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One of Canada's leading graphic art companies, Sampson-Matthews Ltd. was co-founded by Ernest Sampson, a pioneer of silkscreen printing in Canada, and Charles Matthews. In the tradition of Grip Limited, as well as Rous and Mann publishers, Sampson-Matthews attracted the very best of Canadian art talent.
Following in the footsteps of Franklin Carmichael, Alfred J. Casson joined the firm in 1926 where his duties included silkscreen design, typography planning and production supervision. Following the death of Sampson, and Carmichael’s departure to teach at OCA, Casson became the art director and vice-president of the company.
He was one of a number of artists who lobbied the government early in the war years to finance the reproduction of Canadian paintings for display at armed forces bases and administrative offices around the world, in labour intensive silkscreen format. This contributed greatly to the refinement of the silkscreen, or serigraphy, process. Serigraphy employs a stencil method of printmaking in which a design is imposed on a screen of silk or other fine mesh, with areas coated with an impermeable substance, and ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface.
In A.J. Casson: His Life and Works, (1980), Paul Duval, writes that this programme proved “One of the most valuable morale boosters of the war. The prints were distributed and enjoyed in military posts around the world....Of all the wartime projects in which Casson was involved, this was the one in which he found the deepest satisfaction.”
Dennis Reid notes that, “beginning in 1943...prints were produced in the Sampson-Matthews plant under the able supervision of A.J. Casson”. Finally in 1953, under the auspices of the National Gallery of Canada, eighty-nine silkscreens were offered in the Sampson-Matthews catalogue after paintings by a who’s who of Canadian artists including; Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Walter Phillips, Fred Haines, Fritz Brandtner, Charles Comfort, B.C. Binning, L.A.C. Panton, Yvonne McKague Housser, Albert Cloutier, Harold Beament, Jock Macdonald, Franklin Carmichael, J.S. Hallam, Tom Roberts, Thoreau MacDonald, Sarah Robertson, Alan Collier, and many more.
With the co-operation of the director of the National Gallery, H. O. McCurry, this was to be the largest publicly sponsored art project in Canadian history. Due to the popularity of the programme, it spread well into peacetime. The prints that had initially been sent overseas were now reproduced in subsequent runs destined for public institutions such as hospitals, libraries, schools, banks, and government offices. They were also sold through the National Gallery gift shop and continued to be popular well into the 1950’s and early 1960’s. For many Canadians, this was a first look at the work of many Canadian artists, and inspired a national identity in our shared art and culture.
This serigraph collection was produced with oil pigments, representing the pinnacle of the process, allowing the prints to realistically portray the originals in a painterly way, complete with little dabs of colour as might be attained by the artist with a brush.
Casson proudly hand-signed this original silkscreen print, validating the project as an important example of cooperation between a national institution and the technical skills of the Sampson-Matthews team, who were under his direct supervision. The Original paintings for this collection can be found in the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Art, The McMichael Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario, and other such notable institutions.
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