CBU Art Gallery Opens New Exhibition that Explores the Back-to-the-Land Movement

A new exhibition opens for the summer season at the Cape Breton University Art Gallery. Doing Our Own Thing: Back-to-the-Land in Eastern Canada during the 1970s examines the histories and legacies of the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s.

Across North America during the 1970s close to a million young people, mostly from major urban centres, moved “back to the-land.” Informed by a shared critique of consumer-oriented society, the Vietnam War, and the homogenizing, often oppressive effects of mass media, this generation sought to live in ways that were more authentic, self-reliant and better attuned to the natural world. Many of these people acquired small farms and began new lives in places including Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, and in other parts of Atlantic Canada.

“We’re really thrilled to host an exhibition that deals with this subject matter,” says Laura Schneider, Director/Curator of the CBU Art Gallery, “and to have the opportunity to work with curators and artists who can frame it in such a unique way.” The exhibition’s curator, Amish Morrell and Pan Wendt, are both connected to the movement, raised by back-to-the-land parents in Big Interval, Cape Breton and Charlottetown, PEI respectively.

The exhibition is co-presented by the CBU Art Gallery (Sydney, NS) and the Confederation Centre Art Gallery (Charlottetown, PEI). It consists of several projects that arise from or reference the back-to-the-land movement. This includes documentary photographs by painter and photographer George Thomas depict the lives of back-to-the-land families in western Cape Breton Island during the 1970s; a reading room consisting of books described in or influenced by the Whole Earth Catalog, organized by David Senior and titled The Whole Earth Catalog Library; and Thrasher 002, a fully functional threshing machine by Cape Breton-born artist and second-generation back-to-the-lander, Fenn Martin. 

The opening reception for Doing Our Own Thing: Back-to-the-Land in Eastern Canada during the 1970s will be held this Friday evening, June 13, from 6:00pm-8:00pm at CBU Art Gallery. On Saturday, June 14, a threshing demonstration will take place on the lawn in front of the Student, Culture & Heritage Centre at CBU at 1:00pm, followed by a talk by David Senior about the Whole Earth Catalogue at 1:30, and a panel discussion with Ron Caplan, Andrew Terris Johanna Padelt and David Martin, all of whom were involved in the back-to-the-land movement in Cape Breton, will take place at 2:30. All events are free to the public and everyone is welcome.