Recorders and Keepers

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A Prairie Mother
figurative sculpture, realistic sculpture, realism, torso, plaster casting, bust sculpture, sculptural portraiture, in honour of a mother, honouring mothers, motherhood, commissioning a sculptural portrait, unnamed woman subject, self-portrait, the Great Depression, tribute to mother, role of women on the prairies, women and the right to vote, relationship of sculptor and model, texture in sculpture, place and position of Mother, woman as labourer, role of female, role of mother, context, style of sculpture, Dirty Thirties, life on the prairies, sculpture, woman, bust sculpture,
description

A Prairie Mother by Madeleine Barnett is from her best-known body of work, namely her figurative, realistic sculpture.

The  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  itself is a  bustA portrait sculpture or a painting representing a person's head, neck, shoulders and upper chest, and perhaps the upper arms.  (Artlex.com)  sculpture, meaning that it depicts of the head of the  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  while including the shoulders and, in this case, part of the torso. It is a type of sculptural portraiture that is often associated with portrayals of famous, wealthy or powerful people, or local heroes and philanthropists (as in the case of Leo Mol’s sculpture of Fred Mendel, an artwork also discussed in this ARTSask theme).

Barnett, on the other hand, has chosen this  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  of  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  to depict an unnamed woman. It is possible that it is a self-portrait, although nothing about the work itself indicates this.  Barnett, after all, was from the United Kingdom, and did not become a mother until 1936, a year after the completion of this work.

Noticing the date of the work, 1935, we might realize that this  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  was completed in the midst of The Great Depression, an era during which life was difficult. Life was especially bleak on the prairies, as windstorms and droughts created conditions that became known as the “Dirty Thirties”;  during this time as soil drifted and successive crops were burned out. As a result, to simply live and raise a family on the prairies became an act of bravery; it was proof that one was strong enough to combat the forces of nature and adversity.

Great Depression

It was also during this period, as well as later during the Second World War, that the role of women on the prairies became recognized as central to a family’s survival. It was less than 20 years prior to the completion of this  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  that women in Saskatchewan were given the right to vote.

Barnett has treated her  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  with care and attention. Looking closely, we see that she has emulated the rough  textureThe quality of surface in a finished artwork; note that this can apply to painting in describing the way that the paint is applied to the canvas or other support; to sculpture in describing the way that the material used is made smooth or rough; or to video in describing the way that the light-based image is either smooth or visibly broken up into pixels.  of the woman’s clothes through cross-hatching. While she suggests that her  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  is important by placing her on a  plinthA support used in galleries to display sculptural work.  with the label “A Prairie Mother,” she also suggests that the woman is a labourer; her long hair is pulled back, making it easier for her to work, and her expression is calm but resigned. Her worn eyes are cast far off into the distance, as though she is looking ahead for storms.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • After researching prairie life during The Great Depression, try to describe the work that Barnett’s Prairie Mother might have performed. What difficulties might she have faced? How long was she likely to have lived, and under what circumstances?  Visit the following websites to get you started:
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What’s in a title?

Often in museums, especially those with collections of work created before the 20th century, you will see rooms of  portraitA work of art that represents a specific person, a group of people, or an animal. Portraits usually show what a person looks like as well as revealing something about the subject's personality. Portraits can be made of any sculptural material or in any two-dimensional medium. Portraiture is the field of portrait making and portraits in general. Portrait is a term that may also refer simply to a vertically-oriented rectangle, just as a horizontally-oriented one may be said to be oriented the landscape way. (Artlex.com)  busts.  Like Barnett’s A Prairie Mother, these busts are seldom painted or glazed. Although they are sometimes the likeness of a specific person, and their title tells us the name of that person, more often than not the  bustA portrait sculpture or a painting representing a person's head, neck, shoulders and upper chest, and perhaps the upper arms.  (Artlex.com)  and its title will be  genericVery comprehensive; pertaining or appropriate to large classes or their characteristics; -- opposed to specific.  (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  in nature. For example, titles might be “an old man,” “a young girl.” “a soldier,” “a slave,” and so on.  In these cases, we don’t really know whether the artist invented the character, or whether it was based on a real person. And perhaps it does not matter.  Perhaps it is worth thinking about some of the possible reasons artists might use  genericVery comprehensive; pertaining or appropriate to large classes or their characteristics; -- opposed to specific.  (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  titles by considering some possibilities for interpreting A Prairie Mother. Consider the following and decide what you think A Prairie Mother is about.

  • Is it the artist’s mother, who happened to live on the prairies?
  • Is it a memorial or a tribute to a mother?  We put up statues of famous people, but hardly ever are these statues of women, especially mothers, unless we know a specific story about them. Maybe the artist decided that it was an important gesture of appreciation to make about motherhood.
  • Does it represent the artist's impression of a typical prairie mother?
  • Do you think “prairie” represents only rural residents?

If you were making a piece about mothers today, how would you represent A Prairie Mother?  Here are some things to consider as you think about this:

  • What skills and qualities should a mother have and how could these be displayed?
  • How would you portray a typical present-day mother in clothing/style or age?
  • Would she necessarily live in a rural or city community?

Create your own idea for an artwork with the title A Prairie Mother. Using soft modeling clay, create a maquette, or develop a  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)  or another visual response.

References

Author unknown.  ‘Appreciation of Art Essential Part of Life Says Dean Basterfield.’  Regina Leader Post, February 27 1943.

Author unknown.  ‘Influence of Art Centre, With Its Travelling Shows, Seen in Spring Exhibition.’  Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 14 May 1945.

Author unknown.  Saskatoon Artists Through the Years: Celebration Saskatoon's Seventieth Anniversary. Saskatoon: Saskatoon Art Centre, 1952.

Catalogues of The Art Association of Saskatoon Opening Exhibition. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1941, 1942, 1945, 1951.

McMann, Evelyn de R.  Royal Academy of Arts/Academie royale des arts du Canada: Exhibitions and Members 1880-1979. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981.

'Obituary of Madeleine Lorimer Jordan Barnett.'  Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 22 December 1961.

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