More on the Amazon sculpture

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Yesterday the new issue of Stephen which is published by Epcor Centre came out.

Recently I talked about a blog post written by Christine Hayes from the Calgary Public Library.  It referenced a previous article that I wrote last Spring, which was published by Stephen magazine. The follow-on story is located here on pages 29 and 30.

Briefly, both articles talked about the first piece of public art placed in Calgary.

An early Parks Superintendent, Richard Iverson, who worked for Kaiser Wilhelm is important to this story.  He was hired in 1910 and subsequently fired (or told to resign, I can’t remember which) in early 1913, which occurred within a few weeks of when Thomas Mawson (of the Mawson Plan fame) was hired as the town planner for the City of Calgary. During that short period of time, Iverson proposed installing a copy of a well-known piece by the German sculptor, August Kiss [1802-1865] entitled Amazon on Horseback Attacked by a Lion (or alternatively Panther) in front of the Carnegie Library in Memorial Park.

Subsequently, it was moved, was put into storage (in the 1940s) and subsequently seems to have disappeared. Hence the mystery.

Now a bit of speculation on my part:

I mention the Mawson Plan as I think this is material fact to why Iverson was let go (at least in part). He also had a run-in with the law in 1912 for violating liquor laws.  I can’t remember the exact specifics, but he was somehow involved in a speakeasy or after-hours club or something like that.  He was taken into custody and in the end was found not guilty of whatever he was charged with.  He also was accused of doing private work using City resources by the group which his successor was the secretary of.  The secretary of this group had also applied for Iverson’s job previously. Based on what I can determine, Iverson was an interesting character. As I recall reading, Tom Baines the long-time zoo educator (or whatever his job title was), wrote that Richard Iverson was probably the city’s first feminist (or something to that effect).  Iverson also was probably polarizing in his personality, as I suspect there was a love-hate relationship with him amongst many. That is neither here nor there, but an interesting back-story nevertheless.

Using that as context, I have a bit of unfounded speculation about the Amazon sculpture and Iverson’s plans. It is entirely speculation, so take it with a grain of salt.

There is a large sculpture of August Kiss’ Amazon located at the Altes Museum in Berlin.  In addition, there also is a large copy of it located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art which is owned by the Association for Public Art (formerly known as the Fairmount Park Art Association). Central to my speculation, is that both of these sculptures are located to the right-hand side when facing the main entrance of both buildings.

In front of the newly built Carnegie Library, Iverson also placed the zinc Amazon sculpture on the right hand side just like the other two institutions.

At the Altes Museum on the left side is a sculpture by the German artist, Albert Wolff [1814-1892] entitled Löwenkämpfer or alternatively, The Lion Fighter. To the left of the Philadelphia Museum of Art main entrance there is ironically placed a large sculpture also by Albert Wolff, coincidently also called The Lion Fighter. Is this a coincidence or planned? Hard to know.

Based on that information, and furthering my speculation, I feel that Iverson also planned to install a smaller zinc version of Albert Wolff’s sculpture The Lion Fighter to act as a companion to the existing August Kiss sculpture.

Around the same time that the Amazon sculpture was installed, a second public sculpture was proposed by lawyer Major Stanley Jones [1876-1916] et al, for the park. It placed as a memorial for those who fought in the Boar War Memorial.  It is a very fine, major equestrian sculpture by Louis-Phillipe Hébert [Canadian, 1850-1917] which still stands in the park. There also were two medallions commissioned from the artist at the same time – one of Queen Victoria and the other of King Edward VII (which was removed at some unknown time and a replacement medallion was commissioned).  There is quite an extensive write-up about this piece located here, even though there are some noticeable inaccuracies in the content of the website, the content is generally very good.

Given the nature of this park as a memorial, once again I will travel down a speculative road. Unfortunately, I had a huge 800+ page digital file containing extensive research notes and information on public art in Calgary on my old computer.  It evaporated off my hard-drive around this time last year. As a result I must go from memory alone on this. Around the time the Amazon sculpture was installed (or proposed) the Hébert sculpture was also proposed. There is the potential for interesting speculation – I wonder if there was some discussion between Iverson and Stanley for future planned use of the park as a memorial site.

Regardless, we know that the Amazons were important part of Greek mythology as warriors. As such the placement of this sculpture in front of the library, which serves as a seat of knowledge, was quite thoughtful and inspired especially given the future use of the park as a memorial.

It would also be interesting to know given that (if it is fact, which it may not be), whether the organizers and the parks superintendent at the time of the installation of the I.O.D.E. sponsored WWI sculpture by Couer-de-lion MacCarthy [Canadian, 1881-1979] were aware of this context. Of course, we are dealing in second guessing. If this was known, might the MacCarthy sculpture been positioned elsewhere on the park. If so, where?

