Vancouver Art in the Sixties

Young Residential School
Artists “on Display”

Early exhibits of Indian children’s “art” made in day and residential schools such as St. Michael, Inkameep, Albernie, and Coqualeetza, and in their attendant Indian Hospitals, were exhibited in public venues such as the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Pacific National Exhibition, and in Eatons and the Bay department stores. Two unusual teachers who promoted aboriginal art practice in the school system were Anthony Walsh and Rev. G.H. Raley, the Principal of the Coqualeetza Residential School from 1914 to 1934. He included in his manual training program boat building and Indian art and handicrafts: the boys learned to carve totem poles and the girls to weave baskets. By correlating industry and art, Raley believed that native communities could sustain their traditions and adapt to the modern world. (Raibmon 1996; Hawker 2003; Leeuw 2007) Walsh encouraged his Inkameep Day School students to make visual images of their culture and everyday life, and to recreate it as theatre (Andrea Walsh 2003).

In 1942, when Anthony Walsh moved to Port Alberni, he met Nuu-Chah-Nulth artist George Clutesi and supported him in continuing his cultural practices. Walsh used his connections to notable figures in the arts to encourage exhibitions of Clutesi’s paintings in galleries and museums.

St. Michaels Residential School Art Display at the Pacific National Exposition, 1936

St. Michael’s Residential School Art Display at the Pacific National Exposition, 1936

At the same time, aboriginal students who were encouraged to develop their art in post-secondary art schools, such as Francis Baptiste and Judith Morgan, experienced a brief period of fame and institutional recognition, which declined by the mid 60s. Baptiste returned to making a living in his own community in the rodeo and served as a political leader. Morgan got married, completed a BA, and eventually returned to Gitksan territory where she continues to paint. In the late 60s Clutesi turned from painting to teaching cultural practices at the Albernie Residential school. By the time he published his second book about Nuu-chah-nulth culture in 1969, he was so busy acting in television and working in mainstream cultural institutions that he had little time for painting.


George Clutesi (Born 1905 in Port Alberni, a member of the Tse-Shaht First Nation) was only four years old when his mother died. After her death he was raised by his father and his aunts until he was old enough to go to the Port Alberni Residential School, where, due to contracting tuberculosis, he only stayed a short time. However, he would retain a life-long connection to the school and its Aboriginal students, later working and teaching there.


Ellen Neel, born in 1916 in the house of Chief Wakius in Alert Bay, BC, attends St. Michaels Residential School in the 1920s.


Rev. George H. Raley, who amassed a significant Native art collection, actively pressed the government to set up a program to teach Native arts and design in residential schools. After retiring as principal of Coqualeetza Residental School in 1934, he moved to Vancouver where he arranged for his collection to be put on display in the old court house on Georgia Street.


Anthony Walsh begins teaching at the Inkameep Indian School at the invitation of Chief George Baptiste. Walsh encourages the fourteen year old Francis Batiste (aka Baptise) to draw, and supports the arts within the school. Walsh later influences George Clustesi as well.


At age 16, Francis Baptiste exhibits his drawings in the Children's display of the Royal Drawing Society in London, England. He was awarded a Bronze Star award and two honorable mentions from the Society.


Following the Reverend G. H. Raley's northern postings in British Columbia, he became principal at Coqualeetza Residential school in 1914 until he retired in 1934. In 1937, the year the school closed, Raley produced a monograph about the Totem Poles in Stanley Park titled Our Totem Poles: A Sourvenir of Vancouver, British Columbia. In it he describes many poles including the Thunderbird Pole at Prospect Point carved by Mathias Joe Capilano.


St. Michael's Residential School Student Art Exhibition is held at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) in Vancouver. The following year, in 1941, the Pacific National Exhibition grounds are occupied by the Canadian military for the remainder of WWII. In 1942 the grounds were used as a temporary holding area for Japanese nationals and Canadians of Japanese descent.


"Young Indians’ Art on Display" is exhibited at the Provincial Museum, then housed in the Parliament Building in Victoria, BC after being shown the week before at the Vancouver Art Gallery. “Creative work done by BC Indian children, depicting the ancient lore of their race… Schools represented in the fascinating display, which received acclaim at Vancouver Art Gallery last week, are Songhees Indian Day School …. Inkameep School, Oliver (Anthony Walsh, teacher). It is the first exhibit in BC of illustrations of entirely original paintings by Indian children of the Province. They chose their own subjects and had neither models nor copies. ‘Bearing in mind that the schools represented come from widely separated areas in the Province, the diversity of subject selected, of colour, activity of imaginations, are interesting and illustrative of the forgotten fact that in olden days each tribe in BC had its own particular form of art,’ says Miss Ravenhill.” (The Victoria Daily Times 1942, 9).

April 1, 1941

The traveling exhibit "Indian School Art," organized by Mildred Valley Thornton, a newspaper art critic and painter, is displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery from June 15 to August 21, 1941. In May 1942 the exhibit travels to the Provincial Museum at the BC Parliament Building in Victoria. The exhibit receives media coverage, which includes an interview with Alice Ravenhill about the exhibit. (The Victoria Daily Times May 1942, 9.)

August 20, 1944

Lawren Harris, Dominion President of the Federation of Canadian artists opens the Alberni Valley Art Group display. Chief exhibitor and the prominent figure at the exhibition banquet held at Somass Hotel at Port Alberni was full-blooded Indian painter George C. Clutesi. On exhibition were eighteen paintings by Clutesi and work by the Alberni art class ("In the Realm of Art: Indian Painter Chief Exhibitor.” The Vancouver Province Sept. 20, 1944). A Life membership was conferred by the Alberni Valley Art group on George Clutesi. This local well known Indian artist has had his paintings exhibited in Vancouver and other cities (“Art Group Honors Mr. George Clutesi.” West Coast Advocate, Port Albernie, BC Jan. 18, 1944).


Judith Morgan wins First prize in Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) Vancouver. She is the first winner of the BC Indian Arts & Welfare Society (BCIAWS) Scholarship, and studies at the Alberni Residential School, tutored by West Coast artist Gordon Sinclair. (The Province, July 17, 1947, 20).

December 1947

The Vancouver Art Gallery exhibits a display of "Indian Children’s Art" from the Alberni and Christie Residential Schools (December 1- 4, 1947). Judith Morgan, seventeen, shows her paintings in the VAG exhibit (The Province, Dec. 5, 10. Vancouver Art Gallery Bulletin Dec. 1947, Vol. 15, no. 2). By 1949 Judith Morgan will have exhibited her work in Victoria, Vancouver, in a solo show at the National Gallery, Ottawa and in the United States (The Province, July 20, 1949, 27).


Reverend G.H. Raley transfers his collection, of largely undated and unnamed art images made by aboriginal students, to the British Columbia Provincial Museum. They range in subject matter, and are rendered in ink, pencil or watercolour. The majority of images are of a single being or an object such as a killer whale or a cedar box. Dorothy Lucas, a St. Michaels Indian Residiential School teacher, will also gift her collection of children’s art to the Museum in 1977 (Leeuw, 296, 297)


George Clutesi continues his cultural and artistic work with Aboriginal children at the Alberni Residential School. Clutesi designs two 5’ x 5’ mosaic tiles depicting the Whale and Thunderbird and then assists students in installing them on the floors of the main hallway of the School. Later that year, Clutesi directs and drums for the play, The Paddle Song, which is performed by the Kindergarten class at the Residential school.