British Columbia

5 short films that uncover secrets about B.C.'s rich art history

The documentary film series Art is a Story follows art historian Paul Crawford and filmmaker Stuart Gillies on a road trip as they learn about local art and artists, past and present, across the province.

Art is a Story series follows 2 friends on a road trip to learn about local art and artists

Paul Crawford, right, shows filmmaker and friend Stuart Gillies how to identify a quality piece of art in a thrift store. (Submitted/Art is A Story)

Ever wonder what the story is behind a piece of art you picked up at the thrift store?

Art historian and collector Paul Crawford and his filmmaking pal Stuart Gillies were so curious they took the concept and ran with it — or rather, drove with it — across British Columbia.

The two friends and their art adventures are profiled in a five-part CBC film series, Art is A Story.

Gillies, who recently moved to B.C. from the United Kingdom and became a father, wanted to know more about the art and culture of his family's new home. Enter Crawford, who takes Gillies on a road trip to learn about local artists past and present. 

The road trip begins at Crawford's home in Penticton, B.C., where every inch of wall is covered with Canadian art. 

Many of Crawford's pieces are found at thrift stores and auctions, including a photograph by famed Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, whose iconic profile shots include Winston Churchill and a young Queen Elizabeth II.

The duo then head to the coast, where Crawford takes Gillies to a thrift store in Victoria and shows him some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to finding quality art in bargain shops.

Gillies sees the grave of famous local painter Emily Carr and meets award-winning Canadian artist Michael Morris.

The duo then travel north on Vancouver Island to Duncan, known as the City of Totems, to try to solve an art mystery.

Crawford has a small oil painting on cedar and is looking for someone who can help him identify the Indigenous woman depicted in it.

The painting has what Crawford thinks is the name "Mrs. Affleck" scrawled on it and, with the help of some locals, the mystery unravels:

In the fourth film, the friends head to the mainland and meet Wade Baker and his family in North Vancouver.

Baker is a Coast Salish carver, designer and sculptor and direct descendent of Third Lieutenant Joseph Baker, mapmaker on the HMS Discovery captained by George Vancouver in the late 1700s. 

Baker and his wife Mary Tasi are authors and art historians and share stories with Crawford and Gillies:

The fifth film follows the men as they visit Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Parisa Azadi to discuss her work and that of other Canadian women.

The final film spotlights the influence of contemporary and historical women artists and the stories they have told through their work:

All five films in the Art is A Story series are permanently available here.

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