Pi Day Exhibition at John Snow House


There are very few constants in the world today. One of them is pure math.

Today marks the once a century Pi Day.

Notwithstanding the conventions of dating protocol, starting with the largest number and working progressively smaller, Pi Day is a bit of an anomaly. However for this sake, and I am probably not alone in this regard – I will celebrate month/day/year for warm pie!!

This all is preamble to talk about an exhibition of craft-based work.

Like math, craft is another constant.

What is produced may change, but many of the building blocks of craft practice will remain. So in that respect it is like pure math, whereby new things are built, but the fundamental principles remain.

From talking to one of my neighbours a few weeks (maybe a month) ago, she let me know about a group exhibition that will be held for one night only at John Snow House.

Pi Party front (1)

Tonight the exhibition begins at 6:00pm at John Snow House.

I understand that there probably will be pie tonight, for those that attend, if they so desire.

I don’t know if I asked, but if I recall the conversation correctly that it may be some sort of craft based exhibition. It is also possible that it is a student exhibition from the craft media program at Alberta College of Art and Design.

I do know that the John Snow House also hosts periodic Craft Nights, where artists who work in craft-based media work on projects while also networking and probably a bit of drinking as well. It all seems very civilized. One day I will actually attend. It may also tie in with that as well.

PiParty Handbill back (1)

I am going from memory here, so I could be corrected on this. For a while John Snow House was used as a residence for some of the recipients of the Markin-Flanagan Fellowship Writer-in-Residence program at the University of Calgary. I believe now it is simply called the Distinguished Writers Program.

More memory here, sometime around 2007ish (maybe?) John Snow House made some sort of relationship with The New Gallery. I was on the TNG Board at the time it happened. Since then it has been an adjunct space for The New Gallery.

Nevertheless, the home has an interesting history. John Snow was primarily a printmaker. His medium of choice was lithography and he produced lithographs between the early 1950s to the 1990s. He also periodically produced block prints, especially in the late 1940s, that in my opinion are very strong. He also did paintings and sculptures as well. I have sold many works of his and had visited him in this house when he was still living there. He took a bad fall and had to move to a seniors residence for the last few years of his life. He worked professionally as a banker, but he was very involved in the arts community. His wife Kay was a librarian.

John Snow moved in the same circle as Max Bates and Illingworth Kerr (who lived around the corner from John Snow). Max Bates as an architect designed an addition to the house. Also in the basement is the large lithographic press that he salvaged and one which most of his prints were pulled (along with other artists).

With all that history. I am glad that the house has been saved and put to a use that recognizes the buildings history and occupants.

* * *

Postscript (2015 March 15)

I attended the event last night. Unlike yesterday when I initially wrote this, I can speak more intelligently about the show. It is a required project that students in the FINA 450 class at Alberta College of Art and Design must do. What this involves is all aspects of the exhibition from planning, finding the space, right through to execution of the exhibition, and everything required in between.

These are students in their final year from all disciplines. My perception that it would have a craft element was influenced by the knowledge of the program that the neighbour who told me about the show is in. Because I previously knew about the craft nights, I assumed that they may have been related.

It was an interesting show as most student shows are. The quality is uneven and that is the way it should be. Each artist brings one or more pieces that is representative of their individual practice to the group show. The works on view ranged from traditional painting to installation. From video work to fibre. It ran the whole gamut of disciplines. But they did a good job.

I had a long conversation with one artist in particular and I want to talk further about her work.

It is not as much about her work as it is about context. She introduced herself when we were standing beside each other in the smoking room (in the garden). Later in the evening we met up with each other and talked further. The artist is Michelle Smyth, and it was interesting hearing where her work came from and what she was trying to achieve.

I did not have my cell phone with me or a camera, so I could not take a photo of the work. Maybe it is just as well.

Memory is a wonderful thing.

The work was an installation. One of the elements was a old weathered, child-sized, rocking Adirondack rocking chair. Beside it were other objects such as a couple stretched canvases that in the words of the artist Michelle, were “meant to serve as a welcome to the house.”

As I mentioned above, the gallery I worked at used to represent John Snow. I have sold well in excess of a hundred pieces of John Snow’s works beginning when he was still living.

Because of that, I am going to go on a bit of a detour to explain why this was a well-conceived piece for the exhibition and space.

Long ago in one of my first jobs, I used to work with a guy by the name of Gordon. He and his wife Janet (I think it was more her idea than it was his) hosted an annual Christmas party. They split up (as many do) and I have never heard from him again. But I stayed in touch with Janet. She continued to invite me to her annual Christmas party.

Janet lived across the street from John Snow. The site where she lived has subsequently been torn down and is now an apartment-style condo complex.

