VANCOUVER — Last month Jennifer Yuhasz, an archivist with the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, sat down to transcribe one of the 350-plus oral history interviews in the archival collection that still need to be transcribed.
She heard Irene Dodek conduct an interview with Marjorie Groberman and Bea Goldberg, discussing in detail how they had helped found the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s first Hadassah Bazaar in 1952. Dodek had done the interview in 2007, but it wouldn’t be easily accessible until its transcription was complete.
Groberman mentioned, in passing, the name of an artist who had helped the bazaar founders by creating advertising mock-ups for the event. His name? Jack Shadbolt, a prolific artist who would later become one of Canada’s most influential and best-known painters.
“We had a terrific artist working for us, Jack Shadbolt, [who] did two books of commercial space for us,” Groberman says in the interview. The books were large and bound with green covers, but, she lamented, she had thrown them out when she moved out of her house in 1967.
Yuhasz filed the information in the back of her mind. But just last week, while searching for something else in the archives, she noticed a large, poster-size book in the oversize files section. Its cover was green, and it contained six 17-by-22-inch advertisement mock-ups done in watercolour. The paintings referenced the inaugural Hadassah Bazaar and Exposition of 1952, with a layout of all the stalls. One was a sketch of a group of women, stylishly dressed, while another demonstrates how you might set up a stall at the bazaar. A third watercolour contains two sketches of a kitchen.
“I knew right away it was what I had listened to in the interview,” Yuhasz says. “I was so excited that one of those books had been preserved and had made it into our collection, and also that I was able to use one of our interviews to identify a piece in the archives. If we hadn’t had that interview done, we might never have been able to identify those watercolours as being by Jack Shadbolt because they’re not signed.”
Yuhasz tried to reach Groberman right away, to confirm that the watercolours she had found were indeed by Shadbolt. Unfortunately, she missed her by mere days. Groberman died on Oct. 30 at the age of 92. But Goldberg verified that the six paintings were Shadbolt’s, and that he had volunteered to help the bazaar founders through his artwork.
“I have an archive appraiser, Stephen Lunsford, with the National Appraisal Board, who will be coming to the museum in the next couple of weeks to determine if the sketches are by Shadbolt, for insurance purposes,” she says.
Assuming they are, those sketches would be quite valuable according to Robert Heffel of Vancouver’s Heffel Gallery. Heffel said the gallery had sold one of Shadbolt’s watercolours at a 2009 auction for $38,000.
Selling the paintings is definitely not an option, Yuhasz confided. “The museum owns the paintings as part of the Hadassah-Wizo collection, and as a rule, archives and museums don’t sell any of their material,” she said. “People donate the material for archive and preservation, and we’re the stewards of it. Selling it would be unethical.”
Since finding the paintings, Yuhasz has fielded many calls, both from interested buyers and Jewish community members concerned that the items might be sold. “I’ve been emphasizing that this is a treasure that we have, and one we will process and make available to researchers,” she says. “We’ll be getting the appraisal so we can insure the paintings properly.”
To listen to an audio excerpt from this interview, visit www.jewishmuseum.ca/node/5638.