Vancouver Art in the Sixties

Museums, Mentors and Merchants

The path of development of many BC Aboriginal artists provides evidence of their mentorship by important Euro-Canadian artists and institutions. Francis Baptiste and Judith Morgan were mentored by day and residential school teachers who saw ‘art’ as a means of education, and arranged for the public exhibitions of children’s work in such places as the Vancouver Art Gallery. Baptiste and Morgan had become aware of their works’ public value before enrolling in art schools. Morgan was taught to paint by Gordon Sinclair, and supported by Lawren Harris in the exhibition of her work at the National Gallery in Ottawa. Harris also was instrumental in encouraging George Clutesi to paint on large canvases. When Clutesi had his first exhibition at the Provincial Museum in Victoria, the Acting Director Dr. Carl introduced him to Emily Carr. Clutesi began painting in oils, and by 1962 had completed 50 canvases, seven of which were acquired in 1947 by the University of British Columbia, the first major sale of his work.

The two-day meeting of the B.C. Indian Arts and Welfare Association at UBC in 1948, organized by Alice Ravenhill, was a watershed event for the public recognition of “Indian art.”

Dr. Harry Hawthorn unpacking paintings for the Museum of Anthropology

Dr. Harry Hawthorn unpacking paintings for the Museum of Anthropology

Ellen Neel held her first exhibition at UBC under the sponsorship of BCIAWS. As a result of this exhibition, the University President bought Neel’s first “polished” totem pole. Soon after, the Neels carved a pole as gift for the Alma Mater Society. UBC was also a source of support for other Native artists in the form of totem pole restoration and replication projects such as those conducted at Totem Park, for which Bill Reid and Doug Cranmer were commissioned. Because creating historic and intellectual value for art works also create markets, museums became merchants and mentors. Private dealers such as Gyula Mayer would “discover” emerging artists such as Henry Speck, collecting and promoting his work. In 1964, “A World Premiere” opening of Speck’s work was staged. By 1967, Speck had become well known and 245 of his works were bought by the Glenbow Museum.

The experience with galleries, dealers and museums led some aboriginal artists to begin to market their own and other Aboriginal artists work themselves. Contemporary painter, Paul Yuxweluptun says “Henry Speck broke the form line. He drew hair over the line, and made what was a stylized two-dimensional image into a pictorially three-dimensional one. I remember seeing his small catalogue from 1964 in my father’s library: it was new, on paper and in colour. He used new inks, new materials – it was modern. Colour was his signature; he had a certain style that other artists would try to copy. His influence on me was colour, because back then there was more black and white.”



December 1939


January 29, 1938


May 15, 1941


June 4, 1944

April 6, 1945


December 1947

August 21, 1948


August 1, 1950

December 1951

May 6, 1956




April 21, 1962


March 24, 1964



July 1, 1967