CUAG has exhibited and collected the work of Canadian Aboriginal artists since its founding in 1992; in fact its inaugural exhibition of contemporary art was KANATA: Robert Houle’s Histories. The collection has grown largely by donation. In 1999, for example, the Métis artist Rita Letendre donated 49 of her own works, including 38 prints documenting four decades of her printmaking activity. Two years later, Saulteaux artist Robert Houle donated from his personal collection 39 works by Aboriginal and Inuit artists such as Arthur Renwick, Bonnie Devine, Alex Janvier, and Bob Boyer.
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The collection features large bodies of works on paper by contemporary artists such as Carl Beam, Shirley Bear, Ann Beam, and Lance Belanger, as well as a group of drawings and paintings by Norval Morrisseau and artists he influenced who work in the Woodlands style, including Brian Marion, Goyce Kakegamic and Doug Kakegamic.
Several prominent collectors of Aboriginal art have also enriched our holdings. Victoria Henry, who owned and operated the Ufundi Gallery in Ottawa from 1975-1992, has donated work made by artists she represented there. Henry’s gift includes some major works on paper by Carl Beam including Portrait as John Wayne, Probably (1991), Gerald McMaster’s drawing Warrior (1989), and several beautiful quillwork baskets by Delia Bebonang and Josephine Bondi. In 2007, Dr. Andrew and Carolle Anne Armour donated a large collection of mainly Inuit art that also included several historical Aboriginal objects, the most notable of which are two museum-quality argillite panel pipes carved by anonymous nineteenth-century Haida artists.
The most significant donation of Aboriginal art came in 1999 from Dr. George and Joanne MacDonald. Dr. MacDonald, an authority on Haida art and former director of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and his wife, Joanne, were avid collectors of prints made by Aboriginal artists of the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. Their donation featured nearly 600 prints by acclaimed artists like Bill Reid, Susan Point, Tony Hunt, Robert Davidson, Freda Diesing, and Ron Hamilton. The George and Joanne MacDonald Collection of Northwest Coast Graphic Art is a virtual catalogue raisonné of the achievements of coastal Aboriginal artists from the 1960s through the 1980s.