The potential imminent demise of a cultural legacy

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Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) after visiting my family for the holidays, I happened to be downtown and noticed that active demolition work was being performed on the site adjoining the former Art Central Building – which will soon be known as the new Telus Sky Building site.

It is possible that I did not mention it, but I certainly alluded to it previously, that the external walls of the Art Central Building proper (a.k.a. the old Jubilee Block) were fully demolished a little over a week ago. It took longer than what I originally anticipated it would take. I have also noticed demolition is more active on the weekends than it is during the week. I wish that I could say that the same thing happened when the York Hotel was being demolished when I had an active small business operating across the street from it. That is in the distant past and water under the bridge, now that my business has closed. But I digress.

Now the demolition has begun to move on from the Art Central Building (which is complete) and onward to the adjoining Col. James Walker Park and single level building below.

The Col. James Walker Park was little more than a flat cement surface on the +15 level that housed a small open-air fenced off playground made accessible for children who have care facilities in the neighbouring buildings connected to the +15 network.

One of those nearby buildings that contains children during the workweek is the adjoining Len Werry Building. It will be incorporated into the larger Telus Sky building project. In addition to the offices located above in that building, the Len Werry Building also houses the Calgary Board of Education’s W. H. Cushing Workplace School for grades K-3.

From a press release issued earlier this month, the Calgary Board of Education is now seeking a new partnership for this school. The W. H. Cushing School began operations at this location in 1995 and its current lease ends in July 2016. As a casual observer of these type of things, I would now consider it a safe assumption that if the right opportunity came along, all parties involved probably would seriously contemplate ending the lease prematurely. This is especially true given the amount of construction taking place in the immediate area both now and in the immediate future. As many will know, and I know personally from past experience, this type of activity can be highly disruptive to either a business or learning experience.


The Len Werry Building has an interesting history. Part of that interesting history is surrounded in confusion. As seen in the photo above the Calgary Herald Building (built circa 1913) has a similar footprint, design and scale to the Len Werry Building. This is especially true, when one considers how the other building later occupied by the Calgary Herald was changed around the same time (see photo below).


In the interim between the two buildings. The Calgary Herald Building was re-purposed and re-used as the Greyhound Bus Terminal which was its use between circa 1947-1971.

We know that there was some modification at the time its use was changed to allow buses to access the interior of the building. I have seen photos of the building when it was used as a Greyhound Bus Terminal and it appears somewhat similar (at least from the exterior facing 7th Avenue and 1st Street SW) to its previous use as the Calgary Herald Building as seen above. As a result, I question how much modification was done to the exterior except where buses entered and/or left. I would expect that there probably were significant modifications to the interior to allow access for buses as well.

One thing that is interesting about the repurposing of this building is that it housed Luke Lindoe’s first major public art commission (1947). We know that it was a portal relief in concrete. According to information that I have in my possession, and dates from when Luke Lindoe was still living, it is understood that this commission was destroyed. Presumably it was destroyed in the building’s demolition, prior to the Len Werry Building being built circa 1973 or 1974.

In an October 1971 news story in the Calgary Herald, it was indicated that the new Len Werry Building would be 10-storeys high and cost $12-million to build. Obviously there was some changes after that time as it would appear that the current building is slightly higher as seen in the photo above.


Getting back to the confusion, it increases due to the fact the Calgary Herald later occupied two buildings across the street (the former Southam Chambers Building that was re-clad with marble in the 1970s along with a smaller press building across the alley to the north, as seen in the photo above) both of which were destroyed in either 2012 or 2013. The Southam Chambers Building was built at the same time as the Calgary Herald Building, using the same architect and with the same corporate ownership. Of course anyone that knows much about the newspaper industry would know that the Southam family through their ownership of Southam Newspapers owned the Calgary Herald for a very long time including around 1912 or 1913 when the two buildings were constructed.

The last building that the Calgary Herald occupied downtown resided on the site of the new double-tower Brookfield Place which is now a big hole in the ground. For further reference, Christine Hayes from the Calgary Public Library back in January 2012 wrote this helpful blog post which contains a timeline and photos showing a history of the Calgary Herald and their buildings.

* * *

I guess I have gone on a bit of rambling preamble to the main point of my current post – the terra cotta gargoyles created by English stone carver connected to the Royal Doulton China company, Mark V. Marshall [1879-1912]. Marshall was commissioned by the Southam family to produce these gargoyles I want to talk about further.

To do this properly, we must go back to the period around 1912.

