Earth Science and Art

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Vimy Ridge
Indian Overlooking Valley
Inglis Sheldon Williams, Vimy Ridge, valley, river, propaganda for settlers, CPR, Canadian Pacific Railway, mythical west, creating myth, painting life as it is, painting life-like scenes, the idealized life, the idealized West, unspoiled landscape, tranquil valley, painting as historical source of information,man on horseback,wooded coulee battle fields, barren landscape, desolation, comparison, battles, tunnels, memorials, monuments,defining a nation, spoils of victory, casualties, destruction, humanity and inhumanity
description

With these two works from the MacKenzie Art Gallery  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  we see the range of Sheldon-Williams’ artistry as he portrays two very different subjects, and scenes that seem to be worlds apart. In the earlier work, Indian Overlooking Valley, Sheldon-Williams presents us with a view of a lone man on horseback. Together with the mounted man we look toward a peaceful and verdant prospect, wooded coulees leading down to a fertile valley with a river running through it.

In his book The Promised Land: The Utopian West author R. Douglas Francis argues that Sheldon-Williams was one of a group of writers and artists who tried to capture the best qualities of the newly settled society, similar to the propaganda literature distributed by the Canadian government and the Canadian Pacific Railway to attract settlers to “The Last Best West.”

“Believing that they were simply describing the West,” Francis writes, “these individuals actually created their own mythical West that was as utopian as that depicted in the propaganda literature. By setting their romantic stories in the physical locale of western Canada, and  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. (Artlex.com)  life-like yet idyllic scenes of the prairies, these writers and artists made people believe that the West they depicted was the ‘real’ West.” (Francis, 1989)

Writer Ronald Rees also examines the idea of the idealized West. He quotes from poet Robert Stead, one of the writers who elevated settlers to heroic heights:

“For here on the edge of creation
Lies, far as the vision can fling
A Kingdom that’s fit for a nation
A Kingdom – and I am the king.” (Rees, 1984)

Indian Overlooking Valley appears to fit the idealized image of simple, unspoiled creation. The lone horseman is about to head down into the tranquil valley, where wood, water, shelter and food will be found. However, the man appears to be traveling alone without weapons or supplies, highly unlikely among people who usually moved in groups, and who depended on hunting for their survival. Knowing these historic details gives the viewer an idea of how Sheldon-Williams has idealized the scene before us.
 
In  contrastA large difference between two things. It is a technique often used to create a focal point.  to the peaceful and bountiful valley depicted in Indian Overlooking Valley the scene presented in Vimy Ridge is one of devastation. Vimy Ridge was one of the bloodiest battlefields of World War I. The French Army had already suffered more than 100,000 casualties trying to take the ridge from German defenders before Canadian troops stormed it in April 1917.

One reason for the Canadian success at Vimy was the months of preparation for the pivotal battle from April 9 to 12, 1917. A vast network of tunnels was constructed in the  chalkPigments mixed with gum and pressed into a stick form for use as crayons. Pastel is similar, but less tightly bound. (Artlex.com)  underlying the muddy battlefield above. The tunnels provided listening posts, housed field hospitals and gave cover to troops until they launched their attacks.

Vimy ridge Memorial

In 1922 the French government granted Canada an area of land at Vimy Ridge in recognition of the sacrifices made by Canadian troops in what was called the Great War. Canada’s Vimy Ridge Memorial (seen here at left) stands at the highest point of land in the area granted by France.

Historians often cite the battle for Vimy Ridge as a defining moment in the formation of Canada as a nation, but the scene that Sheldon-Williams depicts illustrates the dubious spoils of victory. Vimy Ridge shows us a ruined landscape. There are no people in the painting, although evidence of humanity’s destructive capabilities is everywhere. 

