First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 90

COLLECTIONS COLLECTIONS: GLENBOW MUSEUM G LENBOW MUSEUM occupies an eight-stor y building in downtown Calgary (population 1.27 million). Three floors are exhibition spaces. Several years ago its board agreed upon a mandate defining the Glenbow as an art museum, although its collections include minerals, weapons, and objects/ephemera representing local history. A small staff with two curators, curatorial assistants, and collections technicians care for more than 200,000 items and create, on average, ten special exhibitions per year. Acting curator Joanne Schmidt oversees the Native North America collection, about 19,880 objects that are divided into Plains (especially Blackfoot and Cree), Inuit, Northwest (Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah- nulth, and Haida), Métis, and “Other Indigenous Peoples” (Dene, Iroquois, Mi’kmaq, etc.). Currently, 248 items in the Native North American collection can be viewed online. Melanie Kjorlien manages By Andrea L. Ferber, PhD the art collections, one of which is First Peoples with objects dated as recently as 1975. This includes Inuit sculptures and prints, as well as works by Alex Janvier (Denesuline-Saulteaux), Norval Morrisseau (Bingwi Neyaashi Ojibwe, 1932–2007), and Gerald Tailfeathers (Kainai, 1925–1975). Glenbow opened when its blocky, concrete building was completed in 1976, ten years after oil magnate and philanthro- pist Eric Harvie donated his collection to the people of Alberta. As explained by the late curator Gerald Conaty, “The Glenbow Museum … is a not-for-profit organiza- tion that manages the collection for the Province, in exchange for an annual fee-for-service. It is a unique museum model in Canada.” 1 Although Harvie’s interests were eclectic and included art from Africa, Asia, and South America, Western Canadian cultures and histo- ries remain the museum’s focus today. The collection was built partially from donations but primarily from purchases. During his tenure at Glenbow, Conaty oversaw the repatriation of many of these sacred items: During the 1960s and 1970s museum staff made collecting trips to First Nations communities in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta where they bought a variety of items, including sacred material, directly from the residents. Sometimes the reasons for selling were recorded and these range from a need for money to a concern that the sacred bundles were no longer safe, and that few people were learning the ancient traditions. 2 The museum inadvertently found itself the center of great controversy over an exhibition it organized during the 1988 Winter Olympics. The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples brought together about 650 First Nations and Inuit objects, many from foreign collections, in an effort to educate and 1. Gerald T. Conaty, “The Development of Museums and Their Effects on First Nations” in We Are Coming Home: Repatriation and Restoration of Blackfoot Cultural Confidence, ed. Gerald T. Conaty (Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press, 2015), 46. 2. Gerald T. Conaty, “The effects of repatriation on the relationship between the Glenbow Museum and the Blackfoot people,” Museum Management and Curatorship 23, no. 3 (September 2008): 247. 88 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM