Fonds UBCA-ARC-1255 - Sam Black fonds

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Sam Black fonds

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  • Multiple media

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the provenance of the fonds

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Physical description

3.14 m of textual records and other materials

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Noted British Columbia artist and art educator Sam Black was born in Ardrossan, Scotland, on 5 June 1913. He graduated from the Glasgow School of Arts in 1936. After receiving his Teachers Certificate and Art Teachers Diploma in 1937, he taught art in primary and secondary schools in Scotland. Black also continued his study of art in London, Paris and Brussels before World War II. When the war began in 1939, Black enlisted in the Royal Scottish Fusiliers and received a commission in the Officer Corps. Shortly thereafter, he became a camouflage officer. Black saw military action in France, Belgium and Germany and was decorated with three military stars, the Defence Medal, an Oak Leaf and the Belgian Medaille Civile for bravery. During the war, Black also worked for the War Artists Advisory Committee. His paintings are now in the permanent collection of the Imperial War Museum in London. Black married Elizabeth Morton Howie on 3 May 1941. Following the war, Black served as a school inspector for the British Ministry of Education from 1946 to 1949 and then as a Principal Lecturer in Arts at the Jordanhill Training College in Glasgow. In 1957, Black was a visiting professor at the University of British Columbia, teaching art at the summer school session. The following year, he joined the faculty at UBC as a professor of fine arts and art education. He enjoyed a distinguished career at UBC, remaining there until his retirement in 1978. In 1970, Black became the second faculty member to receive the Master Teacher award. Black's numerous public speaking engagements allowed him to share his ideas about art and education with various audiences. Black also contributed to the professional literature in his field. He participated in various art and education organizations -- he was a founding member and vice president of the International Society for Education Through Art. He served as president of the Canadian Society for Education Through Art.

Black was also one of British Columbia's most outstanding artists. He was an accomplished artist in watercolours, acrylics, oils, and graphic prints: woodcuts and lithographs. Throughout his career, Sam Black received many honours and awards for his artwork. He was elected to the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colour (1953), the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour [CSPWC] (1963) and the Print and Drawing Council of Canada (1964). Black received the CSPWCs Honour Award for "Me and My Straw Hat" (1983), "Church at Castro Marin" (1985), and "Encroaching Flowers" (1992). His painting "Old Pals" was selected for the CSPWCs Diamond Jubilee Collection presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the Royal Collection of Drawings and Watercolours at Windsor Castle. A Black print was selected for reproduction as part of the Expo 86 print collection. One of Black's most prestigious honours came in 1977 when he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 1990, the City of Vancouver commissioned Black to design street banners. Perhaps one of the unique tributes paid to Black came in the form of Stewart Grant's concert work for a full orchestra inspired by the coastal imagery of Black's paintings and prints. The "Sam Black Sketches" consists of nine inter-connected sections based on a single piece or collection of pieces. The world premiere of "Sketches" took place at the Yates Memorial Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta, in May 1988 [a recording of the performance is included in the fonds.] "Sketches" was later performed in other Canadian cities and was also broadcast by CBC radio. Although accomplished in many art forms, it is perhaps his watercolour paintings for which Black is best known. While his watercolours and other artwork include many different subjects, there is a "maritime" theme throughout much of his work. In particular, his art depicts land- and seascapes along the British Columbia coast. The affinity for maritime life probably dates back to his childhood growing up in Adrossan, a coastal town in western Scotland. His family home overlooked a small harbour. Black's father, James, who served in the Royal Navy, built boats with his son, who often went to an offshore island to study birds, a subject which would later become a common element in his artwork. Black often carried a sketchbook around with him wherever he went. These sketches served as a sort of memory or reference for possible future paintings. He also took many photographs, particularly during his travels. Still, he later explained that he preferred sketching his subjects because that would allow him to focus on various aspects, including proportion, scale, patterns, etc. Black was a powerful proponent of accurate observation and recording and talked about the importance of attention to detail. The artist heeded his own advice is evident from his artwork, particularly in his rendering of groups of seagulls, geese or crows where each bird is individually positioned and seems to project its own unique personality. Following his retirement from UBC, Black and his wife Elizabeth retired to Bowen Island. For many years Black had commuted between Bowen Island and Vancouver. There he continued to create many new paintings and other artwork. During his retirement, he continued to be recognized nationally and internationally for his outstanding creativity. In 1990, UBC honoured Black by conferring upon him the degree Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The fonds consists of biographical material, family information, correspondence, speeches, publications, subject files, teaching and reference material, photographs, audio and videotapes and artifacts. The fonds also includes various forms of Black's artwork. A copy of a Black family history published by Myra Davey (née Black) in 2006 had a CD of digitized images.

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Location of originals

Oversize art is located in the Archives Vault, cabinet 1, drawers 3 & 4. Please see the finding aid for further details.

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Finding aids

Uploaded finding aid

Associated materials

Sketches by Sam Black were also donated as part of the Faculty Club fonds.

Related materials


General note

“The Black Family – A brief history” donated by Myra Davey in 2006.

Physical description

Other material includes 8,632 photographs, 1706 slides, 6 audio cassettes, artwork, 5 videocassettes, 2 Super 8mm films and three-dimensional objects.

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Revised in June 2020

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