Captain Alejandro Malaspina Sketching the Galleries of Gabriola 1789-94

Photo of the art EJ Hughes, Captain Alejandro Malaspina Sketching the Galleries of Gabriola 1789-94, 1938

Nanaimo Conference Centre

E.J. Hughes (1913-2007) was a painter born in North Vancouver and raised in Nanaimo. He attended the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Art, graduating in 1933, and served as one of Canada’s official war artists from 1943-1946. He often painted seaside and landscape scenes based on locations across British Columbia. Hughes was awarded honorary degrees by University of Victoria in 1994, Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 1997, and Vancouver Island University in 2000.

Hughes was a young artist in 1938 when the directors of the Malaspina Hotel commissioned him and his two friends, Orville Fisher and Paul Goranson, to paint murals for their walls. The artists were asked to paint images from Nanaimo’s early settler history and they were compensated with room and board while they worked.

Hughes was inspired by Social Realist muralists at the time, such as Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. His mural tells the story of maritime exploration along British Coluimbia's coast, depicting Captain Alejandro Malaspina drawing rock formations on Gabriola Island as crew members look on. The scene, while based on research and relevant to the hotel’s namesake, is an imagined representation of the settlers’ arrival. Notably, Captain Malaspina did not arrive in the area that would become Nanaimo, but rather at Nootka Sound. It was José María Narváez and his crew on the ship Santa Saturnina that documented the Nanaimo Harbour in 1791.

Following its completion, the mural was eventually covered up and hidden behind false walls when the Malaspina Hotel subdivided its dining area. It was rediscovered in July 1996 when the hotel building, formerly located at 38 Front Street, was being demolished. The mural was created in six sections with paint directly applied on the plaster, which rested on mortar, which was applied on to concrete. Several rounds of damage were sustained to the mural prior to its relocation, including effects of large nails to many areas of the composition, concrete degradation due to age, and damage sustained when it was removed into improper storage. Art conservator Cheryle Harrison spent 15 months restoring the mural in Errington with funding from the City of Nanaimo, and it was restored to public view at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. There was a public reception to celebrate the work on Friday, May 15, 2009.

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