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The Banff Centre’s war artists

For Remembrance Day, the Archives is remembering some of the Banff Centre community who have played the unique role of official War Artist.

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A.Y. Jackson with art students on a field trip to Canmore, 1946. Photo: Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives.

Canada’s War Artist program started in 1917, as a way to document the war from the Canadian point of view, beyond the limitations of film, photography, and print. One of the most significant events of the war, the 1915 battle of Ypres, when Canadian soldiers’ first encountered poison gas,  had not been filmed or photographed. But a British artist was able to re-create it in a painting. The Canadian War Records office recognized that visual artists could document and communicate beyond what a camera could express, and further decided they wanted to commission Canadian artists.

A.Y. Jackson was Canada’s first official War Artist, and the experience solidified his commitment to a distinctly Canadian artistic vision, expressed through Canadian landscape art (later as part of the Group of Seven). The philosophy led him to teach landscape painting to young art students at The Banff Centre throughout the 1940’s.

SF8George Pepper had taught at The Banff Centre before he signed up as a War Artist attached to the Canadian Army in 1943.   Although he had been influenced by the Group of Seven in his early career, Pepper didn’t focus on landscapes during the war, but documented the modern machinery, daily life, drama and death of the conflict. He returned to the Banff Centre to teach immediately after being demobilized, and returned regularly to teach advanced courses in Banff until his death in 1962.

War Artists during the two world wars were motivated primarily by patriotism, but Allan Harding MacKay applied for an appointment to Somalia in 1993 for a different reason: to consciously explore the role of an artist in documenting military operations. After his week embedded with the troops, he spent extensive time at The Banff Centre processing his raw video into the Somalia Yellow series, a collection of videos and prints expressing his highly personal and poetic response to the military intervention, amid the natural and social realities of Somalia.

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Searching for Margaret Greenham

At the opening of the Margaret Greenham Theatre, July 18, 1969. Front row (l to r) Ernesto Vinci, Catharine Whyte, Earle McPhee. Back row (l to r) Campbell McLaurin (Chancellor), Alfred William Rooke Carrothers (President of the University of Calgary), Donald Cameron. Banff Centre Historical Photo collection.

At the opening of the Margaret Greenham Theatre, July 18, 1969. Front row (l to r) Ernesto Vinci, Catharine Whyte, Earle McPhee. Back row (l to r) Campbell McLaurin (Chancellor), Alfred William Rooke Carrothers (President of the University of Calgary), Donald Cameron. Banff Centre Historical Photo collection.

On July 18, 1969, the Banff School of Fine Arts hosted a special opening ceremony for a newly built practice theatre named for Margaret Greenham, a local Banff teacher dedicated to educating Alberta children in the arts. The theatre had been built with a generous and anonymous donation. An old program for the event showed that Honorary Doctorates were given by the University of Calgary to Ernesto Vinci, Earle Douglas MacPhee, and Catharine Robb Whyte to recognize their contributions to artistic, cultural and academic development.

A commemorative plaque outside the theatre acknowledges the generosity of the anonymous donor and why Margaret Greenham was honoured.  Forty-four years later, it’s well known that Catharine Whyte was the anonymous donor. But I still wondered if Catharine had chosen the name of the theatre.

In most cases our Archives on-line database will lead a researcher directly to aphotographic or textual record. However, in this case, a few keyword searches for Margaret Greenham, Donald Cameron and Catharine Whyte yielded nothing, so I went to the Whyte Museum and Archives to do a little extra detective work.

Looking through Catharine Whyte’s papers was very interesting. I knew that she and her husband Peter had been generous patrons of the arts in Banff, but actually looking at her charitable donations over the decades showed a woman dedicated to using her wealth to advocate for local programs that cultivated young talent. I also noticed that Catharine almost always made her donations anonymously.

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A short history of Acoustic Ecology

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From left: Chris Wood, Nathan Clarkson and Camara Miller. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

What was the first sound you heard this morning? Take a moment, what can you hear right now?

In 1973, R. Murray Schafer started a movement to be more conscious of the sounds in the environment, what they mean and the effect they have on us. While teaching at Simon Fraser University, Schafer started the World Soundscape Project (WSP), a collection of “ear minded” people who began making audio recordings to build a “museum of sounds.” In the early 1970s, Bruce Davis and Peter Huse drove across Canada to collect “soundmarks,” unique and disappearing sounds, as well as recording conversations with people across the country about the acoustic spaces they inhabited.

In 1993, a broad spectrum of academics and professionals gathered at The Banff Centre to discuss Acoustic Ecology (the field of study initiated by Schafer), what it was and where it was going. At the time, interdisciplinary discussion was a new concept and The Banff Centre was a leader in this way of thinking.

Twenty years after that conference, where is “acoustic ecology”? Continue Reading →

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Out of the Archives: Janos Starker

Celebrated cellist Janos Starker, who died on Sunday, came to Banff to teach almost every year between 1975 and 1991. Hungarian-born, he was among the faculty for The Banff Centre’s first fall / winter music residency in 1979, taking time away from his position as distinguished professor at Indiana University. Starker made more than 150 recordings during his career, and won a Grammy in 1998. This photo of Starker with one of his Banff students, is from the Banff Centre Historical Photo Collection (c.1975).

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Out of the Archives: Walter J. Phillips

Painter and printmaker Walter J. Phillips in 1953, with artists in the Design and Pictorial Composition program. This view hasn't changed: find it on the road between First and Second Vermilion Lakes on the drive out of Banff townsite.

Painter and printmaker Walter J. Phillips in 1953, with artists in the Design and Pictorial Composition program. This view hasn’t changed: find it on the road between First and Second Vermilion Lakes on the drive out of Banff townsite.

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Archival recordings echo the history of pianos and spaces at The Banff Centre

Listen to this archival recording from the Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives at The Banff Centre,  featuring a 1993 episode of “This Week in Banff”, a joint production of the Centre and CKUA Radio. 

“Made in Banff, Shared with the World” is how we express our commitment to documenting and sharing many of the wonderful works that take place here at The Banff Centre. And while the focus is largely on new works from current events and activities, my job at the Centre is looking at the historical recordings hidden deep in the archives. I’ve been spending my time listening to talks, lectures, readings, interviews, and performances, all of which took place here in Banff over the last 30-plus years. I truly have one of the greatest jobs ever, and while I’m here I’m hoping to share some of these great finds with you.

One collection I’ve been enjoying is the former radio program “This Week in Banff”, which was jointly produced by The Banff Centre for the Arts and CKUA, and ran from the late ‘80s to the mid ‘90s. “This Week in Banff” was designed to inform listeners about major events happening at the Centre, and also featured interviews with the people behind the scenes that made it all possible. Two such individuals were Otto Keyes and Ted Sambell, both former head piano tuners at the then-named Banff Centre for the Arts. Both were featured in their own episode, Keyes in 1989 and Sambell in 1993. What struck me in both these episodes was just how much work goes into the maintenance of the Centre’s 102 pianos. Continue Reading →

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