History tells us that the earth has amazing powers to recover from terrible destruction like that experienced in the First World War, 1914-1918. Farmers till the land and towns have been rebuilt. However, almost a century later there are still portions of battlefields that are cordoned off because of the danger of unexploded munitions under the earth’s surface. Occasionally, French farmers still find shells and other artifacts of the war that have risen to the earth’s surface through the forces of time and weather.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Vimy Ridge is the site of a huge Canadian war memorial, which recently received a major reconstruction. Many historians consider the battle for Vimy Ridge the moment when Canada “came of age.” Is it important to memorialize moments of conflict like Vimy Ridge in creative works like paintings, songs and public monuments, or is it inappropriate to glorify violence?
  • Do you think Sheldon-Williams’ Vimy Ridge glorifies conflict? Why or why not?
  • The Government of Canada established an official War Artist program in World War I, and this program continues today. Many of the works created by various war artists are on display at Canada’s War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario. Do you think war is a suitable activity for the focus of creative work like making art?
Advanced Activity

Art history essay project

Advanced Activity

Context Information for Vimy Ridge

  • Go to this photo exhibit showing the restoration of Vimy ridge (Canada Council) at the Peak Gallery
  • For a map of France showing the location of Vimy Ridge, go to Google Maps

Context Information for Qu’Appelle Valley

Online Activity
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To understand more about how it felt to be an artist in Saskatchewan at the beginning of the 20th century, imagine that you are going off to explore the countryside. You will travel around with a portable  sketchA rough or unfinished visual composition, usually to assist in the completion of a more elaborate version.  “kit”. You might be walking over the hills or even traveling on horseback. Be prepared for all weathers and remember that you will be making a number of quick studies to take home.

 

Studio Activity

Inglis Sheldon-Williams first came to Saskatchewan to  homesteadThe home place; a home and the inclosure or ground immediately connected with it. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary) In western Canada, the land given to settlers who agreed to cultivate the land in return for title to the land.  at Cannington Manor (see also Cannington Manor in connection with Grant McConnell). He was acquainted with Norman Mackenzie and set up the first art department at Regina College (now is the University of Regina. He was asked by the Federal Government to represent Canada as an official war artist during World War I, and 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. (Artlex.com)  of Vimy Ridge in France, is part of that body of work. Here is a World War I photograph of action at Vimy Ridge:

Vimy Ridge

The painting Indian Overlooking Valley, was painted before Sheldon-Williams went to France as a war artist. It was painted in  oilsSlow-drying paint made when pigments are mixed with an oil, linseed oil being most traditional. The oil dries with a hard film, and the brightness of the colours is protected. Oil paints are usually opaque and traditionally used on canvas. They can have a matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finish. To look at examples of works in oil paints, see the articles under the names of every period from the Renaissance onward. (Artlex.com)  from studies made in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan. Artists at that time (Sheldon-Williams lived from 1870-1940) often made preliminary sketches and  watercolourAny paint that uses water as a solvent. Paintings done with this medium are known as watercolours. What carries the pigment in watercolour (called its medium, vehicle, or base) is gum arabic. An exception to this rule is water miscible oil paints, which employ water as their solvent, but are actually oil paints. Colours are usually applied and spread with brushes, but other tools can also used. The most common techniques for applying watercolour are called wet-on-dry and wet-on-wet, along with the dry brush techniques dry-on-dry and dry-on-wet. Colours can be removed while still wet, to various degrees by blotting. Most watercolour painting is done on paper, but other absorbent grounds can also be employed. The papers most favored by those who paint with watercolour is white, very thick, with high rag content, and has some tooth. (Artlex.com)  paintings as part of their research. They would use these as guides for larger works on  canvasCommonly used as a support for oil or acrylic painting, canvas is a heavy woven fabric made of flax or cotton. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground. Linen — made of flax — is the standard canvas, very strong, sold by the roll and by smaller pieces. A less expensive alternative to linen is heavy cotton duck, though it is less acceptable (some find it unacceptable), cotton being less durable, because it's more prone to absorb dampness, and it's less receptive to grounds and size. For use in painting, a piece of canvas is stretched tightly by stapling or tacking it to a stretcher frame. A painting done on canvas and then cemented to a wall or panel is called marouflage. Canvas board is an inexpensive, commercially prepared cotton canvas which has been primed and glued to cardboard, suitable for students and amateurs who enjoy its portability. Also, a stretched canvas ready for painting, or a painting made on such fabric. Canvas is abbreviated c., and "oil on canvas" is abbreviated o/c.  (Artlex.com)  with oil paint.

