Miners’ Houses: Lawren Harris in Glace Bay – by David Frank (Active History – June 2020)


David Frank is a professor emeritus in Canadian history at the University of New Brunswick.

I think I first learned about this remarkable painting when my friend Allen Seager sent me a postcard from the Art Gallery of Ontario. Eventually I used it as the cover illustration for my biography of the union leader J.B. McLachlan.

More recently, it was featured in an exhibition at the AGO and in a documentary film. It is in the public eye again with the release this spring of stamps to mark the centennial of the first public show by the Group of Seven. Among the seven stamps, Lawren Harris is represented by Miners’ Houses, Glace Bay (1926).

This was not the most obvious choice. Only a few years ago, one of Harris’s iconic images of the north, Mountain Forms (1926), broke the record for Canadian art prices when it sold at auction for $11.2 million. But the lesser known Miners’ Houses was a very good choice. Within its limits, this is a “labour stamp” that acknowledges the often-overlooked working-class presence in Canadian history. It also opens up interesting questions about Harris’s social and political engagement and his evolution as an artist.

Miners’ Houses has been read variously, as an expression of the artist’s personal struggle with depression over his brother’s death in the Great War and as an example of his longstanding interest in depicting working-class housing.

It has also been described as an important and eloquent statement on social justice. The most explicit origins for this painting, however, are found in Harris’s visit to Glace Bay in April 1925, at a time when the Nova Scotia coal country was convulsed by a long and bitter strike.

For the rest of this article: http://activehistory.ca/2020/06/miners-houses-lawren-harris-in-glace-bay/

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