Three Valiant Artists
Article by Helen Dickson, Saturday Night Magazine 54, January 14, 1939, p21
by Helen Dickson
IN A VANCOUVER studio a success story is in the making, an epic of genius, courage and unremitting toil that should stiffen the spine and thrill the soul of every Canadian art student. Four or five years ago Edward Hughes, Orville Fisher and Paul Goranson were unknown art graduates, thrust into a depression world that held out no hope for artists. Today they are working on a commission for the Government of British Columbia, twelve murals to adorn the walls of the British Columbia building at the San Francisco Exhibition.
In 1933 Edward Hughes and Orville Fisher graduated from the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Art and Paul Goranson completed his third year. All three took the drawing and painting course. Fisher and Goranson studied for another year with Fred Varley, one of the Group of Seven, and Hughes also did some post-graduate studying. Then began the heart-breaking grind of trying to paint for a living.
Somehow they struggled through a difficult year. Then Orville Fisher was inspired to volunteer that the three should paint murals in First United Church if the congregation would supply the paint. Rev. Andrew Roddan, a man of liberal ideas and himself an amateur of art, gave his consent, and their heads, like Fra Lippo Lippi's, "being crammed, the walls a blank, never was such a prompt disburdening. The three young artists painted six panels, each twenty-five feet wide at the bottom and eight high, sloping towards the top. The work shows unusual strength and significance.
The three took a studio together and worked early and late. They took up block printing and quickly became expert. They haunted the docks and produced interesting studies of hulls and boats under repair. Soon they were putting on exhibitions of outstanding merit in the Vancouver Art Gallery, and making sales. Paul Goranson and Orville Fisher were elected members of the Graphic Arts Society and the three have exhibited in eastern Canada and Edmonton. Edward Hughes' oils are notable for their rich, mellow color.
The United Church murals had shown the ability of the three, and indirectly led to their being commissioned to paint the murals for the British Columbia building. Their contract giving them only three months in which to paint twelve murals each sixteen feet wide and ten high, time was of the essence. They rented a warehouse floor in a lane on the edge of Chinatown and there, well hidden from time-eating visitors, they set to work. A month was spent on careful preparatory sketches while special canvases of twelve-ounce duck were being woven for them in Nova Scotia.
The British Columbia building in the San Francisco Exhibition is to be sixty feet long, thirty-four wide and twenty high, to the ceiling. All the woodwork is to be of the unvarnished native woods. The murals will occupy the upper half of the walls all the way around. The artists paint without collaboration, each his own four canvases. The whole twelve run in a sequence or continuity around the building.
By the time a citizen of any other country has studied these twelve murals he will know British Columbia as well or better than if he had visited the province, for in vigorous design they interpret the very soul of the country. While essentially modern in the vitality and breadth of their drawing, these young men are not afraid to make use of the excellent qualities of traditional art, such as good drawing and significant detail. From callow affectations they are free.
The life of British Columbia will move around the walls of the building. Strong men will hew down trees, haul in fishing nets, handle power drills in a mine tunnel, unload freight boats, lay rails, pick fruit, climb mountains. Convincingly painted, the muscles strain and give the sense of motion. Every detail of boat, tractor, derrick and tool is accurately and painstakingly drawn.
While the basic industries form the main theme there are interesting canvases with other subjects. A Mounted Policeman in red tunic rides out of wide, wild scenery; mountaineers struggle up a difficult peak; a girl helps her man to land a salmon in a mountain stream. A fascinating canvas shows an Indian woman in a plaid shawl, such as one may see any day on the North Vancouver ferry. In the background are totem poles and a fishing village.
The three young artists are to go with their murals and oversee the work of placing them in position.
[caption] VANCOUVER MURALS. Three young graduates of the Vancouver School of Art, Paul Goranson, Orville Fisher and Edward Hughes, devoted their spare time for two years to the painting of five murals in First United Church, Vancouver. The paintings are approximately eight by twenty-eight feet.
- Photo by C. P. Detloff.