The Ukrainian Association of Visual Artists of Canada (USOM) was founded in 1955 – 1956 by the arts activists Mykhailo Dmytrenko, Bohdan Stebelsky and Ivan Keywan with the support of other like-minded artists.
The Association has included such notable members as Mykhailo Dmytrenko, Bohdan Stebelsky, Ivan Keywan, William Kurelek, Leo Mol, Myron Levytsky and Mykola Bidniak. Among the senior members, who continue to work actively, are the well-known artists Andrij Babytsch, Halyna Novakiwsky, Irena Moroz, Irene Nosyk, Lydia Palij, Maria Styranka and others. Currently, USOM’s membership numbers around 50 artists representing several generations.
For over half a century, USOM has been an actively functioning organization in Canada. The Association’s goals are to unite professional artists of Ukrainian descent and to promote their work, to be active in the development of Ukrainian art in Canada, to organize group and solo exhibitions, to organize art-related evenings and events, and to publish exhibition catalogues and other works about art.
During its existence, USOM and its individual members have presented and continue to present artwork in a wide creative range at Canadian and international exhibitions and competitions where they have received recognition and awards for their mastery and exploration of cutting edge directions and themes – which allow the artist to attain full self-expression, diversity in artistic orientation and innovative ideas.
USOM is also an active participant in the cultural life of Canada’s Ukrainian community. The Association continually organizes or participates in exhibitions and auctions which benefit nursery schools, day schools, churches, organizations, and charities such as Children of Chornobyl and Aid to Ukraine. USOM members frequently donate their artwork for these causes.
The artists of USOM work in the areas of painting, sculpture, graphics, iconography, mosaics, and monumental art. Their artworks depict a variety of subjects: the history of Ukraine and her people’s struggle for freedom and independence, traditions, everyday life, portraits, landscape, still life and contemporary themes.
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ON THEIR SIXTIETH ANNIVERSARY
Daria Zelska Darewych, Ph.D.
USOM member since 1961
In 2016 Ukrainians in Canada are celebrating the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement. 2016 is also the year marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Association of Visual Artists of Canada (USOM).2 For six decades USOM has united visual artists of Ukrainian heritage in Canada. It is the only organization of Ukrainian Canadian artists which has survived for so long and has continued to flourish.
This is not surprising considering that Ukrainian visual artists have a long- standing tradition of creating their own organizations whose aims have been to organize exhibitions and to promote the development of Ukrainian art. For example, at the beginning of the 20th century in Kyiv, which was then under the rule of czarist Russia, artists, Petro Kholodnyi and Vasyl Krychevsky, together with Mykhailo Biliashivsky, an art historian, and Oleksander Oles, a poet, started the Organization of Ukrainian Plastic Artists with a focus on exhibitions. In Lviv, in Western Ukraine, which was part of the Austrian Empire, the artist Ivan Trush with assistance from Mykhailo Hrushevsky, the famous historian, initiated the creation of the Society for the Development of Ruthenian Art (Tovarystvo dlia rozvoiu ruskoii shtuky) in 1898. In 1904 the Society of Friends of Ukrainian Literature, Learning, and Art was organized in Lviv. The Group of Advocates of Ukrainian Art was active in Lviv between 1922 and 1926 when Western Ukraine was under Polish rule. Later the Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists (ANUM) brought together modern Ukrainian artists from Western Ukraine and Europe, organized international and local exhibitions and published magazines, catalogues, and books (1931-1939). Spokii (1927-1938) brought together young Ukrainian art students who were studying in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, while Zarevo (1933-1936) did likewise in Cracow. All of these groups organized exhibitions and played a key role in creating a Ukrainian artistic milieu. Due to a very difficult political and socio-economic situation at the time none of these independent groups had an opportunity to survive for a long time.
With the advance of Soviet forces into Western Ukraine near the end of the Second World War many artists, afraid for their lives, left their homeland and found themselves in Western Europe. The first Convention of Displaced Ukrainian Artists took place in January 28, 1947 in Munich, Germany. The Association of Ukrainian Visual Artists was created with the aim of bringing together artists, organizing exhibitions, and promoting Ukrainian art. Soon after, Ukrainian artists began their emigration overseas. In 1952 in the United States of America the new arrivals organized the Ukrainian Artists Association in USA (Obiednannia mysttsiv ukraiintsiv v Amerytsi, OMUA).