Sheldon-Williams travelled extensively to other parts of the world, painting and  drawingDepiction of shapes and forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines. Colour and shading may be included. A major fine art technique in itself, drawing is the basis of all pictorial representation, and an early step in most art activities. Though an integral part of most painting, drawing is generally differentiated from painting by the dominance of line over mass. There are many sorts of drawing techniques, varying according to the effect the artist wants, and depending on whether the drawing is an end in itself — an independent and finished work of art -- or a preliminary to some other medium or form — although distinct from the final product, such drawings also have intrinsic artistic value. Preliminary drawings include various exercises (e.g., contour drawing, gesture drawing, figure drawing, drawing from the flat), as well as sketches and studies, cartoons and underdrawings. (Artlex.com)  a record of his travels and returned to Saskatchewan several more times.

Go to the Advanced Activity section for more information on other works by Sheldon-Williams.

Design a postage stamp

Canada Post
often celebrates Canadian locations on postage stamps.

Design a postage stamp. You can display your  designA plan, or to plan. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity. Also [applied design], the production of attractive and well crafted functional objects. Subcategories of the design arts include: architecture, bonsai, fashion design, furniture design, graphic design, ikebana, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, stagecraft, textile design, and Web page design. (Artlex.com)  as artwork, or you can submit your idea to Canada Post for consideration. Artists are often  commissionedA contract between an artist and an individual. The artist agrees to create an image or design for the individual for a predetermined price.  to create stamp designs, but the general public is also invited to participate.

  • For some ideas:
    • Search the Canada Post website for information and ideas for creating designs.
    Postal stamps

     

  • You can either choose to complete your stamp  designA plan, or to plan. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity. Also [applied design], the production of attractive and well crafted functional objects. Subcategories of the design arts include: architecture, bonsai, fashion design, furniture design, graphic design, ikebana, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, stagecraft, textile design, and Web page design. (Artlex.com)  as a computer project, or you can do this as a  drawingDepiction of shapes and forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines. Colour and shading may be included. A major fine art technique in itself, drawing is the basis of all pictorial representation, and an early step in most art activities. Though an integral part of most painting, drawing is generally differentiated from painting by the dominance of line over mass. There are many sorts of drawing techniques, varying according to the effect the artist wants, and depending on whether the drawing is an end in itself — an independent and finished work of art -- or a preliminary to some other medium or form — although distinct from the final product, such drawings also have intrinsic artistic value. Preliminary drawings include various exercises (e.g., contour drawing, gesture drawing, figure drawing, drawing from the flat), as well as sketches and studies, cartoons and underdrawings. (Artlex.com)  project. Try using pencil crayons or coloured inks.

  •  On your computer

  • As a  drawingDepiction of shapes and forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines. Colour and shading may be included. A major fine art technique in itself, drawing is the basis of all pictorial representation, and an early step in most art activities. Though an integral part of most painting, drawing is generally differentiated from painting by the dominance of line over mass. There are many sorts of drawing techniques, varying according to the effect the artist wants, and depending on whether the drawing is an end in itself — an independent and finished work of art -- or a preliminary to some other medium or form — although distinct from the final product, such drawings also have intrinsic artistic value. Preliminary drawings include various exercises (e.g., contour drawing, gesture drawing, figure drawing, drawing from the flat), as well as sketches and studies, cartoons and underdrawings. (Artlex.com)  project
    • Research stamp designs (see the links above).
    • Create your work on an 8 ½ x 11" sheet of paper.
    • Choose a format: portrait (example at left below) or landscape (example at right below):
    Portrait Landscape
    • To help create a good composition, cut out a cardboard or paper “frame” in a smaller size, to use as a viewfinder. (For example, fold a sheet of paper into 4: roughly 4x5 ½ inches.)
    Science Behind the Art

