It was an amazing burst of the historical floodgates this weekend at the Presentation House Satellite Gallery, 560 Seymour Street (correction – initially I said Belkin Satellite). The Vancouver Sun’s photo archives were put up on display in a show filled to the brim with 8×10 glossy photographs, full page newspaper covers, and ephemera. On Saturday afternoon, Kate Bird and John Mackie spoke about the history of the collection, and overflow audience sat at the edge of their seats for the entire presentation!
E J Hughes painting Britannia mine for the 1939 San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition (copy photo)
One profoundly significant recent discovery was made just before Saturday’s talk. John Mackie came upon photographs of one of the most exceptional murals ever painted in British Columbia, the murals for the BC Pavilion at the Golden Gate Exposition in 1939. A set of extraordinary photographs depicts the three artists at work with the mural, along with images of the interior of the BC Pavilion. I believe the three images you see being painted are in fact, the miniature versions of the murals that were painted for the hometown crowd, and which reside in the Royal BC Archives in Victoria. The paintings are largely completed, so the photographs appear to be somewhat ‘staged’. I am still holding out for the discovery of some colour images featuring the murals, but for 1939, that might be just fantasy!
Sadly, no one really knows what happened to the original murals, which were larger than life in size and wrapped around the entire interior of the building in 12 panels. Considering they were the work of 3 accomplished war artists who all went on to critical acclaim, I think it’s safe to say the mural would have been worth millions. The Golden Gate Expo made a comeback in 1940, but BC was too preoccupied with the war effort to return, and I have not yet determined who took over the BC pavilion (hunch: it may have been Alaska). Thus, I believe the loss of this mural is one of the sad cultural casualties of war; had we not been at war, perhaps someone would have thought to bring the murals back home where they belonged.
I highly recommend a visit or two to this show; it really is overflowing with treasures and deserves repeated visits. The show runs until March 30th. Here’s John Mackie’s article in the Sun as a background to the show.