Back to the Mawson plan. I think that Iverson had grand ambitions for town planning which involved cultural properties and assets. I base this on the ambitious projects he undertook on the time he was here.  To continue my speculation, I assume that when Thomas Mawson was doing his grand tour of Canada, it might have been easier to hire him and make Iverson expendable. As stated, this is rank speculation on my part, but it is an interesting speculation nevertheless.

Based on my conversation with Christine from the Public Library yesterday, she will most likely have more information in her upcoming blog posting on the library site. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.

Now for the sales pitch.

At the time of writing the Stephen magazine article, I became aware of another copy of the August Kiss sculpture Amazon on Horseback Attacked by a Lion (or alternatively Panther that is currently available on the market. Is this the same piece as was once in Calgary? Who knows? Maybe it is still in a crate in a warehouse that has not been opened for decades. Maybe it was sold. Maybe it was scrapped. We may never know what actually happened.

As stated in the Stephen magazine, that this work and others are available in the market periodically.  If someone wanted to step up to the plate and purchase this work as a potential donation to the City of Calgary Civic Art Collection, I am of the opinion that this would be a phenomenal addition to the collection. I would be very willing to help broker this deal and put the two parties together.

This sculpture deserves to be in Calgary. Although neglected at one time and probably defaced and or damaged, this is our history. We should be proud of being essentially a small-town in the early 1900s with grand ambitions and the balls to put a piece of public art on display that was probably risqué at the time. Kudos to all those involved. Who knows, maybe it will be just like the blue ring 100 years from now. It is a very important part of our local history and we should have it here.

Old stuff for a new year

Why do I have this feeling of being like St. John the Baptist wailing in the wilderness. . .

What do I see today when I look further to other recent Calgary Public Library blog posts? Yet another posting in the month of December 2013, this time on the Calgary Natural History Society and the Calgary Public Museum – both which are a significant and integral part of my self-funded, independent research that I have focused on nearly full-time for the past couple years.

Finally. Finally it is as if someone is actually paying attention to what I have been working on for the past very, very long time. You have no idea how long, but rest assured it is a long, long time.

I note that there is a significant factual error in this article that has been given prominence of place. In the grand scheme of things it is a relatively minor error. It is one that I made as well early on and it took me quite a while to figure out. For a very strong hint, look at the pictures and use the available information at hand to find your way.

This is an important and timely project that should have been partially funded by Calgary 2012, especially looking back in retrospect and given what is happening in the city now. But apparently only people like Harry Sanders to whom I remember telling about the incineration incident featured in this blog post about a year ago, were actually paying attention.

Here is to hoping that others will finally pay attention as well.

The Amazon Mystery Continues

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This afternoon when searching for something else, I stumbled across a blog post that the Calgary Public Library posted about a month ago in December in their Community Heritage and Family History blog – entitled Whatever Happened to the Amazon Sculpture?

It is about the mystery of a missing piece of public sculpture once located in the city, and originally situated a little over 100 years ago. 

The public library article draws from something that I wrote about the Amazon sculpture almost a year ago for a magazine called Stephen (see page 31). It is always nice to receive their acknowledgement for the previous work that I have done, especially since there was a lot of unpaid research undertaken to write that article.

Without going into further detail, all I will state is that the new issue of Stephen that covers the period January-April 2014 should be released within the week if all goes as planned.

I understand from the editor, there will be two articles in that issue about the Amazon sculpture.

One will be a first-hand account of some sort written by a lady who lived across the street from South Mount Royal Park whom I have met, along with some photos dating from the time she lived there.  In addition there will also be an article written by myself.

So in that context, what is the fun of it, if I let others know what is contained in a hard-copy written form before it is published?  We have waited something like a half-century to find out.  What is a few more days. 

Watch for the new issue as there could potentially be some answers in it.

2013 Year in Review


It is the time of year when one looks back upon and reviews the year that is coming to a close; looks forward to the year that is yet to come; and amend or make plans accordingly.

I know that this will show up on New Year’s Day.  This has more to do with the quirks of this website and when midnight happens at their end, not mine.  Regardless, I worked on this when I could not sleep last night and woke up in the middle of the night, and decided to make the best of it, and review what happened in the visual arts this past year in Calgary.  Unfortunately I had to rush off early this morning and although it was posted, something happened and I had to re-enter it when I got home tonight. 


Upon reflection, it was a very active year and a lot of stuff happened in Calgary.  I am sure I am probably missing something blatantly obvious, as is usually the case in these type of overviews.  Here are a few of the highlights in no particular order:

Calgary 2012

After numerous attempts by those involved to nab the title of Cultural Capital of Canada over the prior decade and subsequently losing to places such as Edmonton and others – Calgary finally grabbed the brass ring, an honour it shared with the Niagara Region.  The year-long celebration wrapped up in early 2013.  But not before the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage announced that this programme will end, and that there will be no further Cultural Capitals of Canada named.

