CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Ottawa, National Museums of Canada, c1983.
Distributed by McClelland and Stewart.
256pp, cloth, $39.95.
ISBN 0-7710-9021-8.

Grades 6 and up.
Reviewed by J. E. Simpson.

Volume 12 Number 1
1984 January

Few things bear such forceful witness to the human desire to give meaning to existence as that rather amorphous group of domestic implements, mementoes, and genre paintings and carvings known collectively, if somewhat disparagingly, as "folk art."

The work of untrained, often anonymous hands and eyes, folk art is an important thread in the fabric of history. Just as political history viewed as the Battle of Waterloo without the reading of letters left in a Belgian attic represents distortion, so art history viewed as the creation of The Last Supper without an examination of Florentine wedding-chests constitutes restriction. To apprehend life, one must see it whole. Folk art supplies pieces to the picture, pieces that have not yet made it into such conventional repositories of wisdom as galleries or texts on art history.

From the Heart is the handsome catalogue of an exhibition mounted last year by Canada's National Museum of Man, with the assistance of the Allstate Foundation, to help redress matters. Items in the exhibition are mainly contemporary, although some are eighteenth and nineteenth century pieces from the original establishment by Marius Barbeau, who laid down the nucleus of the Museum of Man's collection in the 1920s. Both catalogue and exhibition bring with them some irony. The catalogue, because its grandeur and scrupulous detail, is in marked contrast to the naiveté and impromptu quality of its contents; the exhibition because it patently supports the division between art and life it purports to resist.

Such quibbles aside, From the Heart is a valuable addition to what we know of art and of Canada.

In chapters headed "Reflection," "Commitment," "Fantasy," and one devoted to four "regional" folk artists who are to the tradition what Kenojuak is to Inuit art, the eye is bombarded with eloquent testimony to how devout and whimsical is the human mind, how exact and capricious is its eye, and how sure and clumsy is its hand.

The text is informative, if occasionally patronizing; the photographs are generous, if often curiously under-developed. In sum, however, I would as soon retain this volume as the most sumptuously-prepared monograph on Meissen figurines. Anyone concerned with art, history, or language should want to see it.

J. E. Simpson, Edmonton Public School Board, Edmonton, AB.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works