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The Sleep of Reason
personal connection, psychology, diptych, baby carriage, broom, religious objects, women's work, witchcraft, witches, identity, memory, gender, archetype, archetypal images, representational painting, objects, place, roots, culture, panels, visual narrative ambiguities, domestic, domesticity, sleep of reason, multiple viewings, awakening,

“As an artist I’ve always connected to people more than the land,” Vanderhaeghe once said, “ … to capture the psychology more than physical images.” (Newman, 1990) This statement is helpful, since there are no people visible in The Sleep of Reason. Despite this absence, we can assume that the broom and the wheel-less baby carriage depicted in mid-air have connections to people.

The Sleep of Reason, from the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, is in two panels, also known as a diptych. Diptychs have been popular for thousands of years as religious and artistic objects. They have also been used for purposes as mundane as writing lists. Usually the panels are of equal size, and many ancient examples made of wood are hinged so that they can be closed to protect them while traveling.

start quoteAs an artist I've always connected to people more than the land.end quote-- Margaret Vanderhaeghe (Newman, 1990)

Vanderhaeghe’s work, however, features one panel that is significantly larger than the other, although the background colours and the handle of the baby carriage link the left panel to the right.

The broom floating in the left panel is upside down, that is, the cleaning end of it is in the air, while the cylindrical handle points down. The broom often symbolizes women’s work, and it is also commonly associated with witches and witchcraft. Vanderhaeghe’s hovering broom may have associations with both meanings.

The wheel-less baby carriage also floats against a nondescript background in its frame. Without wheels, of course, the carriage is going nowhere. For all we know, it may be empty. Vanderhaeghe leaves us to fill in the blanks, what critic Fran Gallagher-Shuebrook calls “narrative ambiguities which call for multiple viewings.” (Gallagher-Shuebrook, 1994) 

So, Vanderhaeghe presents us with two canvases and two objects offering many possible meanings to twig our imaginations. She also leaves us with an intriguing title that leads to questions. Is  domesticRemaining much at home; devoted to home duties or pleasures; as, a domestic man or woman.  Living in or near human habitations; domesticated; tame as distinguished from wild; as, domestic animals.  Made in one's own house, nation, or country; as, domestic manufactures, wines, etc.  One who lives in the family of an other, as hired household assistant; a house servant. Articles of home manufacture, especially cotton goods.  (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  housework equated with the sleep of reason, in Vanderhaeghe’s mind? Or is bearing and raising children like the sleep of reason? Is the sleep of reason about both domestic work and child rearing? Whatever the answers to those questions might be, sleep eventually leads to an awakening, and so we may also wonder what that awakening might look like.

additional resources Big Influences
Duration: 2:02 min
Size: 8454kb
Cultural Roots
Duration: 2:17 min
Size: 9499kb
Slipping In and Out of Abstract Painting
Duration: 2:08 min
Size: 8976kb
The Sleep of Reason
Duration: 2:29 min
Size: 10513kb
Things to Think About
  • What do you think is symbolized by the wheel-less carriage?
  • When we view a work of art we may be asking ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, “What’s the story here?” What story do you “read” in The Sleep of Reason? Without prompting, ask another person (or two) to view the image, and then ask for an interpretation. Are there a lot of similarities in your stories, or are they wildly different?
Advanced Activity

Cement truck

Vanderhaeghe’s piece does not say who is sweeping the floor and caring for baby. Housework was once only “girl stuff” but it is definitely not nowadays. Both women and men take part in doing chores, cooking, childcare, building or fixing a car. Do you think industry and the popular  mediaAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  recognize how society is changing?

  • Investigate whether visual images of housework and childcare today feature men as well as women.

    • Do TV commercials show equal numbers of women and men involved in chores?

    • Look through newspaper and magazine advertisements for similar information? Are women and men shown doing similar chores?

    • How many images show women using tools or participating in non-traditional female tasks?