This honour was to recognize the 100th anniversary of the (modern) Calgary Stampede; the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Public Library; the 100th anniversary of Calgary Parks and Recreation; the 100th anniversary of the Grand Theatre; the 100th anniversary of the Pumphouse (now a theatre) while recognizing the “western cultural heritage” and “world-class” statuses of these organizations. 

It should also be noted in this context, that 2012 was also the 100th anniversary of the first public museum and art gallery in Calgary which cooperated with, partnered and/or worked together with all these other noted organizations (and others) during the course of its short existence.  Ironically it also corresponded with the 100th anniversary of the first piece of publically situated sculpture.  I spent over two years of full-time, self-funded research on this museum, which closed after hobbling along for a few years prior, in 1927 (along with many, many other related organizations, places, people and venues that have continued the lineage to the present day) – which I still am funding out of my own pocketbook, and continue to do so when I have any available time to commit to this project.  This website, being a small public extension of those commitments I have made to myself.

For the closing party there was a celebration of the filming of the official “lip-dub” video worthy of including in a grandstand show which paid homage to The Stampeders 1971 classic song, Sweet City Woman (the link to the official video is here which had only 29,950 viewers and the most recent comment was from 8 months ago when I checked earlier this morning, which reflects the reality that the entire festival was for the most part, largely forgettable – although some good outcomes definitely came from it.  But as a reminder, the nature of these type of events will always have a certain amount of hits and misses.  It is just the way it is.


One of the potentially very interesting and dynamic outcomes of Calgary 2012 is InvestYYC.  The people from the Calgary area, seemingly express the desire to see arts organizations supported from their own constituencies and not the public purse; show self-reliance; self-sufficiency; and engage in creating their own funding, as would be expected from a small-c conservative, business-oriented city where many come as financial émigrés or “work-campers” who in turn never really create roots in the community.  This even though they may live here for an extended period of time (maybe even a full-career) or for a project and enjoy the benefits while still considering their home to be elsewhere. It is a work-camp ( a nice one, but a work camp nevertheless).  It all is a state of mind that a certain significant percentage will always have, due to the nature of the primary business in the city and the corporate environments of continual acquisitions, divestitures, mergers and project financing involved in extracting its resources and maximizing asset values. 

InvestYYC had an early buy-in from many people and some projects were very successfully funded.  However, when I checked the website earlier this morning there was only one project listed for the Calgary Wind Symphony.  It had only received $310 over the past two months with another four months left to go in the campaign.


Another beneficial outcome of Calgary 2012 is the #yycartsplan.  There were a number of information sessions and consultations undertaken during 2012 and 2013 which I was a participant in for some sessions.  An initial report was presented to a committee of City Council in early June for review and the process is now at stage three.  The amount of people attending in its support was such that the committee had to move from the small meeting room to the much larger City Council Chambers.  This showed how important this process is to those involved in the arts.  A further revision should be going to City Council in March 2014.

The Flood of 2013

A number of cultural venues such as Stride, Avalanche, the Public Library, some City infrastructure and public art and the Calgary Stampede were all affected significantly.  Outside the city the Museum of the Highwood in High River and the historic Medalta Studios in Medicine Hat also suffered significant damage.  In addition there were a few commercial galleries both in Calgary and elsewhere that suffered great losses too, some of which was not fully reported in the news media. 

I spent most of the month of July in the High River commercial zone wearing hazardous material suits and full-respirators, while working 12+ hour days, seven-days a week without a break during that time.  I helped businesses re-establish themselves from their devastation as quickly as possible while there.  Most of that time was spent either directly across the street from the Highwood or within a two block radius from it.  My heart was broken when I hear of the great losses they suffered, which I heard from those working there, which was only magnified by the devastation that I had seen with my own eyes in the projects I was working on.  Fortunately, unaffected cultural institutions sent professionals on secondment to help them out which I am sure was a great help and greatly appreciated I am sure.  Occasionally we would take breaks at similar times, so that I would get occasional updates as a result.  It was heart-breaking to hear of cultural legacies damaged by the destructive power of Mother Nature and how powerless we as individuals are against her fury when it is unleashed.

Valerie Cooper and the Art Gallery of Calgary

The Art Gallery of Calgary finally received closure to its year-long drama that affected the institution deeply, when former president and CEO Valerie Cooper was sentenced to jail for malfeasance and fraud this past November.