In what was still essentially a frontier town, the population in the City of Calgary had only reached 47,000 at the population height during 1912. It was a time when the city was undergoing rapid growth as evidenced by the formation of the 100,000 Club which anticipated that the population would reach that number by 1915. It was also the year that the Calgary Stampede was recreated in its modern form throwing off the shackles of its Agricultural Fair past dating back to 1886. It was also a time when the focus started in creating a ‘world-class city’ a discussion which continues to the present day.

In that context, there were a couple ideas percolating in the city. One of these was the establishment of public art (a topic that I have written about previously, I probably will write about again, and what I want to talk about now).

I previously have discussed the reproduction of Auguste Kiss’ sculpture Mounted Amazon Attacked by a Panther that was installed in Central Memorial Park (which is still presumed missing); along with Louis Philippe Hébert’s heroic-scaled equestrian commissioned sculpture of an anonymous cavalry officer to commemorate the Boer War which was intended to be paid for by a group led by Major Stanley Jones, but in the end was largely paid for by the City due to unfortunate timing of WWI and drought in the area. Both of these sculptures can make reasonable claims for being the first piece of publicly-situated sculptures in the City.

In the Wikipedia entry that talks about the Hébert sculpture, makes this fabulous claim, “the statue is one and a half times life size, and has been described as one of the four finest equestrian statues in the world.” Although that last part sounds rather intriguing to ponder, interestingly there is no note attributing the source attached. It is a high standard that is claimed, so I would be rather curious to know how the ranking was determined; and what methodology was used to do so. There are some other comments in the same entry that also made me raise an eyebrow as well. To my mind, all these claims as a whole, suggest to me that whomever wrote this part of the entry must be prone to engaging in a bit of world-class thinking, but I digress. All that from trying to remember what the artist’s first name was.

The third public art project in the 1911-1914 period was the gargoyles which I mentioned briefly above.

In the photo at the top of this post which shows the active demolition of the Col. James Walker Park and the one-storey building below shows a series of visible gargoyles.

In the summer of 2013, knowing the ultimate destiny of this park given the news release announcing the Telus Sky development plans, I took photos of the Col. James Walker Park while it was still accessible to the public. Here is a photo of the gargoyles which are attached to the Len Werry Building at that time. In the photo at the top of this post, they still appear to be there.

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These gargoyles are interesting in themselves, but also are a source of some speculation as well.

The gargoyles were originally attached to both the Calgary Herald Building and the Southam Chambers Building. There was a large number of them which decorated the building exteriors. When the Calgary Herald/Greyhound Bus Lines Building was demolished in 1972 (probably) many of them were salvaged. There was speculation that when the Southam Chambers Building exterior was re-clad in Vermont white marble that the gargoyles attached to that building may have been covered over. Like some speculations this has continued to this day. However in a Calgary Herald article written by the then publisher, Frank Swanson on June 04, 1966 in response to inquiries about what is going on at the Herald building, stated the following:

Several people have expressed dismay that the ancient facing had to be eliminated along with the little gargoyles which decorate the front and side of the building. The fact of the matter was that the old facing of brick and terra cotta had become so weather-beaten and had degenerated so badly that it had become a very considerable hazard. Several pieces, up to the size of a football, have actually dropped off the building in the last two or three years, endangering passers-by below.

So it would seem likely to assume that all the gargoyles were removed from both buildings in the 1966-1972 time period. Whether they were all saved is another question altogether.

Regardless of the ultimate destiny of all the gargoyles, we do know that some gargoyles have been saved.

The January 11, 1973 issue of the Calgary Herald published a photo of two of the gargoyles (see Glenbow Archives photo NA-2864-22325 below).


The caption to this photo states:

Carole Garroni, a Calgary Herald newspaper employee, pictured with gargoyles that were removed from the old downtown Greyhound building before it was demolished. The building had once been the home of the Herald newspaper and the gargoyles were caricatures depicting the employees. They were made in England by Royal Doulton. The removal of the Greyhound building made way for the development of a new Alberta Government Telephones building.

One of the two photographed gargoyles, the theatre critic is currently adhered to the wall of the Len Werry Building as seen below. The editor which is the other featured figure in this photo may potentially still be located in the lobby of the Len Werry Building. However, there is still a similar figure, the stenographer which is affixed to the wall like the theatre critic.

We know that there are approximately ten gargoyles (including some ornamental embellishments, which I am going to assume came from one of the two buildings) that have been incorporated into the sandstone exterior of the Alberta Hotel Building at the corner of 8th Avenue and 1st Street SW. These were added at some point after 1973.

