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Allen Sapp Gallery

About the Allen Sapp Gallery:

Historic Allen Sapp Gallery Building

The Andrew Carnegie Library becomes the Allen Sapp Gallery, The Gonor Collection.

In the middle part of the 19th century, young Scotsman only thirteen years of age immigrated to America. As a weaver's assistant in a cotton mill, he earned a salary of $1.25 per week. At that time, the town of North Battleford, Saskatchewan did not even exist, and it seemed remote that he would have any impact on its future, let alone have an impact on the entire English-speaking world. This young man later became an extremely wealthy industrialist making his fortune in steel manufacturing, and among others, the City of North Battleford benefited from his success. He became known to the world as the great industrialist-turned-philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. The main reason for his far-reaching fame was his contribution of $56,162,622.00 world wide for the construction of public libraries. These grants were available from the Carnegie foundation between 1866 and 1917.It was one year before the termination of this grant program that the town of North Battleford applied for and received a grant that covered the cost of building its first public library. As with all the Carnegie Libraries, the plans were submitted to the foundation and a well-designed, dignified structure was approved for construction. The entire construction was paid for by the Carnegie foundation with only two conditions withstanding: City council provides the site for the building, and at least $1,500.00 annually be provided from tax revenue to maintain a free public library.

With the details in place, the North Battleford Public Library was constructed in 1916, and went on to serve the City faithfully for nearly seventy years, with very few changes to its original structure. It became a haven for those interested in the world of books and knowledge, and was available to rich and poor alike. It was Carnegie's intention that libraries should be available to everyone, as he himself came from a poor family and had little opportunity to pursue a formal education. It was only through a private collection of books made available to him that Carnegie has the opportunity to become studied. This experience resulted in the desire to provide that same service for others throughout the world.

The North Battleford Carnegie Library remained the City's only public library up until 1985. The City had long outgrown the library's capacity to serve in both its volume of books and in its demand. In fact, as far back as 1940 the City had proposed the construction of a new library building, approximately across the street. This never materialized, and it was over forty years later that the move finally took place.

Upon the construction of the new library, the debate as to what should be done with the Carnegie Library began. It quickly became apparent that the best use of this Heritage building was to turn it into a Gallery to house the art of the famed Cree painter Allen Sapp, a long-time resident of the city. The collection that the gallery was to house was that of Dr. Allan Gonor, the man responsible for Sapp's rise to fame. The final arrangements for the creation of this gallery were complicated by the untimely death of Dr. Gonor in 1985, and it was only through the dedication and cooperation of Mrs. Gonor that the gallery became a reality.

It was 1987 before the details were worked out, and 1988 before construction began. The intention from the onset was to create a totally modern gallery space, while at the same time preserving the historic architectural integrity of the building. This was not an easy task, as it required a balance between integrating recommendations by the Canadian Conservation Institute, making it wheel-chair accessible, ensuring acceptable light levels, and not disturbing the antique quality of the structure while fully modernizing every aspect of the building - all this while trying to keep within the $650,000.00 budget.

The result was to approach the renovation by gutting the entire building, leaving only the brick shell and the original, unique entrance. Stairway and elevator shafts were added at the building's rear by creating a modest extension that matched the old brick and awning styles. The interior gallery space was divided into three basic areas: exhibit space, vaults, and office reception area. The first two required state of the art environment controls to ensure stable and consistent levels of heating/cooling, humidity and lighting, all controlled by computer. Accommodations were made for the incorporation of large screen A/V presentations right into the exhibit space. As well, a sunken track lighting system was installed for safe but high impact lighting of the art.

Finally, the exhibit area was left open and spacious, painted in soft pastel colours creating a warm modern feel, yet compatible with the traditional architecture of the building. Large screen slide and video presentations were an important aspect of the gallery's interpretive capacity, and so large screens and sound systems were incorporated into the design of the building. The result was a building that is effective in every aspect.

The delicate marriage of old and new was done tastefully and convincingly. It is an example of how our heritage can be preserved without compromising in any way out future needs.

The North Battleford Carnegie Library-turned-Gallery is a heritage within a heritage. Although it is dramatically different in its content and internal structure, it somehow remains fundamentally the same. Its basic structure is almost exactly what it was originally designed to be, and its contents, although not books, is the language of art communicating to the world the beauty and richness of the Cree people by one of their own - a man who himself was never able to read or write.

By D. G. Bauche

Past Curator of the Allen Sapp Gallery.