February 23 to may 7, 2023
See available works
Curator: Geneviève Duval
La Guilde's archives and permanent collection are coming to life in this exhibition, celebrating the organization's and its founders' rich history. Over the last few years, we went on a journey trying to piece together all the important moments that defined La Guilde. Browsing our archives, we thought we ought to share more about who we are and how we came to be. Did you know that La Guilde has archives dating back to before its foundation in 1906?
To understand La Guilde's history and evolution, we must look at two essential ideas weaved through every event: the definition of a guild and the Canadian Handicrafts Movement. We often get asked the question, "WHY A GUILD?". A guild is, by definition, "an association of people with similar interests or pursuits", which made perfect sense to the women who founded our organization as they wanted to revive, preserve, and stimulate handicraft work throughout Canada.1 Creating a guild meant offering a space for artists to present and market their work, but also creating a space to share and gain knowledge. It was to be a space for artists and amateurs alike.
On the other hand, the rise of the Canadian Handicrafts Movement was stirred by the ideals awoken by our founders. As stated by H. G. Kettle in The Canadian Forum, the Movement was "[...] devoted to the development of handicrafts, the training of workers and marketing of their products".2 Do you see the connection? At the core of the Movement was offering a platform for crafts and bridging the gap between the artists and the customers. A larger and constantly evolving market needed to be established to support and stimulate handicrafts and their creators. For the Movement to be sustainable, it needed to adapt to the market, be at the forefront, and set the trend. One of the main challenges faced was bringing together, promoting, and protecting such a broad diversity of mediums and skills. One way to preserve these varied crafts was to ensure that artists could decently live from their practices and to encourage younger generations to pursue their artistic endeavours. The Movement needed to find new ways to present handmade goods to the public and highlight the value of buying handmade goods..
Inspired by the blog series Did you know..., the exhibition Une histoire de réussite | A Journey from Coast to Coast is meant to bring forward people, places, and events that laid the foundation and shaped our organization. By reading the documents and piecing together the story within the exhibition, you can interpret the work done and the events that made La Guilde the organization it is today.
In addition to presenting documents from its archives, works from its permanent collection, and the overall vision of the women who founded the organization, La Guilde invited Barry Ace, Jordan Bennett, Nadia Myre, and Melissa Peter-Paul to present their works. These contemporary artists connect past and present in their work through techniques, materials, visual languages, or subject matters. Each artwork shown in this exhibition presents, in its own way, a connection to a part of La Guilde's history. Overall, the exhibition addresses identity, history, growth, and land—through the physical territory, the space we travel, and our footprint.
Here are a few key elements:
1894 - Creation of the Montreal Branch of the Women's Art Association (W.A.A.M)
On June 6, 1894, a few women held a meeting to set the association's goal: to offer women—making a profession in art—opportunities to meet each other and take counsel over their work. It was a space to take their art more seriously and pursue their aim at a higher standard.
1900 - The First Exhibition at Morgan's Colonial House Gallery
Mr Morgan agreed to lend the new gallery space at his store (in the same building occupied today by the Hudson's Bay Company on Ste-Catherine St.) to hold a large exhibition of handicrafts to launch the Movement. With only eight dollars in their bank account, they set to organize the best crafts exhibition ever shown in Montreal.
1902 - The first Canadian Only Handicrafts Exhibition
This exhibition presented works from Coast to Coast, highlighting the rich diversity of practices. The level of skills showed that Canada was destined to take a leading part in the conversation around crafts. It also launched the prizes and awards system that was used for many years.
1902 - Opening of Our Handicrafts Shop Our Handicrafts Shop
To provide a market for handwork, they opened a "little shop" at 4 Phillips Square. The underlying idea behind the Shop was "to place as much money as possible in the hands of the workers".3
1905 - Exhibitions of First Nations works
This exhibition was among the first, if not the first, to focus mainly on Indigenous crafts. Hundreds of objects (spoons, textiles, clothing, moccasins, bark boxes, baskets, jewellery, etc.) from over twenty communities across Canada were presented. While some of the works in the exhibition were on loan, many of the objects sent in by the communities were intended for sale–which proved to be a success as nearly all the works sold within a few days of the exhibition opening.
1906 - Incorporation of The Canadian Handicrafts Guild
The not-for-profits charter was officially signed on May 10, 1906. At the time, women weren't allowed to be the head of an organization, and they worked with trusted men to help navigate the legal system. The Canadian Handicrafts Guild was the first woman-run organization in Canada to be incorporated by Parliament.
1908 - Beginning of the Permanent Collection
Alice Peck proposed the creation of a fund to preserve particular irreplaceable objects. As it was important for La Guilde to protect the crafts, traditions, and cultures throughout the Dominion (Canada), creating a permanent collection was the natural extension of their mission.
1910 - Martha Phillips travels West
Martha Phillips first ventured to Western Canada in 1910 to maintain professional relationships with communities of makers, study their methods, and acquire their artwork. She kept detailed records of her journey through notecard journal entries in little red boxes.
1911 - Branches and Affiliated Societies
Branches and Affiliated Societies in every province were formed to show the variety of work available throughout the country. These local branches served as means of discovering, gathering, connecting, inspiring, and representing craftsmen and craftswomen in the most isolated areas.
1916 - 598a Sainte-Catherine Street
The organization moved to 598a Sainte-Catherine Street in 1916, its first permanent street-level storefront. It is one of the oldest pictures we could find of the outside of the Shop.
1930s - Exhibitions at the Montreal Art Association
Between 1904 and 1938, La Guilde organized more than thirty exhibitions at the Montreal Art Association. These annual exhibitions were an opportunity to offer prizes to artists who stood out for the quality and originality of their work and to introduce the public to the country's many talents and cultures.
- 1933 - Peel Street
One of the most iconic locations of La Guilde was its store on Peel Street, where they stayed for almost 70 years. It was not until 1938, when they moved next door to 2025 Peel Street, that we started to hear the mention of in-house exhibitions.
1937 - Creation of a Trademark and Logo
After a few years on Peel Street, The Canadian Handicrafts Guild had become known for its standard of quality and novelty. The six-pointed white star also acted as the organization's logo, appearing for the first time on letterheads, invitations, publications, etc. In addition to promoting and selling artists' works, they started promoting the organization and its activities.
Photo : Martha Phillips, "Places noted from which work has been sold in West", 1910. C11-D1-050-1910. Les Archives de La Guilde.
1 Merriam-Webster.com, s.v. « Guild, » accessed on July 19, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guild. ; Bulletin : Self Help - Not Charity, What the Guild is? Published by The Canadian Handicraft Guild, 1911. C11 D1 059 1911.La Guilde’s Archives, Montreal, Canada.
2 Kettle, H. G. “The Canadian Handicrafts Movement.” The Canadian Forum (1940:112-114).
3 Peck, Alice. Sketch of the Activities of the Handicrafts and of the Dawn of the Handicraft Movement in the Dominion. Montreal: The Canadian Handicrafts Guild, 1929.