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Curators: Judy Dietz, Associate Curator
Laurie Hamilton, Senior Conservator

Take a journey of discovery through the fantastical world of folk art in this exhibition of signature pieces from the extensive Art Gallery of Nova Scotia collection. Show of Hands applauds this distinctly Nova Scotian heritage and celebrates its imaginative creation in the hands of artists whose lives were, and are, inextricably bound to the land and sea.

The 1960s through the 1980s were significant decades in Nova Scotia during which time an abundance of self-taught artists were painting, forging, stitching, and, most particularly, carving an extraordinary body of work in isolation from one another and the outside world. This personal, individual, inner-eye perception of their surroundings, without the boundaries imposed by formal rules of perspective, scale, and colour, gave their imaginations free rein; the resulting objects have, as collector and dealer Chris Huntington suggests, “a life of their own”. Quite distinct from samplers and family records of the 19th century, this ‘new’ folk art was most often made by seasoned labourers, retired fishers and farmers, whose never-idle hands whittled creatures and figures idiosyncratic to their own perception of the world – one filled with whimsy, natural simplicity, and humour.

Many of the objects, never intended for purchase, were first displayed on the front yards or adjacent the back sheds of those who created them. Whirligigs and weather vanes spun in the direction of the wind; brightly painted birdhouses and feeders functioned as such; and large-scale carved figures beckoned the curious to investigate further. Inevitably, the wear and tear of life in the outdoors exacts a toll: paint peels away, nails rust, wood darkens and cracks. This weathered patina is an intrinsic part of the history of these objects—a mantle of survival against the elements—now preserved for the future in the carefully controlled conditions of the art gallery environment.

Included in this exhibition is a wide variety of art forms: small carvings, whirligigs, paintings, textiles, works of art on paper, and painted furniture, illustrating themes of domestic life, farming, and fishing—and a recently acquired life-size grouping of the US First Family, the Obamas—that reveal the intuitive genius of Nova Scotia’s folk artists. Collins Eisenhauer, Sidney Howard, Ralph Boutilier, Charlie Atkinson, recognized pioneers in the field, are represented along with Maud Lewis, Joe Norris, the Naugler brothers, and many others from this rich and varied tradition.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia acknowledges with gratitude the many donors who have contributed over the years to build this unique collection of Nova Scotian art.



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