The Dignity of Every Human Being: New Brunswick Artists and Canadian Culture between the Great Depression and the Cold War
Published: February 2015© 2014
368 Pages, 5.53 x 8.52 x 0.94 in, 36 b&w illustrations
“The Dignity of Every Human Being” studies the vibrant New Brunswick artistic community which challenged “the tyranny of the Group of Seven” with socially-engaged realism in the 1930s and 40s. Using extensive archival and documentary research, Kirk Niergarth follows the work of regional artists such as Jack Humphrey and Miller Brittain, writers such as P.K. Page, and crafts workers such as Kjeld and Erica Deichmann. The book charts the rise and fall of “social modernism” in the Maritimes and the style’s deep engagement with the social and economic issues of the Great Depression and the Popular Front.
Connecting local, national, and international cultural developments, Niergarth’s study documents the attempts of Depression-era artists to question conventional ideas about the nature of art, the social function of artists, and the institutions of Canadian culture. “The Dignity of Every Human Being” records an important and previously unexplored moment in Canadian cultural history.
Part I: Art and Democracy
The Atmosphere: Art and Politics in Canadian Magazines, 1935-1939
Walter Abell, Canadian Culture, and the Maritime Push
Part II: The Collective Dream in New Brunswick Art
Two “Giants”: “Pro-Artists” Jack Humphrey and Miller Brittain
Artists are like this: Common interests of the “Crowd”
Arising from the Thirties Dream: Saint John Artists and the Postwar Period
‘This is a book to relish. You will be informed and entertained.’Ronald J. Jack, The Lost Valley Blog Post 27th July 2015
‘The author has assembled an impressive array of primary sources in a thoughtful analysis of an alternative vision of Canadian cultural production across these critical decades.’Debra Antoncic, Labour/Le Travail vol 77 spring 2016
‘This is an exceptional study of the intellectual currents running through the New Brunswick artistic community during the 1930s and 1940s.’Sean Cadigan, Canadian Journal of History vol 51:03:2016
“The Dignity of Every Human Being takes on the daunting task of mapping out the intersections of the overlapping artistic and political discourses that evolved in the Maritimes during the 1930s and Second World War years. Niergarth’s book is not only a detailed, in-depth, and nuanced investigation of how these connections played out in the Maritimes, but also a convincing revision to what has been established as the normalized relationship of periphery and centre. This study has the potential to redefine all work done in this area in the future.”Leslie Dawn, Department of Art, University of Lethbridge
“New Brunswick art has often been seen as existing on the periphery of Canadian culture. In a convincing challenge to the prevailing narrative, Kirk Niergarth’s analysis of the national art scene in the 1930s and 1940s reveals that a group of New Brunswick artists was at the forefront of a movement that dared to consider a different approach to culture.
Niergarth’s persuasive account explains the complexities and reveals the scope of one particular regional art history within a broader Canadian art historical context. It also rectifies some of the misconceptions about art in eastern Canada and proves that the presence of this vibrant cultural community warrants more attention in a truly national story.”Peter Larocque, Curator of New Brunswick Cultural History and Art, New Brunswick Museum