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From Field to Studio: The art of Paul Kane - page 32 / 36





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PKI Teaching Guide

Page 32 of 36

This section presents the views of artist Jane Ash Poitras who is skeptical about Paul Kane’ artist motivations and is concerned about how the legacy of his romantic portrayal of First Nations and Métis people might influence perceptions today.

12a. - Video - Discovery of Field Notes

This video goes into detail about the significance of Paul Kane’s field notes and their discovery in the 1980’s by professor Ian MacLaren. MacLaren raised important questions about the content of the published book Wanderings of an Artist which he believes was ghost written.


  • historical documentation and historical understanding

  • primary and secondary sources

Learning Objectives:

  • understand that published writings become historical records that are often created

from a specific cultural or individual perspective

  • understand the importance of differentiating between primary and secondary sources

  • understand the importance of obtaining various and differing perspectives from many

people involved in historical events.

Video Script: Discovery of Field Notes (R/T: 1:35)

For well over 100 hundred years Paul Kane’s published book was the only record of his travels available to readers. Written in the style of the popular gentleman traveller, it has prompted some to question whether Kane actually wrote the book or whether it was ghostwritten.

Part of this skepticism is due to reconsideration in the 1980s of Paul Kane’s field notes. They were found among a collection of field sketches sold in 1957 by one of Paul Kane’s grandchildren to Lutcher Stark of Orange, Texas.

Professor Ian MacLaren uncovered the notes while researching Paul Kane at Lutcher Stark’s museum and in 1989 edited some of them for The American Art Journal. Kane’s own field writings open a new window on which to view Paul Kane.

Written in pencil, often with spelling and grammatical errors, the field notes capture the bare reality of the world Kane was witnessing as he travelled across the continent. They comprise Kane’s immediate and initial observations and responses to the people and places he encountered.

The field notes also provide an apt comparison between the wilderness and studio personas of Paul Kane – what Jane Ash Poitras refers to as the “truth” and the “lie.”

In the first comparison there are only subtle differences between the field writings and Kane’s published book. However, a later entry in Wanderings paints a highly embellished view of chief Kee-a- kee-ka-sa-coo-way.

From Field to Studio: The art of Paul Kane

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