When the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) opened in 1992, it assumed care for the University’s existing art collection. Ernest Fosbery’s 1947 portrait of Henry Marshall Tory, founder of Carleton University in 1942, was the first painting to adorn the walls of Carleton College, then located on First Avenue in Ottawa. In 1959 Carleton moved to its present site, and in the early 1960s, artistic activity on campus began to gain momentum because of Ottawa artist Gerald Trottier. After completing his mosaic mural, The Pilgrimage of Man, for the H.M. Tory building in 1962, Trottier worked as Carleton’s unofficial “artistic advisor,” lecturing about the mural, curating temporary art exhibitions in the Tory foyer, and teaching life-drawing classes.
When Trottier moved to London, Ontario, in 1965, the Ottawa artist Duncan de Kergommeaux inherited the job of artistic advisor. De Kergommeaux and David Torontow were then co-proprietors of the Blue Barn Gallery in Bells Corners. De Kergommeaux convinced Ted Hincks, chair of Carleton’s Physics Department, to fill his office with contemporary paintings from the Blue Barn’s inventory. De Kergommeaux also asked his fellow artists in the city — Takao Tanabe, Georges de Niverville, Norman Takeuchi, Victor Tolgesy, and Jim Boyd — to donate their work: Trottier sent his painting Ikon from London.
The collection thrived further under the guidance of the University Painting and Sculpture Committee, established in the late 1960s by President Davidson Dunton, who allotted an annual budget for its maintenance and growth. The Committee’s membership over the years was comprised of art history and other faculty members, including Mary-Louise Funke, George Johnston, Gordon Wood, Diane le Berrurier, and David Gardner. The Committee made an early decision to focus on (and expose students to) contemporary Canadian art, but over the years it also acquired European works on paper by purchase and donation.
The Barwick gifts
In 1970, the university’s collection was enriched immensely when the collection of Douglas Duncan, head of the innovative Picture Loan Society in Toronto, was distributed by Frances Barwick, his sister and heir, to universities and galleries across Canada. Carleton received nine works, including three by David Milne and two by L.L. FitzGerald.
Frances Barwick’s extraordinary dedication to Carleton University became clear upon her death in late 1984. She stipulated in her will that three-quarters of her husband’s estate (he had died in 1964) and their art collection would go to Carleton. The Barwicks’ gift of fifty-seven works of early- and mid-twentieth century Canadian art featured artists such as A.Y. Jackson, Emily Carr, Harold Town, Carl Schaefer, David Milne, and Pegi Nicol MacLeod. With Carleton now in possession of a superb collection but no museum-standard vaults, the National Gallery of Canada agreed to store the Barwick gift temporarily.
The gallery opens
Frances Barwick’s even more remarkable financial bequest came with a major caveat: that it be used “preferably, but not necessarily…for buildings, equipment, courses or special activities” in music or fine arts. Carleton launched a capital campaign in 1987 to raise matching funds to found a gallery. Once the funding was in place, Carleton commissioned architect Michael Lundholm to renovate an existing space in the St. Patrick’s building. Works selected from the Barwicks’ gift featured prominently in the gallery’s first exhibition, A Collection is Only Human, which opened on 23 September 1992.
Michael Bell, the gallery’s founding director, carried out an ambitious acquisitions program during his tenure (1992-2003). He built the collection largely by donation and focused on developing its existing strengths in Canadian and European art. Through the intervention in 1992 of art history professor Marion (Mame) Jackson, a specialist in Inuit art, CUAG received the Priscilla Tyler and Maree Brooks Collection of Inuit Art. The presence at Carleton of the Tyler/Brooks collection, a portion of which is regularly on display, continues to stimulate the generosity of other Inuit art collectors, and CUAG has since received numerous such donations.
The collection today
Today, the collection focuses on three main areas. The first is twentieth-century Canadian art, with an emphasis on art created since 1950, so as to parallel the history of Carleton University. The second is European art, in particular prints and drawings created from the 16th through the 19th centuries. The third is Inuit and First Nations art in all its forms — prints, drawings, sculptures, and textiles. CUAG has also been open to non-European forms of art, a fact reflected in its modest collections of modern African and pre-Columbian artefacts.
The collection, which included approximately 600 works of art in 1992, is now one of the largest university collections in Canada. Its rapid growth has slowed dramatically over the past decade, however, as the gallery seeks to consolidate its holdings by selectively acquiring objects of aesthetic or historical importance. The gallery’s collection is an invaluable resource for display and study. Of the 262 exhibitions held from September 1992 through April 2009, 143 (55%) have featured the collection, and 85 (32%) were curated by Carleton University students.