Ramsay Cook, Iain Baxter named Molson Prize winners

Ramsay Cook, professor emeritus of history at York, and visual artist Iain Baxter, who taught in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts from 1972 to 1975, have been named the winners of this year’s Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prizes.

Ramsay Cook

Left: Ramsay Cook

Cook, who is also general editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and began teaching at York in 1969, was awarded the Molson Prize in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Baxter, a photographer, painter, sculptor, installation & conceptual artist and professor emeritus at the University of Windsor, was awarded the Molson Prize in the Arts.

Two Molson Prizes worth $50,000 each are awarded every year to distinguished Canadians, one in the arts and the other in the social sciences or humanities. The prizes, which were established in 1964, recognize the recipients’ outstanding lifetime contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada.

In awarding the Molson Prize in the Social Sciences and Humanities to Ramsay Cook, the jury noted “his outstanding contributions to Canadian historical scholarship, his support of Canadian cultural institutions and his original books and essays”. It continued: “He is especially highly regarded for his ground-breaking work in the areas of French-English relations, nationalism, federalism and social and intellectual history. For almost half a century, his influence has crossed frontiers and broken down barriers. He has been a pre-eminent writer, panellist, speaker, teacher, doctoral adviser and, as general editor, the driving force behind the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.” Calling him “one of Canada’s first public intellectuals”, the jury said Cook helped bring history out of the classroom and introduced important historical perspectives into public discourse. “He has been a remarkable scholar and a deeply-engaged, civic-minded thinker,” the jury added.

Iain Baxter

Right: Iain Baxter

In selecting Baxter for a prize, the jury noted the “phenomenal breadth and depth of his art practice, which covers almost 50 years.” The jury said: “Recognized internationally as an icon of conceptual art, he is among the most thought-provoking and pioneering of contemporary Canadian artists. His highly-regarded conceptual installations and projects, as well as his photography, have earned him the label the Marshall McLuhan of the visual arts. His art, produced in various media, is rooted in everyday life and reflects new and unique ways of seeing consumer and corporate culture, the environment, landscape and technology.” The jury also noted Baxter is widely influential as an artist and teacher. “His art has made us question, laugh, re-examine and think. He is one of society’s great innovators.”.

About Ramsay Cook

Ramsay Cook’s teaching, research and publications span Canadian history from the earliest explorations to the present. During his teaching career, which included both undergraduate and graduate students, he supervised 38 PhD theses.

Born in Saskatchewan, Cook received a BA from the University of Manitoba (1954), an MA from Queen’s University (1956) and a PhD from the University of Toronto (1960). In 1958, he began his academic career at the University of Toronto. In 1969, after a year as the Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian History at Harvard University, he accepted a post at York. In 1978-1979, and again in 1997-1998, he held the Bicentennial Chair in Canadian Studies at Yale University. Since 1989, he has served as general editor of the DCB. He has lectured widely both across Canada and abroad in the United States, the former Soviet Union, Finland, China, India, the United Kingdom and Japan.

The history of French Canada and Quebec, cultural and constitutional history, has been Cook’s principal research areas. His books include Le Sphinx parle français (1968), Provincial Autonomy, Minority Rights and the Compact Theory 1867-1921 (1969), The Regenerators (1985) and Canada, Quebec and the Uses of Nationalism (1986). Professor Cook was awarded the Regent’s Medal of United College in 1955, the J.B. Tyrell Historical Medal of the Royal Society of Canada in 1975, and the Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction in 1985. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1968 and made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1986. In 1994, he was appointed to the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Emperor of Japan. The Universities of Windsor (1988), Ottawa (1992) and York (2002) have awarded him honorary degrees.

About Iain Baxter

Iain Baxter was born in England and immigrated to Calgary with his family a year later. He earned a BSc in zoology (1959) and an MEd (1962) from the University of Idaho before earning an MFA (1964) from Washington State University. He has taught at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design, the Alberta College of Art and York University. He is currently professor emeritus in the School of Visual Arts at the University of Windsor, where he has taught since 1988. His work as a solo artist and as founder of N.E. Thing Co. has been exhibited across Canada and the US and can be found in numerous public and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Vancouver Art Gallery ,as well as in galleries in Europe.

A thought-provoking contemporary artist, Baxter has spent the last 45 years re-shaping and re-defining the Canadian modern art scene. Throughout his career, Baxter has garnered critical international recognition for his insightful and thoughtful works about our cultural, social, ecological and political condition. His uses of everyday objects, combined with a considerable element of wit, have been common threads through his formation of N.E. Thing Co. in the 1960s to his current practice. At the forefront of conceptual and photographic art, Baxter’s investigations into environmental issues, mass consumerism and modes of communication have continued to challenge and elicit responses that question our day to day realities.

His achievements have been recognized by many awards and prizes. He received a Japanese government foreign scholarship in 1961, as well as membership in the Royal Canadian Academy and his recent nomination as an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2004, Baxter won the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts and received an honorary doctorate from the University of British Columbia.