Paul Kane's Great Nor-West
By Diane Eaton & Sheila Urbanek
square 4to. pp. xviii, 158. illustrated in colour & b/w. bibliography. index. Vancouver: UBC Press. .
Available in both hardcover and softcover. Softcover copies are still wrapped in the publisher's plastic.
Hardcover: ISBN: 0774805382 / 9780774805384
Determined to document the lives and customs of the Native people of the Northwest before contact with white settlers changed them forever, the Canadian artist Paul Kane set out in 1845 to cross the continent 'with no companions but my portfolio and a box of paints, my gun and a stock of ammunition.' Travelling by canoe and snowshoe, on foot and on horseback via the Hudson's Bay Company fur brigade routes, he made his way from the Great Lakes to the Pacific coast and back again. When he returned to Toronto in the fall of 1848, he brought back some five hundred field sketches and a remarkable collection of artifacts, which he used as raw material for one hundred oil paintings depicting scenes of Native life.
While the carefully executed oil paintings are deliberately romanticized images of the West that conform to nineteenth-century standards of taste, the original field sketches, which are not widely known, are fresher, more objective and authentic, more direct and undeliberated.
A fascinating complement to the sketches is a small diary that Kane kept while on his journey. Brief and plainspoken, its entries were jotted down with idiosyncratic spelling and punctuation. In 1859, Kane published a journal based on these notes, which became a bestseller in Europe and North America.
In Paul Kane's Great Nor-West, Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek recreate Kane's heroic journey and bring to life the people and places he encountered. Their narrative supplies the historical context to illuminate his travels, while frequently drawing on Kane's own words from his diary and published journal. The voice of the artist himself is heard in descriptions of one of the last great buffalo hunts, of a desperate winter crossing over the Rockies, of the impassioned crying for war' of a Cree chief, and of many other unique experiences.
Illustrated with a wide selection of the field sketches as well as his better known oil paintings, Paul Kane's Great Nor-West reintroduces this remarkable artist to a modern audience. It not only celebrates his extraordinary journey but also creates a unique and immensely varied panorama of the nineteenth century 'Great Nor-West.'