Foreword from the Art Gallery of Alberta

The Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) is thrilled to be working in partnership with the West Vancouver Art Museum (WVAM) for the development of this exhibition: Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Genius Loci. For over seventy years, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander has set precedents, creating landscapes that connect human beings with place. At a time when climate resiliency and adaptation are of the utmost concern, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s work reveals many lessons for contemporary life, creating the conditions for us to think about the relationship between landscape, the human experience and urban form.

The AGA is committed to building public awareness and dialogue about issues in contemporary design and architecture. This exhibition is presented as part of the Poole Centre of Design program at the AGA. Launched in May 2015, the Poole Centre of Design is an integrated series of programs that explore the impacts of design thinking, contributing to the generation of new ideas and innovative and reflective design-centred projects. The goal of the Poole Centre of Design is to foster research, documentation and discourse about design, in both theory and practice, across all disciplines. Sincere thanks are due to the Poole Family Fund at the Edmonton Community Foundation for their ongoing support of Poole Centre of Design programming at the AGA.

Exhibitions and publications such as this are large and collaborative endeavors, and the AGA is very grateful to all of those who contributed so much to both. I would like to express sincere thanks to Amery Calvelli (Adjunct Curator, Poole Centre of Design, AGA) and Dr. Hilary Letwin (Assistant Curator, WVAM), the co-curators of the exhibition, who worked tirelessly to bring it, and this publication, to realization. I would like to thank and acknowledge the additional writers: Susan Herrington and Eva Matsuzaki for sharing their experiences, insights and recollections. Their essays provide a glimpse into the lived work, and the strength and creativity of Cornelia Oberlander. We are so delighted that Cornelia Oberlander has contributed such a beautiful text about her own work, her thoughts, dreams and the green world she desires for all of us. We are grateful to her for her decades of commitment, passion and vision, and for making our world better.

The loans for this exhibition are courtesy of the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander archives at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which document Oberlander’s career since 1954. Many thanks are due to Martien de Vletter, Associate Director of the Collections, for facilitating these loans and for her contribution to this publication.

I would like to thank Charles Cousins for overseeing its design and production and acknowledge the support and guidance provided by the curatorial staff of the AGA. This project could not have been realized without the dedicated efforts of Lauren Ball, Sara McKarney, Mackenzy Albright, Dani Rice and Clint Wilson.

In closing, I would like to thank the Access to Heritage, Museums Assistance Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage for their support of this project. The AGA is also grateful for the ongoing support of its public funders: the Edmonton Arts Council, City of Edmonton and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Canada Council for the Arts, whose contributions make all of our activities possible.

Catherine Crowston

Executive Director and Chief Curator

Art Gallery of Alberta

Foreword West Vancouver Art Muesum

My first encounter with a landscape designed by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander was in 1991 at the University of British Columbia, Museum of Anthropology, where I had come for an internship and later, to work. The Museum, a short distance away from Oberlander’s home and studio, is sited on a peninsula overlooking the Georgia Strait and Burrard Inlet. The grounds of the Museum are modeled on the coastal landscape found in Haida Gwaii and include a pond and crushed shell beach. Berms, seeded with native grasses and plants, conceal the building upon approach. This landscape links the architecture and adjacent carved poles and big houses to the site with a timelessness characteristic of Oberlander’s oeuvre. As co-curator, Dr. Hilary Letwin notes, Oberlander’s landscapes appear “understated” but are in fact the result of intensive research and a deep appreciation of ecology and nature. The projects included in this exhibition, from playgrounds to social housing, art galleries to public and private gardens, exemplify Oberlander’s perseverance and dedication to her craft over her seven-decade career.

West Vancouver, BC has been significant to the development of West Coast art and design dating from the 1950s. The West Vancouver Art Museum has celebrated this heritage through our exhibitions, programs and publications. Oberlander is a key figure in this era and has supported our efforts over the years by regularly attending our exhibitions and programs. It is fitting for us to profile her achievements here. Further, Vancouver and the North Shore have a number of projects executed by Oberlander over the past 70 years and we are fortunate to be able to access these landscapes so easily.

We are honoured to co-present Genius Loci with the Art Gallery of Alberta and grateful to its Executive Director and Chief Curator, Catherine Crowston for this partnership. I wish to thank co-curators Dr. Hilary Letwin and Amery Calvelli for their research, preparation and for steering this project through the uncertainties of the pandemic. Thank you also to the Canadian Centre for Architecture for lending archival works from their collection and the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage, for supporting this exhibition and publication. Finally, we are grateful to Cornelia for her legacy and trust in us to develop this project.

Darrin Morrison


West Vancouver Art Museum