Not surprisingly those visual artists who immigrated to Canada in the late forties and early fifties together with other professionals in the arts founded the Ukrainian Literary and Art Club in Toronto in 1952. The Visual Arts Section of this Club chaired by Mychajlo Dmytrenko was very active.3 After a very successful international gathering at the First Convention of Ukrainian Artists and Writers in 1954 in Toronto, the visual artists created their own organization under the name of the Association of Ukrainian Visual Artists (Spilka Ukraiinskykh Obrazotvorchykh Mysttsiv) known as USOM. According to Mychajlo Dmytrenko this happened at the end of 1955.4 In the catalogue of the Exhibition by Young Ukrainian Artists in Toronto,5 which took place in December 1955 under the sponsorship of the Visual Artists Section of the Ukrainian Literary and Art Club, the chair of the Section, Mychajlo Dmytrenko wrote:
On the threshold of the revitalization of the continued activity of the Association of Ukrainian Visual Artists it is imperative to review the work of the younger generation. With this in mind the Visual Artists Section of the Ukrainian Literary and Art Club in Toronto has organized the Exhibition by Young Ukrainian Artists. These young artists have recently graduated form Canadian art schools and are ready to join the ranks of older artists in their efforts to maintain the high standards of Ukrainian visual art culture.6
In order to understand why Dmytrenko refers to “the continued activity” one needs to remember the existence of the Association of Ukrainian Visual Artists in Germany in the late forties, the same name that was chosen for the new organization in Canada. The Association organized in Germany had ceased to exist when most artists emigrated and some of them like Mychajlo Dmytrenko, Bohdan Stebelsky, and Ivan Keywan settled in Canada.
Not surprisingly Mychajlo Dmytrenko, Bohdan Stebelsky, and Ivan Keywan became the founders of the new Association of Ukrainian Visual Artists in Canada.7 Dmytrenko was elected as first president. The aims of the Association were to expand activities and bring together all professional Ukrainian artists in Canada, to promote the development of Ukrainian art, to organize group and solo exhibitions and events, and to publish catalogues and books on Ukrainian art. These aims have remained unchanged throughout the fifty years.8
In the 1950s and 1960s, the membership of the Association of Ukrainian Artists of Canada (USOM) included artists from Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Windsor, St. Catharines, and Montreal. There was a plan to establish branches of the Association in Montreal and Edmonton, but in the end only the Edmonton Branch came into existence in 1957 as a result of efforts by Ivan Keywan. Julian Krajkiwsky was elected president of the Edmonton Branch, but he resigned soon after, and Julian Bucmaniuk took over as chair. Eventually the Edmonton Branch evolved into Spilka Ukraiinskykh Obrazotvorchykh Mysttsiv Alberty (Alberta Association of Ukrainian Visual Artists). After organizing six exhibitions, the Alberta Association ceased all activities in 1965.9
From its inception USOM membership included artists of various ages and from all branches of the fine arts. At first, members were professional artists who had obtained their art training in Europe. Soon they were joined by younger members who had studied at Canadian art establishments. In the 1960s William Kurelek, the popular Canadian artist of Ukrainian descent, took part in all USOM exhibitions, but he was the exception, being the only Canadian-born member at the time.10
In the beginning USOM exhibitions took place quite regularly and included members from across Canada. Eventually only members from Toronto participated and this situation has remained unchanged with a few exceptions. Recent efforts to encourage artists from across Canada have been successful only partly..
The first USOM exhibition titled Exhibition of Ukrainian Art was held in 1957 and featured the work of eighteen artists from Toronto, St. Catharines, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Edmonton.11 All artists who participated had immigrated to Canada after the Second World War. When the Second USOM Exhibition opened in 1959 in Toronto, the number of artists had grown to 24. This exhibition was dedicated to “The 300th Anniversary of Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky’s Victory over the Russians at Konotop and to the 250th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Sovereignty by Hetman Ivan Mazepa, a Great Ukrainian Nation Builder and Art Patron”. In the catalogue, Bohdan Stebelsky wrote that it was his fate “to consolidate the organizational alliance of Ukrainian artists working in various visual art fields in various cities in Canada. Presently USOM has 34 members in six Canadian cities. In Toronto alone it has 20 members.”12
The year 1960 was a productive one in terms of exhibitions. The Third USOM Exhibition took place in Toronto in April 1960 with 23 artists participating. It was held prior to the large international Exhibition of Ukrainian Art at Wayne State University in Detroit in which many members of USOM took part.13 The First Autumn Exhibition was also held in 1960 at the Prosvita House in Toronto.14
The exhibition in 1961, with 20 participants, was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the death of Taras Shevchenko, the greatest Ukrainian poet. Participating members of these early exhibitions included such well known artists in the Ukrainian community as Kateryna Antonovych, Julian Bucmaniuk, Mychajlo Dmytrenko, Ivan Keywan, William Kurelek, and Myron Levytsky, as well as, younger ones such as Andrij Babytsch, Mykola Bidniak, Daria Krawciw-Yemec, Halyna Novakiwska, Irena Nosyk, Lydia Palij, Petro Sydorenko, Emil Telizyn, and Irena Shumska-Moroz. In the early sixties a younger generation of artists like Daria Zelska and Christina Nawrocka Kudryk, who had immigrated to Canada as children and had received their art education at Canadian universities, became members and took part in the exhibits. Overall this was a very active period in the history of USOM, a period which continued to embrace many Ukrainian artists of several generations and from several provinces. The names of these artists and the work they exhibited indicate a variety of genre paintings in very diverse styles such as Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, and modified Cubism, as well as partial abstraction. It appears that none of the artists had embrace American Abstract Expressionism which was popular at this time in Canada.
After Mychajlo Dmytrenko moved to Windsor in 1957 and later to Detroit, USOM leadership passed to the vice-president, Dr. Bohdan Stebelsky, who remained in this position until 1973, with only one break when Ivan Keywan of Edmonton headed USOM briefly. Then the reigns of office passed to Emil Telizyn (1973-1974), Myron Levytsky (1974-1984), Dr. Irena Shumska-Moroz (1985-1994), Andrij Babytsch (1994-2002), Bohdan Holowacky (2002-2007), and Oleh Lesiuk (2007 to 2016). The last two presidents received their education in Soviet Ukraine before coming to Canada. With the election of Oleh Lesiuk leadership passed to a member of the younger generation.
Exhibitions which followed in 1963, 1965, and 1967 were organized by the Toronto Branch and included only artists from the Toronto area.15 In the seventies and eighties only artists from the Toronto area continued to participate in USOM group exhibitions. The Edmonton Branch of USOM which was founded by Iway Keywan in 1957 was short-lived. It was renamed and became a separate organization, but some of its members continued to participate in USOM exhibitions until 1961.16
The Seventh USOM Exhibition was held from December 21, 1975 to January 4, 1976 at the Focus Gallery in Toronto with 20 members taking part.17 In 1978 USOM sponsored an exhibit of drawings and watercolours by Feodosii Humeniuk, a leading non-conformist artist from Ukraine, who was being persecuted by Communist authorities in the USSR and who was not even aware that an exhibition of his work was taking place in Canada.18 This endeavour was indicative of the interest of Ukrainian artists in Canada in the fate of their colleagues in the Soviet Union and an indication of moral support.19 Other exhibitions included the Christianity and Contemporary Ukrainian Art Exhibition Dedicated to the Millennium of Baptism – Christianization of Ukraine-Rus’ in 988 A.D., which was held at the Metropolitan Toronto Library in 1988,20 the Group Exhibit held in January 1990, and the benefit exhibition and sale which were held in June 1990 to raise funds for the Ukrainian National Museum in Lviv. Both endeavours were organized together with the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation and were held at the KUMF Gallery on Bloor Street in Toronto.
It is noteworthy that initially exhibitions were held in various Ukrainian community halls, but when commercial Ukrainian galleries opened in Toronto USOM started exhibiting at these professional gallery spaces. They included the W & W Gallery, Focus Gallery, and the spacious gallery of the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation (KUMF), all in Toronto.21
With the election of Andrij Babytsch as president of USOM in March 1994 there was a revival and a marked increase in activities in Toronto. Also for the first time several artists recently arrived from Ukraine joined USOM and were elected to the executive. In May, 1994 a group exhibition titled Art Palette’94 was held at the KUMF Gallery with 28 participating members. The new Executive organized an exhibition in New York at the Ukrainian Artists Association of the USA Gallery in November 1994. The USOM Executive, as well as individual artists participated in the Povernennia (Return), an exhibition which was organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation and which resulted in the donation of 38 paintings to the National Museum of Ukrainian Art in Kyiv. The Mychajlo Dmytrenko Retrospective Exhibition and banquet for the co-founder of USOM in Canada, were organized jointly in November, 1995 by USOM and the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation, which at the same time was celebrating its 20th Anniversary.
Encouraged by Andrij Babytch and his energetic vice-president, Halyna Novakiwska, USOM members took part in group sketching trips in Ontario starting in 1994. Paintings from these trips were displayed in exhibitions entitled Autumn in December of 1997 and Sketches in May of 1998. Both were held at the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation Gallery in Toronto.
