The Macnutt collection at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery
by Treva McNally
For many years Charlottetown lawyer James Macnutt collected historic maps depicting the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Prince Edward Island and by 1991, when he donated his collection to the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, it was the largest collection of its kind in Canada. As a complement to the maps, Macnutt then began collecting views of the same region.
A view is a visual depiction of history. When North America was being explored, people in Europe were curious about this new continent so artists rendered views of the land and people to satisfy that curiosity as well as to encourage emigration. The Macnutt collection which was shown this past winter in the Confederation Gallery contains nearly one hundred of these historic views from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries portraying life in the "New World," especially as it relates to Prince Edward Island.
Macnutt is impressed with the bold colors used on the walls in the gallery to display his collection which, in addition to being historically significant, has been mounted to create an appealing exhibit. The views begin with a 1590 engraving showing the perils of crossing the Atlantic, surely a frightening prospect in the 16th century. Intaglio prints of some of the earliest views of natives in Canada were published in 1623, based on drawings by explorer and map-maker Samuel de Champlain. There are four very attractive colored engravings of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick based on Bartlett drawings done in the early 1800s and they attracted my attention from the moment I entered the gallery. I also enjoyed the depictions of members of royalty including Prince Edward and Queen Charlotte.
Many items in this exhibit are important both for what they represent historically as well as for the process used to produce the image. Processes used include etchings, engravings, woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints. A most impressive portrait of Queen Victoria was created using a chromolithography method developed expressly for reproducing this print from plates created in Montreal and distributed throughout the British Empire.
Several views of Charlottetown and Summerside are intriguing. In one of the earliest printed scenes of Charlottetown, Province House is shown with the first story painted a pale blue, and an 1878 map of Charlottetown shows the city essentially ending at Euston Street. A series of eleven lithographs by Henry Buckton Laurence, printed in 1870, are particularly appealing and show life on Prince Edward Island in the 1800s. This series includes a well-known scene of sledding at Government House.
James Macnutt has assembled an interesting and important collection of views of early Canada, particularly of Prince Edward Island. The show ran until March 16 at the Confederation Centre Gallery.