The Nickerson Collection of Children's Art
The Nickerson Collection of the Canadian Children's Museum contains 1,665 works of art from approximately 50 countries across North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Created by children ages 3 to 19, these works include everything from portraits to landscapes, cultural celebrations to festivals, and everyday life to pure fantasy.
Approximately 60 variations on typical media were used to create these works of art – tempera paint, oil pastel, ink, pencil, crayon wash, chalk, charcoal, dye, felt pen, acrylic paint, oil paint, watercolours, wax crayon, sand, paper – as were several techniques, including linocut, printing, engraving, woodblock and ink, along with painting and drawing. The collection also contains photographs showing children producing art, either at play or in school.
All of these works of art come from a collection assembled by Betty Nickerson in the 1960s. Nickerson had started her collection of children's drawings as part of a television series for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The National Museum of Man (today's Canadian Museum of Civilization) acquired a significant portion of the collection in 1987, which was later transferred to the collection of the Canadian Children's Museum.
Betty Nickerson was born in Kansas in 1922. She grew up in Oregon, and attended Oregon State University at Corvallis, as well as the University of Utah, from which she obtained a B.A. in Sociology. In the early 1960s, she came to Canada, earning a Master's degree in Sociology and Agriculture from the University of Manitoba, followed by Ph.D. studies in Interdisciplinary Communications at McGill University in Montreal.
Nickerson has published several books on children's art and children's issues. She has also produced films and exhibitions of children's art across Canada and internationally, and has worked in radio and television broadcasting. Betty Nickerson is the founder and National Coordinator of All About Us Canada Foundation/Nous autres inc.: a not-for-profit cultural foundation promoting creativity among young Canadians. She has received prestigious awards from a number of countries, including a Canada Council Explorations Grant and a British Council Fellowship. Nickerson has also travelled extensively, particularly to countries represented in some of the art she has collected.
Through her travels and her work with children's art, Nickerson has discovered that children paint from life: their subjects are "alive with bright color, full of action, movement and people."1 Perhaps this approach to painting and drawing explains why, wherever these works of art have been displayed, children have immediately identified, through art, with their contemporaries from other cultures.
"There is magic in a child's paintbrush. It can move across a surface making sun shine, flowers bloom, flags wave, and leave behind people dancing in the streets."2
Children are explorers with a need to make sense of their world, and art is an effective way for them to explain things, explore feelings and ideas, and communicate with others. Art provides a window on the world and can transcend boundaries.
Children's art ensures that viewers see a child's firsthand interpretation of the world around them, whether that involves activities that go on around them on a daily basis – people going to work or to market – or the joyous moments that make childhood so special, such as birthdays, holidays and playing with friends.
It is also a way for children to express how they see themselves – some of the most touching works in the collection are self-portraits.
"Each painting is as unique as the child who made it, and as charming."3
The works of art in the Nickerson Collection provide some information on traditions and customs; they illustrate how these events are similar and different from each other, and enable viewers to sense the importance of celebrating cultures from around the world.
Art and art materials have a role to play in childhood development. It is believed that young children should have many opportunities to engage in various forms of art-related activities, because such activities enable them to explore materials and tools, to develop means of self-expression, to learn skills (prior to literacy), and to discover ways of representing the way they feel, their experiences, and the world around them.4
1 Nickerson, Betty, Celebrate the Sun
(Toronto/Montreal: McClelland & Stewart Limited, 1969), p. VII.