The Impressive Legacy of the Canada Council Art Bank's Print Programme

A selection of works by artists who took part in the Art Bank’s Commissioned Print Programme that ran from 1973 to 1979

Flocked Bunnies (1977) by David ThaubergerCanada Council Art Bank


In the 1970s, the Canada Council Art Bank’s little-known Commissioned Print Programme wove its way across the country, connecting artists and arts professionals in unforeseen ways that would leave an impressive legacy.To bulk up its newly created collection, the Canada Council Art Bank commissioned 25 artists to produce prints at studios across the country that could then be rented out. This matchmaking scheme paired artists with printmaking studios, sending artists in and out of province to produce new works.

Kinetic Mythology (1973) by Michael MorrisCanada Council Art Bank

The scheme also helped build networks as these artists, from different artistic and cultural backgrounds and at different points in their careers, were given free creative reign at studios in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), St. John’s, Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Banff, among other places.

D.C. - Neuf (1978) by Joe FafardCanada Council Art Bank

The studios would host the artists, provide them with studio space and resources, and introduce them to the local artistic community.

Pacific Rim #1 (1975) by Gordon SmithCanada Council Art Bank

The resulting lithographs and silkscreens were divided between the artist, the Art Bank, and the printmaking studio. Few records remain of the Commissioned Print Programme, however personal correspondence between the artists, the studios, and the Art Bank demonstrate how it facilitated the creation of personal and artistic connections across the country.

Vera Frenkel Signing Big X Window (1975/76)Canada Council Art Bank

Vera Frenkel

In 1975, Vera Frenkel began working on an Art Bank commissioned print, Big X Window, a suite of four very large lithographs printed at Open Studio in Toronto.  The edition of 70 was printed across a period of almost two years, by Don Holman, Don Phillips, Otis Tamasauskas, Elma Schumacher and Steve MacKenzie. Photograph: Vera Frenkel with Otis Tamasauskas at Open Studio signing the Big X Window series.

‏‏‎ Big X Window Full work by Vera FrenkelCanada Council Art Bank

Frenkel included the X shape extensively at this time. In the catalogue for her work, The Big Book - which features two of the four sections of Big X Window, Frenkel includes a narrative called “X is a Window”.

In the story, she explains how X can mean two things at once: an X on a window points to the access and the barrier at the same time.

"You see through the glass/you are barred from what you see."

Prairie Morning (1979) by Takao TanabeCanada Council Art Bank

Takao Tanabe

Tanabe has long produced landscapes in both paint and print. Over the years,
his landscapes transformed from abstract and hard-edge geometric compositions
to semi-abstract landscapes.

the 1970s, the subject of Tanabe’s works seems to have settled on Canadian
landscapes and,
in particular, the
West coast and the prairies. His first sight of the prairies may have been as a
teenager working on a Manitoba prison farm, interned with his family and
thousands of other Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.

Over time, Tanabe eliminated all references to the specific in his compositions, and especially human intervention on the land, focusing instead on wide horizons where light permeates land and sky.

When Tanabe participated in the programme, he was employed at the Banff School of Fine Arts, where he produced three different lithographs for the Commissioned Print Programme, including Prairie Morning.

Soroseelutu Cape Dorset (1977) by Joyce WielandCanada Council Art Bank

Joyce Wieland

1977, Joyce Wieland travelled to Kinngait (Cape Dorset) for the first time. It
was there, at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op, that she produced a lithography
featuring Inuit artist Sorosiluto Ashoona
part of the Commissioned Print Programme.

who worked as a painter, mixed media artist, and experimental filmmaker, was
already widely recognized at the time, and she would go on to become a
major contributor to contemporary visual arts in Canada. Several years prior,
in 1971, she became the first living woman to have a solo exhibit at the
National Gallery of Canada. In her work, she explored the intersections of
identity, gender, nationalism, and ecology with a focus on the traditional work
of women. 

Wieland’s decision to represent Sorosiluto Ashoona demonstrates her keen interest in Indigenous identity in relation to the land, both physical and political. The connections she made during her first trip to the Arctic would be influential in her work and career. She would return two years later to produce a similar print, again featuring Sorosilutu.

Shadow Bands: a non scientific print (1979) by Barbara HallCanada Council Art Bank

Barbara Alexandra Hall

1970, Barbara Alexandra Hall and Richard Sewell founded Open Studio, an
artist-run studio and exhibition space in downtown Toronto that continues to be
a hub for cross-pollination in the arts. Hall’s participation in the print
programme sent her to Moosehead Lithography Press in Winnipeg Manitoba, a print
studio that had recently opened its doors. 

Hall produced Shadow Bands: a non scientific print at the Moosehead Lithography Press and also had the opportunity to collaborate with a fellow print shop manager. Barbara Alexandra Hall’s legacy lives on at Open Studio and in the vibrant network of artist-run centres across the country.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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