de Grandmaison exhibit opens

By capturing the faces of the First Nations people he encountered, Canadian painter Nicholas de Grandmaison (1892-1978) left a deeply personal record of history.

His documentation was grounded in the belief that the soul of a person was found in the face, and many of the individuals he painted during his prolific career were from the southern Alberta area, in particular the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Kainai and Piikani communities.

New works of art on display from the de Grandmaison collection, recently acquired by the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery as a gift from BMO Financial Group, feature 28 pastel portraits drawn from the 67-piece gift, which was received in 2012.

The University of Lethbridge holds the most comprehensive collection of de Grandmaison works in Canada, including more than 170 of his paintings, personal photo albums, letters and sound recordings of conversations he had with the individuals in his portraits.

"The works demonstrate de Grandmaison's deep respect for the people whom he painted and his exceptional skill at capturing the individual character of his sitters," says Art Gallery Director/Curator, Dr. Josephine Mills.

"What we are doing a bit differently with this exhibition is looking to the community to find relatives of the people de Grandmaison painted," Mills says.

"With our partners at the U of L Archives, we are working on a unique oral history concept that we hope adds to the value of the collection, and will help provide context for future audiences attending exhibitions of his works. We are encouraging members of the local and regional First Nations communities, and the broader Lethbridge community, to visit the gallery and possibly find a family connection."

Mills says information on the oral history project will be provided and people can contact the research team if they wish to participate.

To accommodate what Mills hopes is an increased interested in the exhibit, the gallery has extended hours for the run of the exhibition and is now open every Saturday, along with being open until 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays in addition to the regular 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekday hours.

"We are also hosting a planned informal series of presentations, 'Conversations about Nicholas de Grandmaison' which will occur on select Thursday evenings throughout the exhibition," Mills says.

From the 1930s until his death in 1978, Mills says that de Grandmaison was struck with an urgency to capture images of First Nations people because they were in a time of crucial transition with significant transformation in their lives.

"Having been a Russian aristocrat forced out of his homeland, a prisoner of war and eventually an immigrant to Canada, de Grandmaison felt intimately connected to the First Nations people. He felt he could relate to the major changes and upheaval they experienced."

"If we didn't have these paintings, we would be missing a part of our western heritage," Mills said. "While we tend to understand history as big events like battles, this piece of Canada's history focuses on the individuals and their stories. By showing these new works, and asking people for their stories, we hope to make future exhibitions that much more relevant."