Truck wheels

  • Ask friends and neighbours or classmates what their opinions are regarding the balance of household chores for men and women. Are older traditional values still the norm? What does current social science research tell us about this? Find out more from:

  • Should students be taught gender ideas at school?

  • You might organize a simple survey and present your findings for a class or family discussion.

  • Make a “TV” commercial as a response to your findings. You can use humour or satire.

  • Organize props or costumes and ask someone to help you film your commercial with a video camera.
Advanced Activity


Many European painters in the 17th and 18th centuries (1600s and 1700s) elevated ordinary, everyday objects and household chores into images of great interest and objects of beauty.  Still lifeA picture of inanimate objects. Common still life subjects include vessels, food, flowers, books, clothing. (  paintings of this era make us want to look again and more closely at objects around us that we take for granted. Find paintings at the following links. Think about what techniques the painters used to enhance the qualities of design,  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (  and surface.




Online Activity
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Sort the baby transportation devices into the timeline by dragging them into order.

Studio Activity

Margaret Vanderhaeghe’s work often invokes memory, identity and gender. Vanderhaughe grew up in Leader, Saskatchewan, in the 1950s and '60s. The Sleep of Reason is part of a  body of workA collection of artwork by a particular artist, either over a lifetime, or as related to one subject, etc.  about her life there. The  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (  shows single images of objects or parts of objects, such as a baby carriage with no wheels. Perhaps Vanderhaeghe wants us to see glimpses of her childhood recollections of growing up in Leader, Saskatchewan and has shown fragments of a whole picture, just as memory itself is fragmented.

Why do you think the baby carriage has no wheels?


Artists as everyday designers

Just about everything we use in our daily lives was designed by an artist. Artists can train and work for companies in many areas of design, including industrial design, fashion design, interior design, architecture, landscape design, aeronautical design, and many others

Industry values creative people. Everyday objects can be interesting and stylish and they eventually become part of our childhood memories.

Become a designer. Look at Vanderhaeghe’s  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (  and draw a simple baby carriage shape. Add wheels or create some other inventive way to make the carriage move. Could you add something that can make the carriage entirely unique, changing as the baby grows? Could this evolve into a life-long vehicle? As a futuristic engineer, draw the accessories or hidden parts needed and show how they will attach to the carriage. (For example, a drop down skateboard hidden in the body of the baby carriage, wheels that can be removed and parts that can be taken apart and reconstructed to make a bicycle or a car.)

  • The music for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is by classical composer Paul Dukas. What music would you choose to accompany Vanderhaeghe’s artwork The Sleep of Reason?

Anderson, Jack.  ‘Installation challenges fixed world of objects.’  Regina Leader-Post, July 14, 2004.

Anderson, Jack.  ‘Thoughtful, complex works.’  Regina Leader-Post, September 17, 1998.

Author unknown.  Marie Lanoo & Margaret Vanderhaeghe: The Source of Things.  Note for a 1999 show at the Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1999.

Author unknown.  ‘Margaret Vanderhaeghe: About the artist.’  Showcase:  Relationships.  Saskatchewan Arts Board, 2001.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 21, 2008 from:

Beatty, Greg.  ‘Artist translates her memories into narrative visual language.’  Regina Leader-Post, February 28, 1994.

Gallagher-Shuebrook, Fran.  How Shall We Know Them?  Exhibition catalogue.  Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1994.

Mills, Dr. Josephine.  ‘Margaret Vanderhaeghe: In Your Face.’  The Mendel Folio, Summer, 2005.

Newman, Marketa.  Biographical Dictionary of Saskatchewan Artists: Women Artists.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan:  Fifth House Publishers, 1990.

Nowlin, Tim.  Margaret Vanderhaeghe: Under Cover.  Exhibition catalogue.  Rosemont Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1998.

Robertson, Sheila.  ‘Childhood informs exhibition: Drama, conflict and quiet heroism in Vanderhaeghes’s paintings.’  Saskatoon Star Phoenix, date unknown.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning