“I would like the resulting building to be one of such character and personality, even if a controversial one, that we could all take pride.” — Fred Mendel
The Mendel Art Gallery’s founder, Frederick (Fred) Salomon Mendel, was a successful businessman and art collector who established Intercontinental Packers Limited in Saskatoon in 1940 after encroaching Nazi threats forced him and his family to flee Europe and start a new life in Canada. In the early 1960s, he initiated the building of a public art museum for Saskatoon as a way to celebrate the success of his meat packing business, and to thank the citizens of Saskatoon for their support.
Fred Mendel’s generous financial donation to the City of Saskatoon was matched by the Province of Saskatchewan, and a beautiful location on Spadina Crescent, alongside the South Saskatchewan River, was selected as the site for art gallery. A national design competition attracted 48 entries from architects across the country, and was won by the Winnipeg firm of Blankstein, Coop, Gillmor and Hanna.
Opened on October 16, 1964, the Mendel Art Gallery — one of the finest examples of Modernist architecture in Saskatchewan — stands as a testament to Fred Mendel’s philanthropic spirit, civic responsibility, passion for visual art, and progressive vision.
In 1965, Fred Mendel donated a second gift from his private collection: 13 paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. These works established the foundation of the Mendel Art Gallery’s permanent collection. Now the largest public art collection in Saskatchewan, it numbers more than 7,700 works of art.
In 1975, a modest building addition, completed with funding from the federal government, allowed the institution to assume additional operational capabilities. The Mendel Art Gallery began hosting, producing, and touring art exhibitions, both regionally and nationally, in recognition of its newly designated status as an Associate Museum of the National Museums of Canada.
Today, the Mendel Art Gallery is an important community and heritage landmark, and an invaluable educational resource. One of the more popular and culturally significant tourist destinations in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan, it is among the foremost art galleries in the country.
The Gallery’s national reputation for excellence in visual arts presentation, programming and collection development not only acknowledges gallery founder Fred Mendel’s vision of the importance of art in one’s quality of life, but also pays tribute to the incredible support of the Gallery’s many friends and stakeholders, and to the commitment and hard work of the Gallery’s Board of Trustees, professional staff and volunteers throughout its history.
The growth in size and diversity of the permanent collection, exhibitions, public programs and audiences over the past 45 years has prompted the Gallery to embark on a $74.2-million project to design and build a new facility to be called the Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan. Please see the Remai Modern section for more information on this exciting project.