When the building was demolished there was a large public outcry about their destiny. Regardless of the outcry, only 240 of the gargoyles were saved. The City of Calgary owns 46 of them. The Glenbow owns a few of the larger gargoyles as well.

In addition there are a few which are located in the Science B Building at the University of Calgary as well and in the Convention Centre. I am sure that there are probably a few others that I am not aware of.

In talking to Frank Hall in the past, I understand that some of them were dispersed through his auction house in the 1970s. They were sold by the City with the proceeds to fund the Historical Preservation Fund for heritage projects. Periodically they still appear. Recently one appeared on eBay and was the subject of a 2007 news story.

And as seen in the photo I took in the summer of 2013 something like 23 are located on the wall of the Len Werry Building at the Col. James Walker Park.

For now the 23 gargoyles are still safe – barely. Although it would appear as if their destiny may very well be the landfill in the very near future, unless some backhoe operator takes compassion upon them. Personally, having witnessed this sort of thing before, I have very little faith in this happening.

The other alternative to their rescue is if someone rallies the cause and draws attention to their potential demise – just like the careers of those who are portrayed on that wall – the theatre critic, the stenographer, the typesetter, B.S.S. the Devil, the Other Architect, and the cleaner that is a union member.

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Then there is this mural from the students from the W.H. Cushing Workplace School which is still located in the Col. James Walker Park as well. The students who created this would be in high school now, maybe in university. They have probably forgotten about this project that probably mentions Y2K, as have their parents.


New Edward Gallery inaugural exhibition


It is Christmas Day and I am home alone, missing my family, whom I haven’t seen in about a year. But I will soon.

So I figure I might as well pass the time writing something.

A few days ago I attended the inaugural exhibition of the New Edward Gallery which was held in an empty, basement apartment suite that is maybe 400 sq. ft.  in size. It was a three-day show that would rarely elicit mention in a written publication of any sort.

The show that was curated (I am assuming) contained an interesting accretion of works by various artists that I know are active in the community (even if it is marginally the case, due to work or family commitments). They are active either as participants or producing artists, but are definitely not “art-stars”. This should not be taken as a slight. For the most part these artists produce work that rarely gets past the gatekeepers that operate the commercial and publicly-funded institutional galleries.

The work that I saw at the inaugural show held at the New Edward Gallery reflected the pluralism that is not only the current art world, but our society at large. The work ranged from traditional figurative nudes, drawings, assemblages, sculpture, photo-based work and installation. This three-day exhibition (which has now ended) serves an important purpose – giving the opportunity for artists to produce work and present it to viewers who may not ever have the opportunity to visit the artist’s studio.

* * * 

As a society, no longer are we satisfied with the hegemony that comes with officially-sanctioned leadership that dictates what is important and what we should view. With increasing data mining, computer analytics, predictive choices in our TV viewing and internet surfing; combined with what we watch; and with whom we interact online – it is not surprising that individualism and pluralism is the new societal norm.

This fact of pluralism and individuality is surprising in the current art world on a certain level. This given the preponderance of the generally cheery content-free, powder-coated and mirrored surfaces that more often than not caters to the global collecting class, corporatization of art, and the art fairs that the collectors attend, from whence the “art-stars” are made.

* * *

There is a long tradition in the city of Calgary that the opening of this gallery recalls and reintroduces.

During the course of my multi-year research on visual art-based institutional culture in Calgary, I have found that there are numerous spaces and DIY initiatives that have operated in a similar manner since the 1970s (and probably earlier). It is certainly not a new idea that an artist operate outside of the conventions of officialdom to present their own work and/or their associates that they feel is worthy of merit.

One only has to look to the example of Gustave Courbet in conjunction with his refusal to participate in the French state-sponsored and sanctioned Exposition Universelle in 1855. In response to this exhibition he produced a show of his work in a tent on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Courbet, although influential was not alone. We also know that Jacques-Louis David self-produced a show of his work in 1799, as well. Others have done this as well, ranging from the Russian Futurists in 1915 in Petrograd to Damien Hirst in London, 1988 along with many, MANY more including our own Wreck City “artist-curators” in 2013.

The concept of artist-curators and alternative art spaces will probably not end soon in Calgary. Of this I can be relatively certain.

Unless local viewers are particularly active in the community or personal friends with some of these artists that showed at the New Edward Gallery between the opening on December 22 and the end of the exhibition run on Christmas Eve, most would never know who these artists are. Each of these artists could be seen at an art exhibition opening; or quietly serving one’s morning coffee; working the cash register at a retail store; occupying yet another faceless cubicle in an office; or as a labourer on a worksite, but yet their practice still continues. This show is evidence of it.

