National Gallery of Canada Visit During NCPH

One of my favourite parts of the NCPH conference is how participants are encouraged to take a break from traditional sessions and explore the local heritage landscape.  Last year I look an amazing walking tour in Milwaukee and this year I had a chance to explore the National Gallery of Canada. Despite living in Ottawa a few years ago, this was my first visit to the Gallery.

I really enjoyed the contemporary art and Canadian art sections of the Gallery located on the first level.  However, I was struck by how little a presence indigenous art played in the main Canadian portion of the Gallery.  There was a small section of contemporary Aboriginal art amongst the main collection that showed a prominent Norval Morrisseau painting and a few other small works by Ontario based Indigenous artists.

This was paired with a small Inuit art exhibit that is tucked in the basement of the Gallery.  The exhibit was well done and featured a number of stone carvings and stonecut prints from the 1960s onwards.  The one thing that struck me about this particular exhibit was the lack of people looking at it.  The rest of the galleries were fairly busy during my visit, but the Inuit exhibit was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.  The signage to lead you down into the lower level where the Inuit exhibit isn’t very prominent, so perhaps this contributed to the quietness.

One great experience I did have in the Canadian Art exhibit was participating in a Docent’s Choice talk.  These 10-minute talks occur multiple times daily and feature a Gallery volunteer discussing one piece of artwork from the National Gallery collection.  Docent’s Choice activities are free of charge with admission.  The Docent’s Choice activity I participated in focused on Graveyard Entrance painted by Emily Carr in 1912.  

The volunteer who ran the activity spoke about the history surrounding a number of Emily Carr’s works, Carr’s role in the larger Canadian art scene, and her interactions with Indigenous people in Canada.  The activity also included a closer examination of the motifs and techniques used in Graveyard Entrance.  This talk was well done, interactive, and informative. I would recommend taking ten minutes out of your visit to the gallery to participate in a Docent’s Choice activity.  The talks are different every day and are a neat way to learn something beyond a text panel.

Project of Heart: Hands on History

Comparable to the (official denial) trade value in progress sewing actions I wrote about last week, Project of Heart is a commemoration project which combines an artistic activity with history education.  Project of Heart aims to educate Canadians about the lasting impact of the Indian Residential School system.  The project places an emphasis remembering those students who passed away while at Residential School.

Participants in Project of Heart learn about Residential Schools and are then asked to decorate a small wooden title to represent the death of one child at Residential School.  The education component of Project of Heart focuses on learning through oral history and experiential learning.  Residential Schools Survivors are invited by school and community groups to tell their personal experiences, and give voice to language and traditions that were suppressed by Residential Schools.  The Project of Heart website also offers a great list of educational resources and discussion questions for those facilitating education activities.

Project of Heart also requests that each group focus on a specific Residential School.  Focusing on a particular school and on the students who attended that specific school held make the topic more tangible and less abstract.  The name of the school studied is written on the back of each title decorated by participants.

The artistic activity of the project, decorating a small wooden tile using sharpie markers, emphasizes creating something to remember and commemorate a child who died at Residential School.  Allowing students to express what they have learned through a creative medium makes this project appealing to many educators and the hands on component helps make the history lesson increasingly memorable.