Owens Art Gallery exhibitions celebrate rich history

Exhibits revive Mt. A fine arts traditions.

As the oldest university art gallery in Canada, the Owens Art Gallery at Mount Allison never fails to demonstrate its dedication to proudly displaying its own history and its role in academics. In particular, the current exhibits at the Owens serve to highlight Mt. A’s academic traditions in a way that is both enjoyable and memorable.

The Owens’ oldest collection, the biennial “Salon Hanging” exhibition, transports the viewer back in time with a hanging style that was popularized in France in the early 1700s, with the artwork utilizing almost every inch of wall space from the floor to the ceiling. While the rise of independent exhibits by avant-garde artists eventually replaced this style, art gallery founder John Owens commissioned friend and artist John Hammond in 1885 to contribute and collect a plethora of paintings and replicas to revive this salon-style hanging and educate the students of Mt. A about European art history and its broad spectrum of artistic styles.

The gallery includes works by Hammond himself, as well as Louis Welden Hawkins, Jean-François Millet, and a life-size painting of Mt. A founder Charles F. Allison. Because many of these paintings were observed and replicated by Fine Arts students for educational purposes, some of them bear inconspicuous markings and brush strokes from students attempting to perfectly duplicate the shades and colours from the original artwork. The Owens now displays this original collection as a tribute to John Owens and his historical contributions to the university, and can be viewed at the gallery until October 6.

Owens pays homage to another tradition this week with the Graduating Students Self-Portrait Gallery, a collection of paintings that were completed as final projects by graduates of the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Mt. A. Although this requirement was discontinued in the 1960s, these portraits offer a glimpse into the minds of past Allisonians throughout the summer, in honour of spring convocation and alumni reunions. The Owens possesses over 50 portraits in total, including one of notable Canadian artist Alex Colville, and features selections from the graduation classes being honoured at the alumni reunion that year. This year’s edition of this exhibit runs until September 8.

Beyond the university’s own history, the Owens also offers an exhibit featuring a collection of works by the Group of Seven, a highly influential team of Canadian artists whose works often focused on landscapes and geographical features. Most of these works have been donated by other collectors and galleries outside of Mt. A, an excellent example of the university’s role in gathering and organizing works of art for the community’s mutual benefit. This exhibit also helps to demonstrate the Owens’ connectedness to the history of Canadian art and the gallery’s commitment to balancing the educational perspectives of the past while still providing opportunities to stay involved with the current Canadian art scene.

While the Owens’ first few exhibits for this term appear heavily rooted in the exploration of the past, students can expect Canada’s first university art gallery to be first on the scene when it comes to up-and-coming artists and exciting new movements.

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