I finished my Ph.D. dissertation on the cultural role and impact of Canadian illustrators on national identity in Canadian and American periodicals in May, 2014.
As part of my work I am compiling an Index of Canadian Illustrators. Additions and amendments to it are very welcome.
download dissertation (7mb)
A Cultural Trade? Canadian Magazine Illustrators at Home and in the United States, 1880-1960
This dissertation analyzes nationalisms in the work of Canadian magazine illustrators in Toronto and New York, 1880 to 1960.
Using a continentalist approach—rather than the nationalist lens often employed by historians of Canadian art—I show the existence of an integrated, joint North American visual culture. Drawing from primary sources and biography, I document the social, political, corporate, and communication networks that illustrators traded in.
I focus on two common visual tropes of the day—that of the pretty girl and that of wilderness imagery. Through visual and verbal rhetoric, and through institutional controls to exclude particular kinds of illustration from counting as culturally or artistically worthy, nationalist politicians, writers, and illustrators built a sense of difference between American and Canadian cultures by owning the wilderness imagery, while distancing themselves from the pretty girl imagery practiced by expatriates in New York and by some peers in Toronto.
In reality, however, both wilderness and pretty girl illustration evolved from American print culture, and both continued to be practiced by Canadians and Americans together. I document and contextualize some subtle differences, but essentially this joint visual culture drew Canadian and American readerships closer, and did indeed “Americanize” Canadians just as nationalists feared. The Americanized depiction of women in particular spelled a loss of individuality and active citizenship for Canadian women.
But where nationalists believed that similarity of print consumption would lead to the political annexation of Canada by the United States, I find that the modicum of difference coupled with the patriotic visual culture centred on wilderness imagery, deployed by nationalists, staved off assimilation. Furthermore, I find that by maintaining similarity with Americans, the persistence of Canadian production and consumption of “American” illustration contributed to a break with British culture that facilitated Canada’s emerging nationhood.
Similarity has also contributed to a friendliness with the United States that has ensured and continues to ensure that the U.S. does not perceive Canada as a threat—thus reducing likelihood of annexation by force or suasion, while affording Canadians economic benefits. I conclude, then, that “Americanized” Canadian illustration has not been a case of cultural weakness and betrayal, as nationalist policy has treated it. Rather, continentalist Canadian illustration has always been a legitimate expression of Canadian identity, and a key component in maintaining Canadian sovereignty.