Catalogues have long since been used by artists for both public and commercial exhibitions, ranging from simple to complex. Some are plain numbered booklets of works in a show, others elaborately illustrated with plenty of descriptions and reflections on the related artworks. Over time, these catalogues become useful for studying where and when artists displayed their work, and sometimes include interesting insights in the form of artists’ and curators’ remarks.
Homer Watson House & Gallery’s collection has a selection of these exhibition catalogues that focus on the career of Homer Watson, spanning from his earlier life to memorial shows that took place after his death. They’ve proven to be a handy tool for doing research!
For example, this catalogue from a travelling memorial exhibition shows numbers alongside the titles of paintings and their assigned sale price.
Some of the paintings in the Gallery’s collection still have labels on their backs that match these numbers – allowing us to confirm that it was a part of this exhibition as well as a piece of its provenance information.
This exhibition was organized by Ross Hamilton through the Waterloo Trust & Savings Co., which owned many of Watson’s artworks after the artist’s death in 1936. The catalogue also includes a forward written by Hamilton reflecting on Watson’s life and career.
These catalogues were likely distributed at various stops along the trip, which took place across Ontario. Besides traditional art galleries, Watson’s works were displayed in schools, libraries, and even Masonic Temples.
While many of our catalogues are from Toronto and other Ontario–based locations, this catalogue shows us some of the paintings that Watson exhibited while he was abroad in England.
November in the Clearing is one of the works in the Gallery’s collection, letting us know this painting once traveled across the Atlantic Ocean.
Though some of these catalogues may look a bit plain on the surface, they still contain some important connections to items in our collection as well as the history of Homer Watson’s shows. The use of catalogues for research demonstrates that sometimes little pieces of ephemera that were meant to be thrown away end up being relevant in the long run. Next time you’re at an exhibition, have a look to see if there’s a catalogue. Beyond the basics, it may tell you more than you’d think!