Exhibition Depicts Canada's Prime Ministers with Majesty and Mischief

By Thomson, Aly | The Canadian Press, January 24, 2017 | Go to article overview

Exhibition Depicts Canada's Prime Ministers with Majesty and Mischief


Thomson, Aly, The Canadian Press


Prime ministers are the stars of N.S. show

--

HALIFAX - It's John Diefenbaker as you've never seen him -- standing on a chair, an intricate miniature statue of the 13th prime minister in a quirky exhibition that captures 150 years of Canadian political history.

Canada's 23 prime ministers are presented with both majesty and mischief at the exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to mark the country's 150th birthday. It features artwork in a variety of mediums -- from paintings and engraved stamps to editorial cartoons and statues and even cash money.

"I really fear that kids today don't get much history," said Dianne O'Neill, a curator at the gallery. "This exhibit at least gives people an introduction to Canada's prime ministers and maybe suggests some of the excitement that is in our past."

The gallery largely relied on its own collection, but got creative with prime ministers in the 20th century "simply because the formal drawings and prints just don't happen anymore," said O'Neill.

One piece is something you can find in your wallet: a $50 banknote. The bill bears the face of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the country's 10th prime minister who served on-and-off between 1921 and 1948.

"Art takes many forms," said O'Neill.

The collection begins with a lithograph of the iconic 1864 scene from Charlottetown, when delegates -- including future prime ministers Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Charles Tupper -- met to discuss Confederation.

"It seemed logical to build an exhibition around this piece," said O'Neill, adding that Robert Harris's original painting "The Fathers of Confederation" burned in a fire on Parliament Hill in 1916.

The gallery was given the lithograph a few years ago and has been trying to think of a way to build an exhibition around it ever since, she said. Given that this year marks the sesquicentennial of Confederation, it made sense to recall the country's leaders and to offer them up in a mixture of artistic styles, she said.

"I've always said I could produce an exhibition on any topic -- it's just a way of twisting it. Confederation as a theme, I couldn't do. But prime ministers are an integral part of it."

Nearby is an editorial cartoon of Canada's 11th prime minister: Richard Bedford Bennett, who was in office in the early 1930s.

Bennett, who was perceived by many to be a one-man show, is depicted a number of times in the 1931 cartoon by Arch Dale. Five separate Bennetts are shown seated around a table with one exclaiming: "There are too many of us. We must cut ourselves down by four!"

Among some of the exhibit's other oddities are two sets of engraved stamps. …

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