    Indian Overlooking Valley

    By:  Lynden Penner, J.D. Mollard and Associates Limited

    The  First NationsFirst Nations is a contemporary term referring to the Indian peoples of Canada, both status and non-status (definition from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada). To find out more about Canada’s First Nations, go to: Assembly of First Nations: http://www.afn.ca/ Village of First Nations: http://www.firstnations.com/ Canada’s First Nations: http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/firstnations/ Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Nations   rider in this  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. (Artlex.com)  is beginning a leisurely descent into the Qu’Appelle Valley, a major glacial  meltwaterWater released by the melting of ice and snow, including that of glaciers.  channel that formed nearly 12,000 years ago. The Qu’Appelle Valley formed on the southern margin of the retreating Laurentide ice sheet, the last great continental  glacierAn immense field or stream of ice, formed in the region of perpetual snow, and moving slowly down a mountain slope or valley, as in the Alps, or over an extended area, as in Greenland. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  that covered the prairies with several kilometres of ice at its maximum extent. As the ice sheet paused in its retreat northward,  meltwaterWater released by the melting of ice and snow, including that of glaciers.  flowed along its southern margin and began to erode what would eventually become the Qu’Appelle Valley.  At the same time, glacial lakes formed to the south of the ice sheet. One of these glacial lakes was Glacial Lake Regina, a lake that extended from what is now Moose Jaw to Weyburn and was nearly 50 km across. As the ice retreated beyond the present position of the Qu’Appelle Valley, a pathway was opened for water from Glacial Lake Regina to flow into the Qu’Appelle Valley and drain to the east. The torrential flows accelerated erosion of the valley which reached a width of approximately two km and a depth of 200 m. Post-glacial deposition of alluvium (stream-laid fine sand,  siltMud or fine earth deposited from running or standing water. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  and clay) partially filled the valley, creating the wide and fertile flat-bottom floodplain we see today. The meandering Qu’Appelle River is but a trickle compared to the torrential flow that carved the valley.

    The hill immediately in front of the approaching rider appears to be a slump block - part of the valley side that has slid downwards under the pull of gravity. Weak shale bedrock located at elevations above the valley floor provide planes of weakness along which overlying rock and glacial  sedimentThe matter which subsides to the bottom, from water or any other liquid; settlings; lees; dregs. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  slide toward the valley bottom. Erosion from rainfall and snowmelt runoff has rounded the grassy slopes over the millennia that have passed since the valley first formed.

    Vimy Ridge

    By:  Dave MacDougall, Geologist

    Vimy Ridge Sheldon-William's artwork, painted in 1918, depicts the desolate wasteland that characterized the Vimy Ridge area in northeastern France following the Battle of Vimy Ridge during the First World War. The battle began on April 9, 1917 and lasted until April 12, 1917. Of the 170,000 troops who took part, 97,000 Canadian and 73,000 British, 3,598 were killed and another 7,004 were wounded in the battle.

    Since the earliest days of warfare, high ground overlooking vast distances in all directions had always been sought after by armies for the advantage it gave them over their enemies. Vimy Ridge, with its originally wooded slopes, was one such prized position. The Germans captured it in 1914, in the opening months of the war. Attempts to regain the ridge, first by French forces in 1915 and then by the British in 1916 both failed, with disastrous loss of life. The third attempt by Canadian and British forces, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir J.H.G Byng, was to see success and later be hailed as the turning point of the war, and the making of Canada as a nation. The attack followed months of training and rehearsal during which every soldier learned in detail the part he was to play in the forthcoming battle. The most difficult preparations for the ultimate attack were perhaps the many miles of tunnels and caverns that were excavated towards the German lines. These served a number of purposes: to enable ‘listening-in’ to enemy movements, to house field hospitals, to store supplies and ammunition, and move troops under cover to advanced positions from which they were to launch their attack.

