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1936: Opening of the Emma Lake Art Camp

In retrospect, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the 1936 opening of the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshop is that it occurred at all.  Successive years of drought and the Depression had taken their toll: the University was operating with a bank loan and under a deficit; its operating grant from the province was 35% lower than it had been in 1930.1  Nevertheless, at the request of art professor A.F.L. (“Gus”) Kenderdine, in 1936 university president Walter Murray established a summer art school at Emma Lake, a site 220 kilometres north of the Saskatoon campus, in the province’s northern boreal forest.  It was the first outdoor school of art for university credit in Canada.

With an art school, Gus Kenderdine hoped “to let the young folk of Saskatchewan see beauty in a land that men were becoming to hate as a place of darkness and defeat.”2 Kenderdine believed “real art” should have “a vital relationship to the life of the community,” and he hoped the Emma Lake experience would merely be the “beginning...in a work which [would] mean much to Saskatchewan in the years to come.”3

Larger Version
It was immediately successful.  Instructors from across Canada, and eventually guest artists and critics from Europe and the United States, came to Emma Lake.  Many found the experience valuable enough to attempt to recreate it: artists’ workshops from Barcelona to New York have acknowledged Emma Lake as “inspiration and model.”4

Related Collections

Beamish / Kenderdine Family fonds, MG 215
Hans Dommasch fonds, MG 172
A.F.L. Kenderdine fonds, MG 87
Ruth Pawson fonds, MG 204
Mac and Beth Hone fonds, MG 183
Emma Lake Art School, RG 2035


1935a: illustration from 1937 scrapbook
1936b: ‘Gus’ Kenderdine with student, 1936 scrapbook


1. Annual Reports, 1936, 1937.
2. Publications Collection, Extension - B.A. Holmlund, Address at the opening of the Kenderdine Campus, 23 July 1989, p. 2.
3. 1938 Emma Lake Scrapbook, “Message from G. Kenderdine.”
4. Mina Forsyth fonds, MG 97, Emma Lake Workshops, brief from Otto Rogers to the Saskatchewan Arts Board, 1986, p. 1.

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