A Modern Life: Art and Design in British Columbia 1945-1960

Ian Thom, Alan Elder


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In 1949, the forest magnate, H.R. MacMillan, opened an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery entitled “Design for Living,” a show which brought together design and artistic communities to create four imaginary households for postwar Vancouverites. It also heralded an unprecedented level of cooperation between the province’s industry and its artists and craftspeople–a relationship that seemed to hold great promise for the development of art, furniture, and craft in BC.

The celebration of the cooperative spirit between “architects, artists and designers,” between “potters, weavers and gardeners” is central to A Modern Life, which examines the coming together of what were often very separate disciplines in post-World War II British Columbia, as well as the trend-setting design and use of materials that developed in the province, and the impact these had on the more traditional art community.

A Modern Life demonstrates that the ideas of the artistic and design community as a whole during this vibrant period–an era of optimism and promise for the future, in a province that had reason to believe passionately in what was to come–have a continued relevance and importance for our understanding of the history of this community and the relationship of the built environment to the extraordinary landscape of BC.

With essays by Rachel Chinnery, Scott Watson, Alan Elder, Allan Collier, and Sherry McKay.

Includes 160 illustrations, including 60 in full-colour. A co-publication with the Vancouver Art Gallery.

2004, 176 pages

ISBN 9781551521718

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Ian Thom is a Senior Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery; his previous books include Gordon Smith: The Act of Painting; Andy Warhol Images; A New Angle on Canadian Art; and (as editor) Robert Davidson: Eagle of the Dawn and David Milne. He co-edited (with Alan Elder) A Modern Life: Art and Design in British Columbia 1945-1960.

Alan Elder is Curator of Canadian Crafts, Decorative Arts and Design at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa; he has also been a curator at the Power Plant, Ontario Crafts Council, and the Burlington Art Centre. He co-edited (with Ian Thom) A Modern Life: Art and Design in British Columbia 1945-1960.


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