Canadian Museum of History announces major bequest of Inuit art from the late Dr. Margaret Hess

February 5, 2019


For immediate release

Gatineau, Quebec, February 5, 2019 — The Canadian Museum of History is delighted to announce the generous gift of almost a thousand works of Inuit art from the estate of Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess. Dr. Hess, a well-known art lover and adventurous spirit from Alberta, travelled extensively across Canada’s North, assembling this visually rich and historically important collection of sculptures, prints and more.

“We are honoured and thankful that Dr. Hess chose to bequeath a portion of her remarkable collection of Inuit art to the Canadian Museum of History, who will cherish this legacy for generations to come,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History. “She was a great supporter of Canadian culture and a champion of Indigenous artists. Her commitment to the North and to its people resulted in a collection of exceptional breadth and quality that we look forward to sharing with new audiences.”

Dr. Hess was an internationally recognized art historian and lecturer, business person, rancher and philanthropist. Born in Calgary in 1916, she studied in Toronto in the mid-1930s. There, she befriended members of the Group of Seven, who spurred her lifelong passion for art and the Canadian wilderness. Her interest in Indigenous peoples and her pioneering spirit led her to the North, where she developed close relationships with Inuit artists and often bought works directly from them. In 1970, she opened Calgary Galleries Ltd., an early venue to promote Indigenous art.

This major gift from the estate of Dr. Hess features more than 750 contemporary sculptures, 120 artworks on paper and 25 examples of historical material collected from approximately 30 northern communities — including influential artistic centres such as Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake) and Inujjuaq (Inujjuaq/Port Harrison), as well as Talurjuaq (Taloyoak/Spence Bay), Naujaat (Repulse Bay) and Kugluktuk (Coppermine). The works, in a variety of materials and styles, strengthen the Museum’s existing collections while offering new perspectives on Inuit Nunagat through the eyes of important first- and second-generation Inuit artists from the 1950s to the 1980s. Dr. Hess kept meticulous records that will allow scholars to study Inuit artistic trends across region, gender and time.

Dr. Hess was an Officer of the Order of Canada, a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence, and a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. In 1988, the Government of Canada recognized her contributions by naming the archaeological site on Ekkalluk River the Hess Site.

Other institutions received major gifts from the Hess estate, including the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, which received a thousands of works by Canadian artists such as Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and Alex Janvier, and the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, which received an extraordinary collection of West Coast art, including early works by Haida artist Bill Reid.

This gift to the Canadian Museum of History is in addition to previous contributions from Ms. Hess. She provided financial support to the Mercury book series, donated two sculptures by artists from the Puvirnituq community, and commissioned Robert Davidson’s gold-on-bronze sculpture, Raven Bringing Light to the World, which is on display in the Museum’s Grand Hall.

The Canadian Museum of History is planning a travelling exhibition in the coming years that will showcase works of Inuit art from the Hess collection.

Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of History attracts over 1.2 million visitors each year. The Museum’s principal role is to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the events, experiences, people and objects that have shaped Canada’s history and identity, as well as to enhance Canadians’ awareness of world history and culture. Work of the Canadian Museum of History is made possible in part through financial support of the Government of Canada.


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