The First Art Auction with proceeds going to the Children of Chernobyl Canadian Fund took place in April 1996 at St. Vladimir Institute. In November 1996, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Ukraine’s independence an exhibition called Freedom was organized jointly by USOM, Mychajlo Dmytrenko, and the Association for the Advancement of Ukrainian Culture at the Biegas Gallery in Detroit. Sixty-two artists from Canada and the USA participated in this large exhibition. The Second Art Auction took place the following year in May also at St. Vladimir Institute in Toronto. Proceeds were earmarked for the Children of Chernobyl Canadian Fund and the “2000” exhibition catalogue.
In December 1999, USOM organized “2000” The Exhibition of Canadian Artists of Ukrainian Heritage to mark the new millennium. A catalogue was published with an introduction by Daria Darewych and brief biographies of all 41 artists from several provinces, who participated in the exhibition, including several artists who were not members of USOM. Each artist was represented in the catalogue by one work of art, most of which were reproduced in colour.
In 2001 there were four exhibitions starting with the Art Auction held at St. Vladimir’s Institute in February, an Exhibit of Small Works held at KUMF Gallery in April, and an exhibition marking Ukraine’s 10th year of independence in September also at KUMF Gallery. There were 27 artists participating in the 10th Anniversary of Independence Exhibition which was accompanied by a catalogue with colour and black-and-white reproductions and a brief biography of each artist. The year concluded with the Andrij Babytsch Retrospective Exhibition celebrating the artist’s 80th birthday. A banquet honouring Andrij Babytsch was held on the eve of the exhibit opening, with the artist, his family, and members of USOM in attendance.22
In 2003, the USOM exhibit Famine 1932-1933 at KUMF Gallery was dedicated to the 70th Anniversary of the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine. Twenty-two artists took part in the exhibition and were represented in the catalogue, which included a list of artists and their works, as well as black and white reproductions of the paintings and sculptures.
March 2004 saw the opening of the Anniversary Exhibition of Halyna Novakiwska, a long-time vice-president and founding member of USOM. At the end of October of the same year USOM held an exhibition commemorating the great Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko. The next exhibition was the traditional annual fall show held at the KUMF Gallery in 2005.
In November 2006, USOM celebrated 50 years of activity with an exhibition which attracted the participation of over 30 members. This exhibition, like the previous ones, was an indication of the diversity of interests and creative approaches of USOM members. It is a reflection of the membership, which spans several generations – from those who came to Canada after the Second World War to those who were born here, and those who have recently arrived from Ukraine. A 78 page catalogue, Ukrainian Association of Visual Artists of Canada 50th Anniversary Art Exhibition, was published. It included greetings from dignitaries, from USOM president, Bohdan Holowacki, a history of USOM by Daria Zelska Darewych, reminiscences by Irena Moroz, as well as brief biographies of all participating artists, reproductions of their work, etc.
At the General Meeting held September 14, 2007 leadership of USOM passed into younger hands with the election of Oleh Lesiuk as president. The tradition of holding fall exhibitions continued in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, as did thematic exhibits dedicated to important events of Ukrainian history. As an example an exhibition dedicated to the Holodomor was held in October 2008 at the KUMF Gallery. At the same time there was an innovation – that of organizing travelling exhibits.
In conjunction with the Trypillian Exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, USOM organized Echoes of Trypillia Exhibit in November 2008 at the near-by Institute of St. Vladimir. This exhibition then travelled to the Embassy of Ukraine in Ottawa (May 22 to September 9, 2009), and to the Patriarch Yosyf Slipyj Ukrainian Museum in Montreal in mid-September. An exhibition catalogue in Ukrainian and English accompanied the show.
The fall exhibition in 2009 was replaced by the Flower Rapsody Exhibit at the KUMF Gallery at the end of October. An exhibition dedicated to the 120th Anniversary of Ukrainian Settlement in Canada began at the Embassy of Ukraine in Ottawa (June 27 to September 9, 2011), travelled to Patriarch Yosyf Slipyj Museum in Montreal (Sept. 10-11), to KUMF Gallery in Toronto (September 16-18), and St. Vladimir Institute Gallery (October 12 to Nov. 9) before ending in Edmonton at King’s University College (October 25 to Nov. 9, 2012). Organizing such an ambitious itinerary for this travelling exhibition is an initiative worth repeating as it provides exposure for the participating artists to other Ukrainian communities in Canada and provides an opportunity to attract new members.
As part of its community outreach USOM organized a small three-day exhibit at the XXIV. Triennial Congress of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Toronto at the Mariotte Hotel (November 8-10, 2013). It was followed by an exhibition dedicated to the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Taras Shevchenko held in March 2014 at the KUMF Gallery. This exhibition which travelled to the Oseredok Gallery in Winnipeg in 2015 was accompanied by a catalogue with colour photos of the paintings and sculpture.
