Visions which Succeed: Regional Publics and Public Folk Art in Maritime Canada
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This thesis examines the intersections of visual culture with processes of folklorization in Maritime Canada between 1964 and 2007. Throughout this thesis, I explore how visual culture helps make history public in the Maritimes for local and tourist audiences alike. Ultimately, I question which visions succeed when it comes to looking at this “region’s” past in order to visualize its future. I outline chapters that consider how Nova Scotia’s first provincial gallery, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS), labelled the cultural production of local self-taught artists “folk” art and, by collecting these objects, became the foremost expert in a category of artistic expression it had itself created; how the provincial state ideologically and economically invested in a certain “folk” aesthetic by gathering objects under the authority of a few prominent collectors; how those institutions and collectors who sought to develop contemporary folk art for the art market also became concerned with the new confrontation of a global mass culture by the last few decades of the twentieth century; how the AGNS transformed self-taught artist Maud Lewis from a local tourist attraction in the 1960s into an internationally recognized cultural icon by the 1990s through the institutionalization of her life story’s public history; and how those with state and corporate authority came to brand the Maritimes for global tourism at the turn of the twenty-first century, by employing what they understood to be the region’s strongest cultural resources. Part of my rationale here is to explore what it means to label the cultural production of self-taught artists “folk” art and the implications of state and corporate investment in this cultural form for the public narrative associated with the experience of culture in Maritime Canada. I posit a complex hegemonic relationship here between relatively powerful artworld professionals and relatively powerless self-taught artists that speaks both to the inequities and contradictions of a capitalist liberal order. In doing so, I also tackle the broader implications of writing “the history of region” in an age of “global” analyses.