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Manitoba History: Review: Virginia G. Berry, Taming the Frontier: Art and Women in the Canadian West 1880-1920

by Wendy Owen
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 54, February 2007

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Virginia G. Berry, Taming the Frontier: Art and Women in the Canadian West 1880-1920. Calgary & Winnipeg: Bayeux Arts Inc. & Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2005, 187 pages. ISBN 1896209556, $29.95 (paperback).

For anyone researching the contributions made by women to the development of the visual arts in Western Canada, this book will be invaluable. It is an exhaustive catalogue of the various organizations and individuals who promoted and encouraged artistic development and education in Winnipeg and other western urban centres. As Patricia Bovey makes clear in her introduction, the book is based on exhaustive research not only in Winnipeg but across Canada as well as the United Kingdom, the United States and France. This research enabled Dr. Berry to place the developing art milieu of the Prairies within a larger context as well as to demonstrate the links between many of the women and male artists like James Abbot McNeill Whistler and William Merritt Chase. Dr Berry’s research also shows the links between the art community, created and nurtured by these women artists, and the eventual establishment of the Winnipeg Art Gallery founded in 1912 and the Winnipeg School of Art founded in 1913.

The book was published posthumously and revisions to eight of the chapters in the manuscript had not been completed at the time of her death. This work was completed by George Melnyk, a cultural historian at the University of Calgary. The material in this book is very interesting and at times quite compelling, but for the general reader the detail becomes overwhelming.

Page revised: 6 November 2012

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