Over time, some idealistic landscape images become central to a culture’s definition of itself. These archetypal icons are so ingrained in national identity that successive generations accept them and their cultural importance without question.

During the twentieth century, changes in social, political, and economic spheres have altered North American worldviews. As a result, interpretation of some iconic landscapes has shifted. For example, a place that was considered a natural wonder a century ago may now be considered a tourist trap - two very different interpretations. These landscapes remain loaded with meaning, except the meaning has changed. What was once a serious cultural icon may be transformed by shifting social values into a cultural stereotype.
Over time, some idealistic landscape images become central to a culture’s definition of itself. These archetypal icons are so ingrained in national identity that successive generations accept them and their cultural importance without question.

During the twentieth century, changes in social, political, and economic spheres have altered North American worldviews. As a result, interpretation of some iconic landscapes has shifted. For example, a place that was considered a natural wonder a century ago may now be considered a tourist trap - two very different interpretations. These landscapes remain loaded with meaning, except the meaning has changed. What was once a serious cultural icon may be transformed by shifting social values into a cultural stereotype.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Inukshuk

Inukshuk

Manasie Akpaliapik (1955 - )
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Acquired with funds donated in memory of Ian Phillips
1989
CANADA
stone
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


The inukshuk is a striking stone landmark that has been built on the Canadian tundra since prehistoric times. The Inuktitut word “inukshuk” translates as "something resembling a person," and the shapes roughly imitate a human form, standing or crouching. The functions of “inuksuit” (plural) are numerous -- to signal trails, caribou crossings, migration routes, campsites, food caches or grave sites. Today, they have become an iconic cultural symbol of the Canadian Arctic and its indigenous people, the Inuit.
The inukshuk is a striking stone landmark that has been built on the Canadian tundra since prehistoric times. The Inuktitut word “inukshuk” translates as "something resembling a person," and the shapes roughly imitate a human form, standing or crouching. The functions of “inuksuit” (plural) are numerous -- to signal trails, caribou crossings, migration routes, campsites, food caches or grave sites. Today, they have become an iconic cultural symbol of the Canadian Arctic and its indigenous people, the Inuit.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Anywhere, Saskatchewan

Anywhere, Saskatchewan

Gail Perks (? - ?)
Canadian Museum of Civilization
1989
CANADA
tole, fabric
14.50 X 16.00 X 1.00 cm
© Canadian Museum of Civilization


In many Canadian prairie towns, the most prominent feature of the landscape is the grain elevator. Often painted barn-red and rising 23 meters or more, thousands of grain elevators have graced Prairie railway sidings since 1881. They “elevate” grain in buckets on a continuous belt to upper level bins to be cleaned and stored before being funneled into trains bound for central terminals. Since most structures sport the name of a local wheat pool, the grain elevator has come to symbolize not only the Prairies, but the Prairie co-operative movement that has helped shape the political and social development of all Canada.
In many Canadian prairie towns, the most prominent feature of the landscape is the grain elevator. Often painted barn-red and rising 23 meters or more, thousands of grain elevators have graced Prairie railway sidings since 1881. They “elevate” grain in buckets on a continuous belt to upper level bins to be cleaned and stored before being funneled into trains bound for central terminals. Since most structures sport the name of a local wheat pool, the grain elevator has come to symbolize not only the Prairies, but the Prairie co-operative movement that has helped shape the political and social development of all Canada.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Buffalo

Buffalo

Frederick A. Verner (1836 - 1928)
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Mrs. J.Y. Reid, in memory of Col. John Young Reid, former President, The Winnipeg Art Gallery
1910
CANADA
oil on canvas
41.10 X 61.60 cm
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


Dried buffalo meat called pemmican was critical to the expansion and success of the fur trade in Canada, enabling traders to travel further into the interior in search of pelts. As competition between rival fur-trading companies grew, control of this valuable commodity became essential. For centuries buffalo, or bison, had been a staple for Aboriginal people, providing food, clothing, shelter and fuel. However, European traders paid little attention to conserving the once-abundant buffalo population and by the mid-19th century the majestic animals were all but obliterated from the Prairie landscape. Today the bison stands as an iconic symbol of Prairie history.
Dried buffalo meat called pemmican was critical to the expansion and success of the fur trade in Canada, enabling traders to travel further into the interior in search of pelts. As competition between rival fur-trading companies grew, control of this valuable commodity became essential. For centuries buffalo, or bison, had been a staple for Aboriginal people, providing food, clothing, shelter and fuel. However, European traders paid little attention to conserving the once-abundant buffalo population and by the mid-19th century the majestic animals were all but obliterated from the Prairie landscape. Today the bison stands as an iconic symbol of Prairie history.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Unknown
Canadian Museum of Civilization
Date ?
CANADA
oil on canvas
© Canadian Museum of Civilization


Canada has no constructed icons which, like Egypt’s pyramids or France’s Eiffel Tower, represent it to the world. However, there are natural phenomena that serve almost as pilgrimage destinations for visitors to Canada. Perhaps the best known is Niagara Falls. Though long a symbol of nature’s power, Niagara Falls is also an example of popular culture’s tendancy to trivialize a potent icon—here, into a corporate symbol, a daredevil site, and the embodiment of cheap hucksterism. But thousands of tourists yearly relearn the reverence of Amerindian peoples and the astonishment of explorers in the presence of one of North America’s glories and a wonder of the earth.
Canada has no constructed icons which, like Egypt’s pyramids or France’s Eiffel Tower, represent it to the world. However, there are natural phenomena that serve almost as pilgrimage destinations for visitors to Canada. Perhaps the best known is Niagara Falls. Though long a symbol of nature’s power, Niagara Falls is also an example of popular culture’s tendancy to trivialize a potent icon—here, into a corporate symbol, a daredevil site, and the embodiment of cheap hucksterism. But thousands of tourists yearly relearn the reverence of Amerindian peoples and the astonishment of explorers in the presence of one of North America’s glories and a wonder of the earth.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Camping at Waterton, Alberta, July 15, 1985

Camping at Waterton, Alberta, July 15, 1985

Don Hall (1952 - )
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Acquired with the J. Elmer Woods Fund
1985
CANADA
silver print on paper
27.80 X 35.30 cm
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


The definition of the “great outdoors” continually changes as parks and campgrounds make wilderness landscapes increasingly accessible. The mythic “call of the wild” or desire to “get away” is contrasted with the well-maintained highways, improved technology and RVs that have made camping an easy and comfortable experience. This photograph was taken in Waterton Lakes, a popular national park located in southern Alberta. The artist captures the tension between landscape and culture in his juxtaposition of the comforts of home – a food-laden picnic table and car – with the raw beauty of nature.
The definition of the “great outdoors” continually changes as parks and campgrounds make wilderness landscapes increasingly accessible. The mythic “call of the wild” or desire to “get away” is contrasted with the well-maintained highways, improved technology and RVs that have made camping an easy and comfortable experience. This photograph was taken in Waterton Lakes, a popular national park located in southern Alberta. The artist captures the tension between landscape and culture in his juxtaposition of the comforts of home – a food-laden picnic table and car – with the raw beauty of nature.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Be conscious of the emotional impact that is caused and shaped by a work of art
  • Give examples of iconic landscapes from North American nations
  • Describe how the meaning of iconic landscapes has changed over time through examples
  • Be aware of the commonality of themes in landscape art among the three North American countries

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