John Snow was elderly and before he moved into the nursing home, he would attend Janet’s party as well. As a result, I got to know in a social context outside of a strictly business context. Janet and her neighbours looked out for John Snow, as he lived alone after his wife Kay passed away.

Long story short, at one of these parties I found out that in the summer months when the weather was nice he would often sit for extended periods on the covered porch of his house. He was very friendly and would wave to those who walked past and generally kept an eye on the neighbours, just as the neighbours did for him.

This brings me back to the installation.

Although this work was not a site-specific artwork, it does share an awareness of site-specificity in its placement – even if it was entirely clairvoyant in doing so. The elements used (a dried flower, canvases, the chair) channeled the spirit of John Snow and his artwork, even though I am almost certain it was not done with an awareness of John Snow.

I think he would have approved.


Collaboration in Calgary arts community (with a potential new participant)




Tomorrow, the trustees of the Tate Britain will announce the winner of the 2014 Turner Prize. One of the four nominees is Canadian-born printmaker – Ciara Phillips.

Normally, an event that is taking place half-way around the world would be a non-event for this blog. However, I believe it is timely for discussion in Calgary, regardless of whether she wins or not.

For those who do not know, I am a former gallerist that operated a member gallery of the Art Dealers Association of Canada which dealt primarily with printmaking and prints. As a result, I have a very deep appreciation and understanding of the printmaking process, even though I am not a printmaker myself. For whatever reason, the printmaking medium, gets very little respect and appreciation in the city. It has been that way for a very long time, which is surprising given the strong printmaking tradition in the city and that there is an amazing collection of block prints (in particular) which is housed at the Glenbow. This all is quite unfortunate situation that I can only hope will change in time.

Secretly, (well maybe not so secretly anymore) I am pulling for her to win. I do see that she probably is somewhat of a longshot, although definitely in the running. In the UK, there is an interesting phenomenon in that people make wagers, and bookies make books on the outcomes of major cultural prizes, along with the usual horse races, football games and boxing matches. The Turner Prize is no exception.

When I checked a few minutes ago the average odds at the time of retrieval, the consensus order of payout (or from most-likely to least-likely) as determined by a survey of various bookies, is as follows:

  • Duncan Campbell is the favourite, a win would payout £7 for every £4 bet (1.75x);
  • A Ciara Phillips win would payout £11 for every £4 bet (2.75x);
  • A James Richards win would payout £3 for every £1 bet (3.0x);
  • A Tris Vonna-Mitchell win would payout £7 for every £2 bet (3.5x).

If only people cared that much on the visual arts in this city that they would bet on and for artists. If we did, we would probably have a civic art gallery and actually support the visual arts and its artists – but I digress.

Getting back to business.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for an exhibition that she held during 2013 at The Showroom, London that ended one year ago today (November 30). The exhibition was described as follows, and I will quote at length (there is substantially more, if you feel so inclined) to help put this posting into context for those in Calgary who may not click on the hotlink and to understand the timeliness. Here is what The Showroom had to say about this exhibition:

Workshop (2010–ongoing) is a new installation made up of multiple screenprints on newsprint and large-scale works on cotton. This new work sets an attitude for a two-month temporary print studio that will take place in the gallery over the course of the exhibition.

Throughout October and November (2013) Phillips will be collaborating with invited artists, designers, and local women’s groups (many of whom have ongoing relationships with The Showroom) to produce new screenprints. Guests will bring their different knowledge and experiences of working collectively to the Workshop, whose structure is open for development as the project progresses. These new collaborations will initiate conversations and actions that aren’t contained within specific disciplines of art, community action, design or activism. By making prints in these new collaborative groupings, Phillips will explore the potential of ‘making together’ as a way of negotiating ideas and generating discussions around experimental and wider uses of print.

We know that Ciara Phillips showed in Calgary previously and I was fortunate enough to have seen the group show which she was included in, during the summer of 2013 at the short-lived Haight Gallery (which has subsequently closed, probably right after the group show ended). The photo above was from that show, and the same exhibition was also shown in January 2014 at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 – an artist run centre.

Now to get to the core of the matter.

Why is this relevant to Calgary?

As seen above, we know that Ciara Phillips has shown in Calgary. We also know that there is a significant artistic exchange that occurs between Glasgow (where she currently lives) and Calgary. I could easily rattle off a good sampling of names without too much difficulty.

