True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada at the Gardiner Museum

October 20, 2016 | Bill V.

Comments (2)

I went to the opening of True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada, the new show at the Gardiner Museum, last week. 

I was surprised and pleased to see on display a small Deichmann Goofus sgraffito plate I had donated in memory of my best friend Tim Egan, who died of AIDS in the mid 1990s. Tim was the "salt of the earth", a pretty capable potter himself and he is deeply missed. AIDS, like wars past, devastated my generation and he was the best among us. I gave my Deichmann piece to honour my friend and was very moved to see it in the show.

One of the many nice things about Deichmann pottery is that it's normally very clearly signed on the back, making it easy to identify. Once you see the signature or just the DK initials and the NB initial for New Brunswick, it's hard to forget it. Their turquoise glaze is especially pretty.


True Nordic Deichmann Googus figurine and plate (donated by Bill V.)

Deichmann Goofus figurine and pin dish - Gardiner Museum - True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada

Erica and Kjeld were Danish potters who pioneered art pottery in Canada, working in rural New Brunswick. If you drove out to the East Coast between the 1940s and 1960s, you may well have bought something at their studio. They were the subject of two National Film Board documentaries. The Gardiner very cleverly has the 1961 The Story of Peter and the Potter showing; download the pdf study guide to The Story of Peter and the Potter NFB film and also the 1964 Crafts of My Province.

They also had a solo show at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1991. The catalogue for that show is below and is full of wonderful photographs of their work and a detailed examination of their life:

The turning point  the Deichmann pottery, 1935-1963 = Le tournant  la potterie Deichmann, 1935-1963

The Turning Point: The Deichmann Pottery, 1935-1963 = Le Tournant: La Poterie Deichmann, 1935-1963

If you want to read more about the Deichmanns and New Brunswick art history, you might enjoy "The Dignity of Every Human Being": New Brunswick Artists and Canadian culture Between the Great Depression and the Cold War".


The dignity of every human being - New Brunswick artists and Canadian culture between the Great Depression and the Cold War


If you like Canadian ceramics (and who doesn't?), you will be interested in Studio Ceramics in Canada, 1920-2005. Written by the redoubtable Gail Crawford, this was the catalogue from another show at the Gardiner Museum and includes information on the Deichmanns among others. You should also look at On the Table: 100 Years of Functional Ceramics in Canada.

Studio Ceramics in Canada, 1920-2005

I also found interesting the book Crafting New Traditions: Canadian Innovators and Influences, which includes chapters on the Deichmanns and the Oak Ridges lamp and fiberglass Bostlund family (see the great display at the Gardiner of their lamps lit up). It also has information on jewellery designer and Quaker refugee advocate Nancy Meek Pocock, who has a silver cut-out brooch with hanging birds and gems near the end of the show.

Crafting new traditions Canadian innovators and influences


Of course THE source of historical information on Arts and Crafts in Ontario is A Fine Line: Studio Crafts in Ontario from 1930 to the Present by Gail Crawford. She was at the opening and I overheard (eavesdropped?) a man say to her "your book is the most influential in this field". I wholeheartedly agree. A tour de force, well worth a read, but well worth buying as well (I have a copy, thank you Judy Pocock, Nancy's daughter).  Beautifully written, it's erudite and engaging as well.

A Fine Line Studio Crafts in Ontario from 1930 to the Present

A Fine Line: Studio Crafts in Ontario from 1930 to the Present

There are in-depth, unique sections in the book on Nancy Pocock, metal workers Rudy Renzius and Harold Stacey and many others. For a Ontario (or Toronto) audience, it also really gives a sense of the evolving business and cultural side of studio crafts locally for the past 80 years.

It was Crawford's research and book that helped me identify and place into context metal worker Andrew Fussell's chrome hand-hammered bowl that I own. If I have one tiny regret about the show, notwithstanding the Renzius covered dish, it is the absence of more everyday affordable items in pewter, copper, brass etc. in the early part of the show (and no pieces by Fussell).

Andrew Fussell chrome bowl

It was kind of amazing though to see the Carl Poul Petersen's Bronfman family tea service with samovar from the McCord Museum (see this link for more information about Petersen) and you can open this pdf to see more detailed images and information about this tea service. It makes the memory of buying Seagrams' Seven Crown and Crown Royal in the 1970s a bit sweeter.

I also found very interesting the French language Arts décoratifs et design du Québec: guide de collection, which is especially strong on 1960s-70s plastics (furniture and smalls) and the very intellectually rigorous The Allied Arts: Architecture and Craft in Postwar Canada.  Both of these sources have information about fabric artist / weaver Mariette RousseauVermette who has a monumental work on display.


  The Allied Arts Architecture and Craft in Postwar Canada  Arts décoratifs et design du Québec guide de collection  

Made in Canada craft and design in the sixties: The red maple leaf is the quintessential symbol of Canada and the flag that popularized it throughout the world was designed in the 1960s as a result of government legislation aimed at creating a vital, new Canadian national identity through objects, events, and building projects. Made in Canada looks at the development of Canadian craft, design, and culture through ambitious government programs meant to reinforce the country's identity as a modern, sophisticated, and autonomous nation. As well, it documents the demise of a singular notion of modern life and its replacement with a focus on personal identity and consumerism.Changes in the 1960s included the building of modern airports, its first space satellite, and new national symbols such as the maple leaf flag. Expo 67 was the turning point - one final expression of optimism before Canada was rocked by social change and varied struggles for identity. Canadians embraced this heightened sense of individuality and demanded products that were equally individual. As a result pop culture objects sat on cool furniture influenced by Scandinavian modernism while handmade crafts reflected a growing concern with environmental issues.Made in Canada examines national dreams and expressions of individuality in thoughtful and illuminating essays.Contributors include Sandra Alfoldy (NSCAD University); Paul Bourassa (Musée des beaux-arts de Québec); Brent Cordner (designer and educator, Toronto); Douglas Coupland (artist and author, Vancouver); Bernard Flaman (Government of Saskatchewan); Rachel Gotlieb (freelance curator and writer, Toronto); Michael Large (Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning); and Michael Prokopow (Design Exchange).

Clearly, I am passionate about this subject, and realize I must write another blog post about the mid-century Scandinavian source material that is available at Toronto Reference Library. At the opening of the True Nordic show, the two curators, Rachel Gotlieb and Michael Prokopow, gave a very interesting talk. Dr Gotlieb spoke about the importance of doing archival library research. Our collection is rich and deep across subjects, time and also languages. But I will leave exploring that to the next blog post.

There was a reference in the curator's talk and in the show of a seminal book and touring show called Design in Scandinavia: An Exhibition of Objects for the Home which covered Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. The exhibit visited several American cities, as well as Toronto and Ottawa in the 1950s (two Royal Ontario Museum curators were on the North American organizing committee). The ROM presented this show as part of a conscious policy to support further shows on American and Canadian modern design of the era, as seen by this excerpt from their 1954/55 annual report.

ROM paragraph 1954 1955 Design in Scandinavia quotation

The Toronto Reference Library has a copy of the 1950s Design in Scandinavia exhibition catalogue.

You can read a lovely illustrated review of the show by Stephen Dale of the National Gallery of Canada Magazine here.