June 25, 2024

West Vancouver Art Museum exhibit focuses on the private home of Arthur Erickson, Canada’s most renowned architect.

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Arthur Erickson designed some of Canada’s most celebrated buildings. But at home he lived modestly, in a converted garage in Point Grey.

Actually it was two garages, joined together in a 680-square-foot residence that blended into a beautiful garden landscape.

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“He lived in an incredibly modest way,” said Clinton Cuddington of the Arthur Erickson Foundation. “I think it was incredibly important to him, to maintain that balance between a larger-than-life public persona and a private environment where he could retreat, and think about his ideas.”

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This is the 100th anniversary of Erickson’s birth, so the West Vancouver Art Museum wanted to do an exhibition marking the day. In concert with the Arthur Erickson Foundation, it decided to put on a show that looks at his small private residence, where he lived from 1957 to 1992.

“One of our mandates as an institution is to look at West Coast modernism as it relates to West Vancouver,” explains curator Hilary Letwin. “A lot of that history is residential architecture. By its nature it’s private, it’s hidden.”

West Van has the photographic archives of Selwyn Pullan, an architectural photographer who documented all the local greats of West Coast modernism.

Pullan did two photo shoots of Erickson at his home, in 1966 and 1972. So they blew images up that capture the simple elegance and quirks of the Point Grey home.

“They show a different side of Arthur,” said Letwin. “We are accustomed to seeing Arthur through the lens of his projects, either public or private, these really important moments historical moments of design.

“You look at these photos, especially at this grand scale, 42-by-42 (inches), and you see all the dings in the furniture. I don’t think this is the interior that a lot of people associate with the public persona of Arthur.

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“For us it’s all about getting to the man, through the place that he lived, and the things that he chose to surround himself with.”

One of the photos shows his living room, which was simplicity itself, a low sofa, low coffee table, fireplace bookshelves and an abstract painting by his friend Gordon Smith on the wall.

So they reproduced the living room for the show, albeit in white instead of the orange and red coverings found in the real deal.

“We thought we needed to neutralize the primary industrial design components, just so we could put focus on what did he surround himself with,” said Cuddington.

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Arthur Erickson decorated his kitchen ceiling with panels of cedar shavings in Fibreglass. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

On a wall, they added one of the home most’s unusual touches, what looks like a series of bubbles used in panels in his kitchen ceiling.

“They’re a series of wood shavings,” explains Cuddington. “Western red cedar curls off of a planer between two layers of Fibreglass.”

There’s also a Buddha head that was displayed prominently in the home, as well as an Inuit carving on whale vertebrae and one of Erickson’s notebooks from when he was a student in 1946.

He didn’t have lot of stuff in his home, but it was impeccably curated.

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“He didn’t live in this shining palace of modernism, he lived in a converted garage, with a really impressive garden he designed himself,” said Letwin. “It’s a very different side of Arthur we’re not always accustomed to seeing and hearing about.”

“This was the reprieve from the public life that he needed in order to nourish himself, learn and to have a sanctuary,” said Cuddington.

The exhibition runs from May 15 to July 20 at the West Vancouver Art Museum, 680 17th St.

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The reproduced living room. The Gordon Smith abstract painting is the real deal. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
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Erickson’s own book collection is on the shelves. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
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A Selwyn Pullan photo of Erickson in his living room, with the reproduced living room in the background. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
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Selwyn Pullan photo of Arthur Erickson in the living room of his modest Point Grey home, 1972. Courtesy West Vancouver Art Museum. Photo by Selwyn Pullan /sun
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Selwyn Pullan photo of Arthur Erickson in the kitchen of his modest Point Grey home, 1972. Courtesy West Vancouver Art Museum. Photo by Selwyn Pullan /sun

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