In the interim I will continue to keep my eyes open for more of these type of activities and document them as best I can to compliment my larger research project.

If you as a reader have had a similar type of exhibition space in the past (or plan one in the future). Please send me a message. Or if you have research material such as printed invitations or exhibition lists, etc. to these type of spaces in Calgary, I want to know more.

Eighth Avenue Place West Tower art and a related rambling post


This past Friday I wandered through Eighth Avenue Place.

For those that don’t know it is one of the more recent buildings to be built in the city. It is a two tower building with interesting architecture (for those that consider a giant glass box interesting). What makes it so, is the top which is intended to allude to mountain peaks. The first tower (east tower) opened probably three or four years ago and the west tower was officially opened this past October 16th, if I recall correctly what one of the security guards told me when I asked a few weeks ago when I first noticed new art being placed on the walls.

As I have probably mentioned previously, the building contains a well-selected collection of art that is visibly displayed in the lobby. In my opinion, and I realize it is a judgement call on my part, it is one of the better publicly viewable collections in an office lobby in the downtown core. Most office buildings in the downtown core have little, if any, publicly viewable art and when it is, it is more often than not – a single piece of sculpture. So it is not that difficult of a judgement to make.

The collection that has been accumulated so far is generally focused on Ontario, Quebec and BC art from the mid-century period. From the perspective of someone who has dealt in art for most of his adult life, I would suggest that the works selected are a good base to build a collection upon for someone looking at a modernist collection. So whomever the art advisor(s) they have used, deserves kudos on their choices.

What has been previously installed in the East Tower lobbies are:

  • Jack Shadbolt painting Wild Grass Suite – Quintet (1979)
  • Jack Bush painting New York 55, (1955)
  • Ray Mead painting Totem (1986)
  • Jean McEwan painting Le Climat Rouge (1957)
  • Jean-Paul Riopelle painting Oliviers (1966)
  • Marcel Ferron painting Chile (1973)

They are just about complete. Each of the elevator lobbies in the west tower now has a work assigned to it. So far they have placed four works which are:

  • a Jack Shadbolt painting from 1959
  • a William Ronald painting from 1955
  • a Jean-Paul Riopelle canvas from 1955 (see picture above)
  • a Marcel Barbeau painting located behind the security desk from what I would speculate dates from circa 2002

There is still one wall remaining (unless something was installed there this weekend. It is located on the north facing wall at the main entrance for 8th Avenue SW, which directly accesses the west tower. Whether it has been selected or not,

I am going to make an unsolicited recommendation, and I understand that it will probably have little (if any) bearing upon the outcome.

My recommendation is that I would strongly suggest acquiring a work by Rita Letendre for that space.

Here is my primary reason why:

In the entire lobby ALL but ONE of the works selected and installed so far, have been created by white, male artists. However the ONE exception is created by a token female artist – Marcelle Ferron. To select another female artist will help remedy this gender imbalance, and will reflect better upon the significant amount of practising artists that are female both living and deceased during the Canadian post-WWII period through to the end of the 20th century that the works selected for the building belong.

Not only was Rita Letendre a woman who held her own in a period of predominately male-centric dominance in the visual arts; she also won major non-gender specific awards in international shows and competitions; and received major commissions at the same time. One of these, the 1964 commission she completed at California State College, Long Beach prompted to move her work into a completely new direction away from the abstract-expressionist influenced work that riffed off work by major artists such as Franz Kline, Clyfford Still and highly influential, but under-rated Canadian/Québécois artist Paul-Émile Bordous (who in my mind should be included as well).

As an aside, before I go any further, I should explain why I made the statement about “male-centric dominance” in the last paragraph. I expect that someone will take exception to my comments. By stating what I did, I mean the period of time prior to 1985, which to my mind is important in this context of work being exhibited. This year of 1985, can be considered a benchmark year to mark when change to the status quo began. It was defined by the Guerilla Girls and the year that this group was formed. Through their vocal feminist activism and as a result of their fomentation, they were subsequently able to draw attention to the gender imbalance in New York City museums and their exhibitions at that time. This resulted in the desired effect of increased influence on future dealings with female artists and opened many doors that were previously closed to them, even though there were artists such Joyce Wieland, Emily Carr, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Jean Sutherland Boggs and others who were not fully constrained by gender barriers during that male-centric time.

