Folk Art Dioramas
The Basin Head Fisheries Museum, Prince Edward Island
Working at the Manitoba Museum, I have been fortunate to work with some superb artists, and to observe them closely as they prepare dioramas and other artistic exhibit materials. I recognize that dioramas such as ours require extremely advanced artistic skills combined with thousands of hours of research, preparation, and execution.
Those of us who develop exhibits of course tend to view the work shown at other institutions with a critical eye. Some dioramas in other museums are not really quite “there,” while others, such as those at the American Museum of Natural History have justly earned their reputation as lasting pieces of art.
Knowing what it takes to produce professional dioramas, I am often surprised and sometimes impressed by the work of those who leap into it from the other end of the artistic spectrum: the self-trained artists who are determined to produce three-dimensional representations of life. As these mini-dioramas from the Basin Head Fisheries Museum show, such work can be beautiful, charming, and artistically successful.
These dioramas succeed, not in spite of their blithe disregard for some of the standard rules of diorama composition, but perhaps because of this disregard. They substitute exuberance for the laws of perspective and first-hand knowledge for detailed academic research; a desire to represent every aspect of coastal life overwhelms any attempts to trim or edit. In each detail they demonstrate their maker’s love for and understanding of the subject being presented.
These dioramas are really works of folk art, three-dimensional equivalents to the paintings of Maud Lewis or Grandma Moses. In some instances they depict aspects of life gone by, in other places they show life on the land and sea as it still is. In each case they pull few punches: seals are slaughtered with axes, schooners are sunk, and fishermen relax by … going fishing, of course!