,” Stark says. “I said to my brother that this was our opportunity to put these things where they will be appreciated. These wood items are very, very special and we are really pleased to have them there. I think (Mum) would be really pleased as well.”
Angela (Thompson) Huntjens (’58) donated a necklace her aunt, Erminie Thompson (’26), made as a student. Thompson died in 1972.
“My father had three sisters, all of whom went to Mount Allison, and all of them took courses in the (applied arts) program,” she says. “She (Erminie) never married. She stayed in Hillsborough, NB all her life. It was really a revelation to find she had done all these wonderful things: china painting and watercolours and carving and wood. She was very, very talented in so many areas.”
Huntjens did wear the necklace occasionally, but was always worried she would lose it.
“When Jane suggested (donating it to the Owens), I thought that is just the right thing,” she says. “(Erminie) was the one who stayed home where her sisters and brothers went off and got married. She was the one who got a bit eclipsed and this is her chance to shine.”
Patricia (Pollett) McClelland (’60) echoes that sentiment.
She says the exhibition brought the applied arts graduates “up into the light.”
“We had worked in the basement all the time,” she says. “To have a show up in the main gallery — we waited a long time for that.”
McClelland donated a blue and white woven coverlet that was a project in her last year at Mount Allison as well as a sterling silver brooch set with a lapis lazuli.
“It is quite an honour to be included in the Owens’ permanent collection, so it wasn’t very hard to say yes,” she says. “The idea is that it is there for a very long time. It is nice to know that things will survive you.”
Tisdale says the donated pieces are only part of the legacy left to the Owens. Many of the families and former students also shared photographs and information about the applied arts program, as well as items that have become part of the University Archives’ collection.
“Some of these items are very important,” Tisdale says. “Carolyn (Manzer) McMullen (’60) donated a binder of weaving notes and samples, for example. One of the samples describes the weaving pattern on the coverlet Patricia donated.”
For more information, visit the virtual applied arts exhibition created by Rachel Thornton (’15) (mta.ca/owens/appliedarts/), which includes photographs of the exhibits and interviews with students like McClelland and McMullen.
Patricia (Pollett) McClelland (’60) in front of the coverlet she recently donated to the Owens Art Gallery
A wooden chest donated by the family of the late Margery Hayes Jamieson (’31).
A necklace by Erminie Thompson (’26)
A moonstone ring by Beth Couillard (’58)