Like Marcelle Ferron, Letendre was closely aligned with the group of artists in Quebec (Riopelle, Barbeau, Ferron, in particular; and McEwan to a lesser extent) that have been previously selected and installed in this building. She also has a connection to Toronto and its artists (such as the Painters 11 members Bush, Mead and Ronald) through her long-standing relationship with Kosso Eloul. Many in Calgary will be familiar with Eloul’s work from the elegantly simple and muscular sculpture standing in front of the former Nova Building (now the Nexen Building) only two blocks away from Eighth Avenue Place which is visible from the C-Train tracks.

In addition to that, Letendre is of aboriginal descent. So to give a major work of hers pride of place, is probably a smart idea.

Here is why.

As any person working in the resource extraction area in Calgary will know, there is a significant amount of oil and gas exploration by Calgary based companies, and pipelines that cross aboriginal communities. Many larger companies will have specialists who deal with aboriginal relationships. In addition, there is a significant amount of potential resulting controversy that goes with these ongoing relationships (think Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, the Lubicon Cree protest of The Spirit Sings exhibition at the Glenbow and more). Any person who reads or follows recent news will know that aboriginal issues are topical and in some cases need to be addressed.

So the fact that there is very little (if any) art on display in lobbies of Calgary office towers by aboriginal artists of note (and there are many) is extremely surprising. Personally I find this oversight somewhat shocking given this knowledge stated above. But I digress.

But what do I know. I am just an observer of this sort of detail – a direct result of dealing in Canadian art from pre-Confederation to present day for close to two decades. However, if someone reads this and wants a knowledgeable art consultant for a corporate collection that is more than just a one trick pony (like many art consultants and designers) – send me an email and let’s talk. I wasn’t elected as the chair of the civic art collection committee for a number of years without a reason. It would also give me a reason to do something that engages my interest and passion more than the predominately mindless retail banter I am currently engaged in daily which I expect to get laid-off from in exactly eleven days (immediately following Boxing Day, or of I am fortunate have my employment extended until New Year’s Eve).


On a related side note, I should give a quick shout-out to Brittney Bear Hat and the work of hers that was recently installed on a billboard near the intersection of Glenmore and Blackfoot Trails (see photo above). This work is part of the current iteration of the Calgary Biennial which began a few weeks ago and will continue through to February or March 2015. This is the type of dialogue I would expect to see more of in this city – a dialogue which should be encouraged and supported by both industry and the public at large. This is particularly true and desirable given the close working relationship between oil & gas exploration and current aboriginal issues. I may talk about either this work and/or the Calgary Biennial at a later time. It all depends on my available time personally to do so.

Of note, given this context, I should also draw attention to the recent four-day long Stronger than Stone: (Re)Inventing the Indigenous Monument conference which was held late last month at Alberta College of Art and Design and at Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery.

Ironically, this long-winded deviation was not the reason (or intent) for why I started this post. But now that it has been written, I somewhat like it, and now would like to keep it.

Initially, it was my intention to write about Jack Bush.

I guess I got distracted and got off on to a rambling tangent. Something I am prone to do from time to time. I guess I will have to finish the Jack Bush posting later. I will plan to do it after work this evening, although I know in advance that it will be a very long day of work (probably close to16 hours) for me including outside of the retail job I mentioned earlier, I also will be doing an art install in the regional offices of one the big five Canadian banks later this morning. So it probably won’t help that I was up at 4:00am to write this. I may as a result take an extra few days to do so.

Regardless of which artist is selected for this last remaining space, I am sure that it will be well-selected as have the other works in the past.


Festive and edible sculptures at the Hyatt

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I am sure most are aware of the expression, “don’t play with your food.” I suspect every mother has said it to their kids at one time or another.

Today of course, being the first of December, it is not overly surprising to see seasonal decorations.

Earlier this afternoon I happened to find myself in the lobby of the Hyatt downtown. The Hyatt has a lot of art in the lobby area, which is generally western focused. Many of the artists on display show at the Stampede every (or most) years.

What caught my interest today was something else.

There was a very large gingerbread house (let’s call it a mansion instead) along with a small gingerbread village surrounding it located in the lobby area. There is even an “angry bird” as a village resident.

It is quite impressive.

It must have been installed sometime today, as both the concierge and doorman whom I talked to as I was leaving knew nothing about it. But they both came with me to check it out as they were intrigued by what I described to them. I assume it probably was one (or more) of the chefs that works at the hotel.

If you happen to be in the area, it is well worth a visit. As long as one of the kids (or maybe a big kid or two) doesn’t pinch some of the candies off one of the houses.

Someone obviously had a lot of fun playing with that food.