Tapestries celebrate black history of New Brunswick

Nine tapestries were loaned to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery by St. Thomas University for Black History Month. (Johnny James/AQ)

A collection of nine tapestries woven by Ivan Crowell have been hanging in St. Thomas University’s James Dunn Hall for the last 25 years. Now, they’ve been loaned to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery where they’re on display for Black History Month.

The tapestries come together to highlight a series of important moments in New Brunswick’s black history.

John Leroux, the manager of collections and exhibitions at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, thought this was an important exhibit to show.

“To have the history of them be in the public eye in a different location is a good thing. It’s a great way to celebrate Black History Month and also to show a lot of New Brunswick history that’s glossed over,” he said.

The tapestries were created by New Brunswick weaver Ivan Crowell. (Johnny James/AQ)

Crowell, an accomplished pewtersmith and master weaver, donated the pieces to STU in 1994. They were some of the final works he completed in a career that left an impact on the arts and culture scene in New Brunswick.

Crowell was the founder of the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, where he served as director for its first 20 years. He wove over 250 tapestries in the last 20 years of his life, many of which can be found at STU and the University of New Brunswick.

Thirty of his tapestries hang at Fredericton’s City Hall, all of them an extension of his documentation of New Brunswick history.

Leroux said the tapestries Crowell wove of New Brunswick’s black history were some of the last he created.

“He made these when he was turning 90, so this was one of the last big projects he worked on. He was a really important person as far as the cultural history in New Brunswick,” said Leroux.

Crowell was given the Order of Canada in 1973 for his efforts in the industry.

The tapestries were donated to STU in 1994. (Johnny James/AQ)

The idea to bring in the tapestries to the Beaverbrook Art Gellery was first brought up by an artist named Mary McCarthy, who spoke at the gallery’s exhibition for Black History Month last year. The gallery and the university both agreed to the project without hesitation.

The featured exhibit displays each piece in chronological order, accompanied by a brief written history of the events each part represents.

The tapestries show significant historical events like the landing of black loyalists at the mouth of the Saint John river in 1783, the departure of 15 vessels that carried approximately 1,200 freed slaves from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to West Africa in 1792 and Willie O’Ree breaking the colour barrier in the NHL in 1958.

Jeffrey Carleton, spokesperson for STU, said the display at the gallery has given the tapestries the attention they deserve.

One tapestry features New Brunswick hockey player Willie O’Ree. (Johnny James/AQ)

“Sometimes when you see something everyday and it’s there all the time, you may take it for granted,” said Carleton.

“It was rewarding for us to see the tapestries get extra attention other than students passing them by everyday and perhaps not noticing that they are there or what the significance is.”

The tapestries will hang in the Beaverbrook’s Orientation Gallery until March 24 and will be the first exhibit that patrons see as they enter.

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery and Leroux are also pleased the tapestries are generating some interest in New Brunswick’s black history.

“This isn’t just black history,” Leroux said. “This is New Brunswick history, but there are elements of New Brunswick history that we don’t pay enough attention to.”