Back in April, the city invited tenders for cultural and/or heritage uses for the Planetarium that was vacated by the Science Centre and the Children’s Museum a few years ago with the opening of what is now known as Telus Spark.  A number of proposals were put together and submitted.  To date there has been no announcement yet of the successful project or projects that will be located on that site.  No doubt the flood slowed down the selection process somewhat, as it was temporarily used as an emergency shelter while remedial work was made to their affected premises.  Although I would think that the social agency is probably able to use its former premises by now, it is certainly possible that it may still be in use for this emergency purpose.

As a fan of the Brutalist style of architecture, I am pleased to know that this unique landmark building which defines the skyline from the west end of downtown, will most likely not be torn down in the foreseeable future (which in Calgary as it relates to older architecture, in itself is a win).  The same fate may or may not be said for the old Calgary Board of Education Building or the former Calgary Catholic School Board Building located across the street from each other on the other end of downtown.  We will see what time will bring, along with the desires of the new landlords of the two school buildings.

Public Art

Reading front-page stories about art and hearing controversy about public art makes me happy.  This year it happened during the midst of an election.  I would rather hear people talking about public art than not.  At least when they are talking it is connecting with its audience on a deep, visceral level.  This is what art should do.

I would rather have art that people hate, and have them express that opinion, than have banal and uninteresting work that is safe on all levels and not worthy of any further mention.  To those that sat on the selection jury for the Travelling Light piece (a.k.a. the Blue Ring) – thank you for being brave and selecting it.

Academic Institutions

Near the end of the academic year a student in his final year at Alberta College of Art and Design killed a live chicken in the cafeteria as part of a final critique.  It was shocking to some students, which is understandable.  Since this happened in an art college, normally that would be the end of the situation and life would go on.  However, this time it elicited commentary on local media and got picked up on the newswires and as a result got much wider news coverage than normal.

The resulting furore over this incident resulted in a full-tenured professor and head of the department being dismissed.  Of course this only resulted in a stronger reaction and a more prolonged coverage of this story.  Long story short, the professor got his job back about a month later.

Around the same time, provincial budget cuts come into effect and Mount Royal College and the University of Calgary, along with the University of Alberta and to a lesser extent ACAD all had their budgets cut.  I am greatly simplifying things, I am quite aware, but it generally was a situation where the departments that were affected the most ended up being in the arts.  This of course, prompts the question what role if any does a liberal-arts education play in developing a well-rounded student educational experience?  Should we be focusing exclusively on developing “worker-bees” whose learned skillsets are already obsolete by the time they graduate, or do we want to have students who have the ability to think independently and develop a habit of continual learning at a time when technology and change is increasing at phenomenal rates of speed?  One must ask, how many career paths will those entering undergraduate programs now have in their lifetimes?  Guaranteed, it will be more than those who are the administrators, decision makers and professors at those same institutions.

Art Central and Telus Sky

A new landmark building will soon emerge on our skyline.  It looks like it will be a very interesting building.  If the press reports are correct there will also be a gallery space located somewhere inside.  Hopefully it will happen on a faster schedule than the York Hotel.  The York is still a fenced off gravel expanse which people cannot even access, which is located above an underground parking garage across the street from Art Central.  Although there was certainly talk about developing the York as a cultural space at one time prior tot he building coming down, this is not the context for a further discussion about that.  Regardless, this vacant wasteland (for lack of a better descriptor) has laid vacant for at least the past three years.  Even the construction hoarding facing alongside the 7th Avenue transit corridor still remains from when the structure was still a big hole in the ground dating back to 2007 or 2008.

One thing I do know, is that Telus in the past, has shown that it was extremely supportive of the visual arts in Calgary – case in point, the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA).  Because of this history and how everything ended up between the two parties, I will definitely be interested and curious to see what comes of this new space.  To the best of my knowledge what form this proposed space will take has not been defined – which in itself, could be a very good thing.

Merger of MOCA, IMCA and AGC to form Contemporary Calgary

I have written at length about this recent merger, and I must leave for work soon, so will not re-invent the wheel by writing about it again.  Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this all pans out in the New Year.

Wreck City and Phantom Wing

Developing audiences is one of the most important things that those involved in the various arts communities can do, in this notoriously difficult city as it relates especially to the visual arts.  Both projects succeeded in introducing new audiences to the visual arts with minimal commitment.   Both projects introduced new audiences and can only be thought of in successful terms as it relates to public engagement.  I wish I had more time to talk further about this, but I don’t.  I have to run.

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks New Space

Last night there was an event celebrating the 30+ years of DJD at their old space near where Truck and Stride are now located.  In the last couple weeks, City Council approved a new space for them.  I wish them success in the new space at the Kahanoff Centre as well. 


To all those in the arts community in Calgary, and those that are also interested in the visual arts – I send my best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.  May this be your best year ever.