The Gordon Snelgrove Gallery is a huge part of the University of Saskatchewan’s art department and art scene, and looking through its history provides a more complete understanding of the gallery’s purpose and crucial role it plays in the U of S community.
Gordon Snelgrove (1898–1966) was a painter, art historian and one of the first people in Canada to receive a PhD in art history. In 1936 he served as a professor for the history of art at the U of S Regina campus. Later he came to Saskatoon to become the Head of the U of S’ Art Department and remained in that position until his retirement in 1962.
The Gordon Snelgrove Gallery was created in the 1970s in his honour. It serves as a venue for students to showcase their work and acts as a tribute to a man devoted to art and teaching new generations of artists. It also curates the collection for the department of art and art history, comprised of select works from graduating students that are displayed throughout the campus.
In the decades after its founding, department volunteers took turns running and maintaining the gallery. In 1998 Gary Young was hired as the part-time director, providing the gallery with a dedicated worker to help legitimize the space as an actual facility. As someone specifically assigned to the Snelgrove, Young was able to not only organize the art department’s collection but also help straighten out the gallery’s finances and public relations.
As for students who still wanted to showcase their work, Young helped create and establish protocols so they could safely and properly create, curate and display artwork in a professional gallery space — abilities that would prove useful upon graduation if the students wished to continue showing their pieces.
In 2011, the director position and the Snelgrove expanded as Marcus Miller was hired as the full-time director to turn new ideas and expectations into a reality. Aside from helping to teach art and art history within the department, Miller also represented the Snelgrove on a local, provincial and national level.
Miller continues to serve as the gallery director today, fulfilling his duties as a teacher and director as well as representing the U of S’ art department and improving focus on Aboriginal art and art history.
The Snelgrove Gallery has begun to take on student interns and staff for part-time work and assistance, helping to maintain the gallery as well as working on contracts for Collection Management, website revision and any special projects that may arise.
The primary purpose of the Snelgrove is to provide a venue for students and faculty to show their work and experiment in a dedicated space while reaching out to the larger professional community.
This goal has brought about events such as Silence!, the yearly art auction run by the Visual Arts Student Union, in which various artist talks and showcases from people outside or graduated from the U of S campus are put on display.
The month of March and the first two weeks of April will be devoted to exhibitions presented by students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program. Referred to as graduating shows or BFA shows, these are requirements for those within the program to be completed prior to graduation and are held in the student’s final year of class.
For many of these students this show is their first opportunity to curate and present a solo exhibition.
Senior level art classes and groups like the Visual Arts Student Union will also present opportunities for art displayed in the form of group shows, but do not allow the same depth of work to be shown as are allowed for in the full gallery exhibits. Each show lasts one week, with a closing reception held on Friday evenings for friends, family and art lovers to examine the work while enjoying refreshments and speaking with the artists in person.
Due to the limited number of time slots and the large number of students graduating with a degree in studio art, the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery divides its space to host three shows at the same time with a shared reception.
Each student is responsible for their own show which includes developing a concept, engaging in promotional drives, creating and presenting the pieces that will be displayed, making arrangements for the reception and then taking down the exhibit and returning the gallery to a blank slate for the next students to set up.
A graduating art show is the culmination of what students have learned and applied during their time at the U of S, allowing them to show their work on a professional level in a way they may not be able to do otherwise.
Named after a professor dedicated to both his own work and to preparing future artists and art researchers, the Snelgrove is a space meant specifically for students to learn how to present their work in the best light and is a perfect place for such events to take place.
From its simple beginnings, the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery has grown into a significant part of campus life and the art scene in Saskatoon as a whole. Between student shows, guest lectures, presentations and sharing work on local and national levels, Gordon Snelgrove himself would be delighted to see how important his namesake has become to the community.
The next time you walk past the Murray Building, try to set some time aside to visit the Snelgrove and support the efforts of your fellow students and faculty.
The Gordon Snelgrove Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with closing receptions every Friday evening from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Information on current and upcoming exhibits, an archive of displayed and stored work as well as resources for those planning an exhibition can be found at usask.ca/snelgrove.
Photos: Supplied & Jordan Dumba/Photo Editor