    The geology of northeastern France was an important factor in the success at Vimy Ridge. The rocks that underlie much of northeastern France were originally flat-lying sediments deposited between about 100 and 65 million years ago but these layers were later gently folded into basins and uplands by the same forces associated with formation of the Alps. The northeasterly-facing scarp at Vimy Ridge was accentuated by movement associated with a northwesterly-trending fault (a deep-seated fracture in the Earth’s crust). This movement produced an elevation difference of about 100 m between the layers of rock that underlie the Ridge and those same layers that underlie the area east of the Ridge and thereby increased the elevation of the upturned scarp-face that forms the Ridge. Surface conditions at Vimy Ridge were dictated by the heavy clays deposited about 65 to 23 million years ago. In the wet winter weather these clays quickly turned to a morass of mud, churned by a ceaseless bombardment of artillery shells. In contrast, the underlying rocks composed of  chalkPigments mixed with gum and pressed into a stick form for use as crayons. Pastel is similar, but less tightly bound. (Artlex.com)  (limestone composed primarily of calcareous remains of marine microorganisms) allowed the rapid excavation of the vast network of stable tunnels, shelters and storage caverns that remained largely dry. Seasonal water table fluctuations in the order of 10 m necessitated sloping tunnels and strategically placed sumps to mitigate flooding.
     
    In 1922 France granted 117 hectares of land on Vimy Ridge to Canada in perpetuity, in recognition of the sacrifice of Canadian troops in the Great War. The highest point on this land is the site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Twin 30-metre pylons of the monument tower above a platform on which are inscribed the names of all 11,285 Canadian soldiers posted ‘missing, presumed dead’ in France during the Great War and whose final resting place remains unknown. The dedication, inscribed in both English and French, is to the total of over 60,000 Canadians who lost their lives in the unimaginable horrors of that war. Over seven thousand of these are buried in some thirty cemeteries within a 20 km radius of the memorial. In 2007, Canada completed a two-year restoration and reconstruction project at the monument site and the monument was rededicated in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Dominique de Villepin, Premier of France.

    Canadian coins and stamps featuring the Canadian National Vimy Memorial have also been released. The Royal Canadian Mint has issued two non-circulating collectors coins: a 2002 five-cent coin to mark the 85th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and a $30 coin featuring the restoration and re-dedication of the monument in 2007. Both feature the  statueA "statue" is a three-dimensional form of a person or animal sculpted, carved, modeled, or cast in any material, usually an entire figure, and especially when done in the round rather than in relief. (Artlex.com)  of Canada Mourning Her Dead. On October 15, 1968, Canada Post issued a 15-cent stamp featuring an  engravingA method of cutting or incising a design into a material, usually metal, with a sharp tool called a graver. One of the intaglio methods of making prints, in engraving, a print can be made by inking such an incised (engraved) surface. It may also refer to a print produced in this way. Most contemporary engraving is done in the production of currency, certificates, etc.  (Artlex.com)  of the Vimy Ridge Memorial to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Armistice of November 11, 1918.

    Vimy Coin



    The following websites offer further information on the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

    • Excellent summaries with information on many aspects of preparation and the battle:
    • Several pages on the Veterans Affairs Canada website have information on many aspects of preparation, the battle itself and the memorial; these include:
    References

    Francis, R. Douglas.  Images of the West: Changing Perceptions of the Prairies, 1690-1960.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan:  Western Producer Prairie Books, 1989.

    Fudge, Paul.  ‘Inglis Sheldon-Williams.’  The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 13, 2008 from:  http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/sheldon-williams_inglis_1870-_1940.html

    Fudge, Paul.  ‘Saskatchewan had influence on work of Sheldon-Williams.’  Regina Leader-Post, May 20, 1982.

    Newman, Marketa.  Biographical Dictionary of Saskatchewan Artists: Men Artists.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan:  Fifth House Publishers, 1994.

    Rees, Ronald.  Land of Earth and Sky: Landscape Painting in Western Canada.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan:  Western Producer Prairie Books, 1984.

    Reid, Dennis.  A Concise History of Canadian Painting, 2nd edition.  Toronto, Ontario:  Oxford University Press, 1988.

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