Update: March 24, 2017
This post was originally part of the one about Beatrice Lennie’s lost art at the Hotel Vancouver. I have created this new post for two reasons: (1) the Lennie post was too lengthy and the principal connection with the material below was that both posts pertain to the same site: the Hotel Vancouver. (2) Since publishing my original findings about 10 days ago, I’ve learned things that have caused me to re-think my conclusions.
The image above is from the City of Vancouver Archives (CVA) online collection. It shows Bill Morall, Chair of the Vanc0uver Board of Trade, speaking at a function held at the Hotel Vancouver (judging from the “HV” on the lectern). He is standing in front of what appears to be a piece of sculptural relief that is somewhat obscured by flags. The subjects of the relief appear to be indigenous, fruit-bearing women.
Who was the artist who created the ‘indigenous women’?
At first, I wondered if it might have been one of Bea Lennie’s. We know that she was commissioned by the Hotel Vancouver architect in 1932 to create much of the art work in the building (including some mouldings and fireplace features). But it seems improbable to me that Lennie would create a piece as large as this one without mention being made at the time it was created or subsequently. ‘Indigenous women’ has not been visible in the hotel for decades, and Lennie never mentioned any of her art being ‘lost’ or ‘boarded up’ except for Ascension.
I was helped by a comment on an earlier version of this post from Ron. He directed me to a link at the Vancouver Sun which displayed the same artwork (unobscured by flags):
The Sun claimed that the artist was Valentin Shabaeff, who is best known today for specializing in ceramic art. This doesn’t look much like ceramic work to me. And it probably wasn’t; I’m guessing it’s a metal relief, of some sort. The Ottawa Journal, in a March 23, 1957 profile, mentioned that Shabaeff went to Vancouver (from his home in Montreal) where he “did murals and bronze relief figures for the CNR’s Hotel Vancouver, in preparation for the  Royal visit.” According to the article, he didn’t seriously take up ceramic art – which became his specialty – until the late 1940s. It seems to me likely that Shabaeff was the artist who created the ‘indigenous women’ relief.¹
But I do have questions around the location of the piece within the Hotel. The Sun claims that it was installed in the “cafe of the Golden Inn, royal suite”. This means nothing to me. I cannot find mention of any such room in any Hotel Vancouver publication I’ve looked at.
CVA, on two occasions, refers to the room in which they believe a photo which includes the artwork was made. In both of these instances, the room they identified was the “Mayfair Room”. I asked a Hotel Vancouver concierge whether a room with this name is extant today. Nope.
But there was such a Mayfair Room in the Hotel’s early years. In fact, I’ve found references to a Mayfair Room at the Hotel Vancouver from the early 1940s until as late as the early ’50s (and reference to a “Mayfair Lounge” dating from 1959). The Mayfair Room was regularly used during the 1940s by the Vancouver Medical Association as what we’d probably refer to today as “breakout” or seminar rooms. It was also used by at least one UBC sorority for its “spring formal” in 1951. ²
To me, the most convincing evidence of the existence of the Mayfair Room in the Hotel’s early years and the likelihood of that being the location of ‘indigenous women’ – is in a Hotel Vancouver document from UBC’s Chung Collection.The wood panelling which flanks the rather nondescript painting shown in the brochure seems to me to resemble that which is on either side of ‘indigenous women’. The photo seems to have been made at about the time the Hotel opened (ca 1939-40). Presumably, sometime between that time and the first appearance of ‘indigenous women’ in a photograph – in 1942 – the room had a major makeover; the fixed lounge seating was removed (presumably, to make room for longish tables at which Board of Traders and others could munch on lunch), the open ceiling was filled in, and the nondescript painting was replaced with the relief produced by Valentin Shabaeff.
Shabaeff’s ‘indigenous women’ was likely in the Hotel Vancouver from ca1942 until sometime in the 1950s or ’60s. Whether it was sold to a private collector, destroyed, or was simply walled up, a-la Lennie’s Ascension, seems to be unknown today.
¹I haven’t been able to track down what (if anything) Shabaeff called his relief, however. In this post, therefore, I’ll refer to it as ‘indigenous women’.
²Where the Mayfair Room was within the Hotel (even which floor it was on) remains, to me, a mystery.