Graceland and Canadian Landscapes ‘Intermingle’ in the new Shaw Gallery

By Julia Franklin, Professor of Art

Julia FranklinJulia Franklin, Professor of Art (to the right)

The beautiful Gallery running along the north-facing corridor of the new Shaw Center provides a premier public space to showcase highlights from JR Shaw’s collection of modern and contemporary Canadian still lifes and landscapes. The Gallery is a stunning architectural addition complete with a 120-foot-long bank of windows that allows for intermingling of the eye-catching landscapes of Graceland and Canada.

The space began as a walkway to the new atrium of the Shaw Center and through collaboration with the faculty, the Shaw family, and Gould Evans architects, the space quickly transformed into a highly functional and state-of-the-art gallery. The Gallery will feature rotating exhibits of works from JR’s personal collection. They offer a variety of realistic and recognizable natural imagery in a diverse array of art styles.

In December 2010, JR established a formal university art collection when he donated “The Canadian Heritage Collection,” a group of over 50 serigraph reproductions of Impressionist paintings by Canada’s Group of Seven. The works are currently on display in public offices and meeting spaces around the Lamoni campus. The vibrant landscapes capture a mixture of natural terrain and seasons as seen in Canada and interpreted by 34 artists working with or inspired by the Group of Seven. The Group of Seven, sometimes known as the Algonquin School, was a group of Canadian landscape painters in the 1920s who formed the first major national Canadian art movement. They believed that a distinct Canadian art style could be best expressed by capturing nature. The group initially met in Toronto to share their art and ideas and traveled to Georgian Bay and Algonquin Park and other locales to find inspiration. In the early 1930s the group disbanded and created a wider association of painters, the Canadian Group of Painters, who continued to capture the majesty of Canada’s unique landscape.

During the expansion of the Shaw Center, JR began searching Canadian galleries for pieces that would complement “The Canadian Heritage Collection.” He focused on purchasing works that are large and colorful and offer a wide range of imagery and styles. He also concentrated on selecting works by talented, successful and internationally-known artists that challenge us to see the world from new perspectives. Collectively these contemporary Canadian artists represent the natural world and find inspiration through personal experience and memory, direct observations and photography. Light, shadows and reflections link the works as does the attention to detail and the high quality of representation.

The new paintings, and a very special, floor-standing, wood/ceramic/paint sculpture piece, have arrived on campus. They are called “The Graceland University Collection,” and they are simply magnificent. The sculpture piece is playful, reminiscent we understand, of JR’s early years growing up in a modest Canadian farmhouse. It is called, “Ode to Pickles,” 2009, by Victor Cicansky. I think you will love it.

The absolutely stunning “Three Tomatoes in Pressed Glass,” 1998, by Mary Pratt, is currently hanging in President John Sellars’ office. You just can’t take your eyes off the sparkling crystal realism of the bowl where three tomatoes nest with vibrant variations of red. This new, initial collection of 10 pieces is going to whisk you away on a brief journey of pure joy as you move slowly along The Gallery.

Art lovers (aren’t we all), do take time to stroll through The Gallery when you are here for Homecoming and the new Shaw Center dedication to get a sense of trends in contemporary Canadian art and to appreciate and be inspired by the landscapes and natural objects. Compare the Graceland landscape and consider what is distinct and memorable about our space among the rolling green hills of southern Iowa. By doing so, JR will have fulfilled another goal: to establish through art an ongoing dialogue about place, home and the familiar in the United States and Canada.