Works from the Buchanan Bequest / A Not Always Reverent Journey
A Not Always Reverent Journey considers the path of an object from the hands of a collector into the folds of a public institution and pauses to reflect on some of the highlights and challenges inherent in that transition. Our journey begins with Donald W. Buchanan who in the 1960s made two unprecedented donations of art to the City of Lethbridge: The Buchanan Gift, which consists of artworks contributed by brothers Donald and Hugh Buchanan in memory of their parents, and The Buchanan Bequest, Donald’s personal collection bequeathed to the City following his unexpected death in 1966.
The two collections that now reside in the care of Lethbridge College and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery respectively, tell strikingly different narratives. Where The Buchanan Gift is a cohesive and self-conscious reflection of the interests and status of the Buchanan family, The Buchanan Bequest is one man’s personal and uninhibited accumulation of items. It thus provides an intimate view into the life and personality of Buchanan himself, but further to that, reveals the circumstance of their donation as a likely factor in their haphazard configuration.
At the time of his death Buchanan held the position of Director of the Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition (Expo ’67), one of the many key positions he held in the Canadian cultural sector. As a prominent figure in the art world, it is not surprising that the bulk of his personal collection would include works by artists of high acclaim; Henri Matisse, Paul Emile Borduas, David Milne, B. C. Binning and members of the Group of Seven are represented among others. The Bequest also includes nine works by Buchanan himself, which feature examples from his first exhibition of photographs at the National Gallery of Canada. A Not Always Reverent Journey is a title borrowed from that exhibition, which went on to travel across Canada from 1959 to 1961.
The remainder of The Buchanan Bequest is made up of items that were likely acquired during Buchanan’s travels. As objects within his personal collection they are innocent souvenirs weaving the tale of Buchanan’s many adventures. The moment they enter a public collection however, they begin to tell a more complicated story; while they still give testament to Buchanan’s love of travel, they also become imbued with new meaning by virtue of their inclusion within the collection. To place them in this context designates them as art and as heritage objects, privileged with the same care and conservation as any other work in the collection. However, due to a lack of documentation surrounding these objects we have no way of knowing their provenance or value and copyright cannot be attributed; they are orphaned works.
Many art galleries and museums have orphaned works within their holdings – it is an inevitable product of collecting – yet, in the case of The Buchanan Bequest these works are not often exhibited or even discussed in the context of the collection. One reason for this may be that they present a departure from the artistic interests often associated with Donald Buchanan, another is that they could be seen to undermine the importance of his collection as a whole. It may even be possible that these items were never intended for inclusion within The Bequest, but that the fateful circumstances of their transfer found them alongside works of incontestable importance and value. Although the inclusion of orphaned works within The Buchanan Bequest adds a layer of complexity, it does not diminish the generosity, influence and ambition of their original owner. Buchanan’s contributions to the Canadian cultural sector were significant and are perhaps most prized here in his hometown where his donations have not only provided citizens access to important works of art, but have helped shape Lethbridge’s identity as a culturally and artistically vibrant community.
The Buchanan Bequest is made up of 66 objects; 36 works by artists from Canada and Europe, 9 photographs by Buchanan himself and 21 works of unknown authorship. Since 1979 the Southern Alberta Art Gallery has housed and exhibited this collection on behalf of the City of Lethbridge. A Not Always Reverent Journey is organized by the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and curated by Christina Cuthbertson.
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