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Making art history with a high school gym and $6,000

By John Bentley Mays

CREEMORE, Ont. - Who says you need a million-dollar show in a great museum to get into the art history books? Olive Price-Adams, and the Purple Hills Arts and Heritage Society she heads, made history on Friday night in the Creemore school gymnasium, and for just S6,000.

The occasion was the gala opening of The Regina 5 Exhibition Number Two, a display of 25 paintings (five each) by Ronald Bloore, Edward (Ted) Godwin, Kenneth Lochhead, Arthur McKay, and Douglas Morton. It's been exactly 20 years since these five artists, then living in Regina and working through advanced modernist idioms in almost total isolation from the Canadian art-world, were pulled out of obscurity and presented in a major show (Regina Five Number One) at the National Gallery of Canada. Until Friday, they had not exhibited together since that time.

More than the title of this show points back to the origins of the Regina Five: on display in the Creemore show is one painting by each artist from the historic NGC exhibition, and four works done in the later sixties and seventies. But Mrs. Price-Adams has done more than gather paintings from public and private collections in Saskatchewan and Ontario. She also managed to pull together in the old school gym all five of the artists now scattered in university art departments across Canada - for the first time since 1961.

The happy hobnobbing of the Purple Hills art aficionados and a sizeable slice of the Toronto art scene (Dr. David Burnett, curator of contemporary Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, cut the ribbon), and lots of boisterous back-slapping by the Regina Fivers gave the event the look and feel of a high school reunion. The truth is, however, that none of the artists can claim roots in Creemore, and some weren't even quite sure where it was: in his opening remarks, Ted Godwin referred to the lovely village near Barrie as "northern Ontario."

So why Creemore? The answer is simple: Olive Price-Adams.

Mrs. Price-Adams' romance with the Regina Five began when, just at the end of her undergraduate fine arts degree at York University - she graduated in 1980 - she took a course in Canadian art history from Ron Bloore. "As a loyal Canadian," the 57-year-old artist says fervently, "it was time to learn about more than the Group of Seven, the Painters Eleven and Krieghoff."

One thing she discovered was that, almost 20 years before, a small group of Saskatchewan artists had caught a glimpse of what art could be beyond the traditional Canadian landscape, had tried to rebuild painting on modernist and abstractionist lines and, wherever they were today, were still working away. "I wanted to pay a tribute to five artists who had consistently contributed to the Canadian art scene for 20 years."

Once she'd made up her mind to do it, the next steps were obvious. What better place to pay that tribute than in Creemore a Canadian small town right down to its grass-roots? And who better to work with the local movers and shakers of Creemore's Purple Hills Arts and Heritage Society? Among them, Mrs. Price-Adams, Creemore, and the Purple Hills raked up the rock-bottom $6,000 - the original budget (which included a catalogue) was $24,000, but neither the Ontario Arts Council nor the Canada Council contributed - and put together the show.

It ends today after only three days in Creemore since the basketball stars-to-be will be wanting their gym back. But the show will go on: to the University of Toronto's Hart House Gallery in December, Peterborough in February, and Oshawa's Robert McLaughlin Gallery in March. Mrs. Price-Adams is still waiting for confirmation from public galleries in Lindsay, Ottawa, and - where else? - Regina.

Meanwhile, her love affair with the Five continues. Armed with an $8,000 Canada Council Explorations grant, Mrs. Price-Adams is now documenting the work of the group, and will be starting her book soon. And she hopes to preside over a major retrospective five years down the road. "I want to re-write the history," she says, "I want to get the story straight."

It's a story that needs to be told correctly. Considered against the background of earlier Canadian art (especially the dead-end, reactionary Group of Seven landscape movement that had hung like a pall over painting since the twenties) the early abstract works in the Creemore show look brash and cosmopolitan. In the context of the far more complex and sophisticated art world of today, how do these artists, and their work both early and more recent, measure up? Do the Regina Five really deserve a prominent place in Canadian art history or any place at all?

These are some of the questions gallery-goers across Ontario will have an unprecedented chance to consider because of the enthusiasm and the bulldog tenacity of Olive Price-Adams and her friends in the village of Creemore.

Bloore on Canadian Art -1951
Bloore on Folk Art -1960
Bloore at the Wyers Retro -1989
Bloore at the Morton Retro -1994

Bloore at Eighty - by Illi Tamplin -2005
Canadian Encyclopedia - and the Oxford -1998
Five Interviews - by Robert Enright -1993
Tamplin Collection Donation - by Kay Kritzwiser -1988
R.L. Bloore Drawings 1960-1988 - by Illi Tamplin -1988
Regina Five In Creemore - with Olive Price-Adams -1981
Bloore - and contemporary art criticism - by Barry Lord -1966
Bloore - at the Here And Now - by Robert Fulford -1962
Win Hedore in Time Magazine - I Remember Dada -1960

Not Without Design - by Terrence Heath -1991

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