Some members, encouraged by the USOM Executive participated in fundraising activities organized by the Ukrainian community in Toronto and donated their paintings for auction. They took part in the Marathon and Auction held at the Golden Lion Restaurant March 14, 2014 in support of the wounded in demonstrations in Kyiv and in support of families of the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred. The proceeds of the sale of paintings at the USOM exhibit during the Ukrainian Bloor Street Festival September 12-14, 2014 were donated to families of victims of the Revolution of Dignity which took place in Kyiv. Some USOM members donated their pictures for the art auction “Roots of Shevchenko’s Ancestors” held May 15, 2015 at the Golden Lion Restaurant and the art auction in support of producing a CD of the music of Anatolii Ivaniuk, who had died recently.
As part of the continuing community outreach, USOM set up a tent and gave members an opportunity to show their work at the Ukrainian Bloor Street Festival in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Through its presence at community events USOM has expanded its activities beyond gallery walls and into public spaces and has attracted new viewers not only from the Ukrainian community. It can be seen as a positive step as this provides its members with a wider scope, but on the other hand one could argue that the festival venues and atmosphere are not always very appropriate to serious creative endeavours. The permanent rotating exhibits of paintings by USOM members at Buduchnist Credit Union locations in Toronto and Mississauga provide exposure in a more appropriate setting.
In addition to the publication of exhibition catalogues, USOM activities have included the occasional publication of books about well-known Ukrainian architects and artists. In 1957 Ivan Keywan’s book, Volodymyr Sichynsky, about the renowned architect, was published under the masthead of USOM in the series “Masters of Ukrainian Art”. In 1984 USOM published a monograph Stepan Steciw honouring one of its members. The introduction was written by Bohdan Stebelsky and a biographical essay by Iwan Keywan. A year later, in 1985, a monograph, Myron Levytsky, with Daria Darewych as author was published. All three authors were members of USOM.
Also worthy of note is the USOM Bulletin which was first published in 1999. Eight issues of the Bulletin were printed, providing information on the activities of USOM and its members.23 The editor of the Bulletin, since its inception, was Irma Osadsa. Unfortunately, the publication of the USOM Bulletin ceased in 2007. It was replaced by USOM News in April 2008, a much briefer but full colour newsletter in electronic and printed form edited by Maria Antoniv.24
Starting in 1998, USOM has held very successful gatherings for members and friends marking St. Andrew’s Eve and Christmas. In 2004 an evening dedicated to Oleksander Archipenko was held, with talks by Dr. Irena Moroz, Halyna Novakiwska, and Oleh Lesiuk. “Humoryna”, evenings of humour were held in 2010 and 2011.
Throughout the decades individual USOM members have been active in other Canadian art organizations and have participated in group shows held by them. Recently, in May of 2011 USOM joined CARFAC Ontario (Canadian Artists Representation / Le front des artistes canadien) as an associate member. This is an indication that USOM has officially joined the all-Canadian group of professional artists. USOM is also a member of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Ontario Branch.
Currently there are 46 members, artists and one art historian, most from the Greater Toronto Region. For the first time since the mid-20th century, the majority of members are artists who completed their art education in Ukraine and who have settled in Canada, mostly in the last three decades. They also constitute a majority in the current USOM executive. This is an echo of the situation when USOM was founded in 1956.
In conclusion, it should be acknowledged that for sixty years USOM has been a creative force in the Ukrainian community in Canada. The Association has also displayed an amazing longevity and continuity. Four of the artists who took part in the first USOM Exhibit in 1957 have steadfastly remained active and are taking part in the 60th Anniversary Exhibition. They include Halyna Nowakiwska, Lydia Palij, Irena Shumska-Moroz, and Irene Romana Nosyk. At the same time USOM may be regarded as a model of integration as it has welcomed members of several generations, as well as the so called “Fourth Wave” of immigrant artists from Ukraine. Throughout six decades the Association of Ukrainian Visual Artists of Canada has continued to fulfill its goals of bringing together professional artists of Ukrainian heritage, organizing exhibitions and events, publishing catalogues and books, as well as promoting and nurturing Ukrainian art. There can be no doubt that from the beginning, USOM has continued to play a significant role in the creation and development of a Ukrainian artistic milieu in Canada, particularly in Toronto.
Please note that names of organizations and some artists, whose English spelling is not known, have been written according to a modified Library of Congress transliteration. Artists who are known under the English spelling of their names appear under that spelling regardless of the Ukrainian original.