With unique inspiration and some old silver, an exhibit at the University of New Brunswick’s Memorial Hall put a polished shine on the efforts of female artists that were muddied during their time.
The exhibit is called Illuminations: Contemporary Silver Candleholders Honouring Canadian Women in the Arts. It opened March 8 on International Women’s Day and runs until May 3.
The exhibit’s curator, art historian Laura Brandon, was originally inspired by the lack of dialogue around the contributions of women leading up to Canada’s 150th anniversary.
“All the discussion I saw in the media was about the fathers of confederation and the battle of Vimy Ridge, which were masculine enterprises, and I thought I would like to do something that drew attention to the women who did things during the first 150 years of confederation,” said Brandon.
Her medium was bestowed to her through an inheritance of silver items, which she knew neither herself or anyone in her family would use.
Brandon sought out the only metalsmith she knew, who then introduced her to a group called the Metal Collective.
One of the members, Mary McIntyre, said it takes a number of years to be trained as a metalsmith and thousands of hours of practice.
“It’s a way of keeping silversmithing in the public to a degree, because it’s a very specific set of techniques and it’s very technically demanding,” said McIntyre.
“It’s a discipline that because it asks so much of you, you develop a tremendous loyalty to it and you want to share it with other people.”
The majority of the members in the collective are women. They come together every five or six years to craft a new collection of works around a different theme.
The one in the exhibit is made up of 15 pieces, each by a different artist. The works represent a pillar in Canada’s art history that women have influenced, such as dance, music, painting, design and craft. They all tell a story for each decade of confederation in Canada and each contain a piece of silver from Brandon’s collection.
The opening ceremonies unveiled a plaque in honour of Pegi Nicol MacLeod, a war artist who co-founded the UNB Arts Centre in 1941 and provided a rare view of women in the armed forces during the Second World War.
Brandon, who has published multiple articles and books on MacLeod’s work, said that only scratches the surface of MacLeod’s impact.
“She was a critically important artist in Canada … she never went to Europe, she never trained anywhere but in Canada – she was a completely Canadian homegrown product.”
Brandon said she hopes the exhibit will be considered for entry into the Crown Collection at Rideau Hall in blank, a collection seen as a reflection to the nation’s history and Canadian culture.