We also have seen a significant increase in collaboration in the city’s institutional culture. Here are some examples:

  • Earlier this year it was announced that Calgary will host the MassMOCA produced Oh, Canada show which will open in January 2015. This will be a collaborative exhibition spread between Glenbow, Esker, Nickle, and the Illingworth Kerr galleries.
  • Not so long ago Contemporary Calgary co-hosted a portion of the Made in Calgary: The 1990s show and the Nickle currently is co-hosting the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 2000s show.
  • We can also reference the initial Nuit Blanche show in 2012 where they informally collaborated with MOCA Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary).
  • Then there was the partnership between the Calgary Stampede and MOCA Calgary for a 1912/2012 focused show during the summer of 2012.
  • We can also talk about the long-standing (maybe 15-20 year long) relationship between the Centre for Performing Arts and mostly artist run centres in the six +15 window spaces which has recently been expanded to also include the Alberta Craft Council, Tiny Gallery and the University of Calgary. There may be more in the works as I see construction happening in the same general area.

Even other organizations outside of the visual arts like the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is getting in on the act with a performance which involved students in the MADT program at the Alberta College of Art and Design in their performance last night of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila.

Beakerhead is yet another fine example where it was set up to explore where collaboration can exist between the engineering and science communities with the visual arts.

I know that I have only touched upon a few partnerships, but as seen above it is an increasingly important part of the cultural landscape that is developing in the city for various reasons. It is probably a good thing.

In a recent interview in the Ottawa Citizen where she is quoted as saying, “I think it (the Turner Prize) has drawn a lot more attention to my work, and there have been some really nice outcomes of that, especially invitations to make future exhibitions in Sweden and Canada.” This was also repeated a few days later (earlier this week) in a recent interview with Canadian Art magazine.

Alberta Printmakers Society is one such organization that could potentially host this show in their new facility. Although, having said that, I would think the gallery space might be a bit on the small side.

From a personal observation, A/P has become much more active recently and has shown a willingness to program potentially controversial exhibitions such as the recent Joscelyn Gardner show which ended yesterday, entitled bringing down the flowers. . . I attended the opening of Gardner’s show this past October 24th and had a good discussion with her while I was there. It was my intention to write something about it, but due to other more pressing circumstances, I was unable to find the time to do so. It was a very strong show and it dealt with issues that should have a higher visibility and dialogue in this country. Certainly, more so than what is currently the case. I may still, even though it is too late to see the show at the Artist Proof Gallery.

Given this as background, and understand that this is complete and unsubstantiated speculation as an outsider, does that mean we may potentially see Caira Phillip’s Workshop (2010 – ongoing) make an appearance in Calgary in the near future?

Maybe there is a partnership with A/P and another organization such as the Esker, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, the Banff Centre or potentially Contemporary Calgary or the Glenbow in the works?

Let’s hope so.

*  *  *

December 1, 2014 edit

I checked the news to find out who won the Turner Prize this year. The winner was Duncan Campbell. It is not surprising given that the film he was nominated for was previously shown at the most recent Venice Biennale.

It doesn’t change anything about collaboration, which was the primary focus of this posting. Of course that possibility of a Canadian show for Ciara Phillips is still out there and I think that it would be awesome if it took place in Calgary.

The demise of Art Central

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What has become a far too common recent situation in the city started again earlier this week – the long-anticipated demolition of Art Central.

It all began this past Monday – November 17.

This demolition is being done to build a new much-larger multi-use complex on its footprint – the 58-storey Telus Sky building.

I noticed that the windows on the second floor, south side had been removed when I rode by on the C-Train early Tuesday morning. By the time I returned around 4:00 later that afternoon to take the photo I have posted above this is what I saw. There also was a small backhoe visible from street-level when I stood outside the Palomino, which was located inside the space that once housed The New Gallery, and prior to that QUAB Gallery.

On a personal level, I also occupied that same space for about three or four months during the time between the occupancy of the two galleries mentioned above. This was a time when I was in transition and also had a very large non-objective exhibition in 2007/2008 that was spread over three spaces on the +15 level – my old space (unit 207), my new space (unit 203) and this larger space (unit 213).

It is sad to see this building come down.

The building held so much promise, dreams and expectations.

For various reasons, the project mostly failed to deliver on much of that hope and expectation which was built into the initial concept.

There were the external factors, some of which were quite large and played a very important role in its ultimate demise. There were challenges and factors that occurred before the building even opened. And of course, there were the internal factors and the nature of the concept, combined with its location.

I would love to talk further about the dreams, expectations, hopes and disappointments of those involved in this space, either as tenants, owners and visitors. They all helped shape the initial concept into what it ultimately became. It would be an interesting story.

Someday I will.

Today however, I will quietly mourn its demise and wait for the appropriate time and place to talk further.



New art installed on the 5th Avenue SW underpass

5th_Avenue_underpass_art_installation_detail_Moppett_Kerr_Brown_Cameron_2014_Sept_24 (1024x683)

Recently I wrote about the Burns Visual Arts Society and their 35th anniversary.

As I was doing preparatory research for what I wrote, I encountered a news story that talked about the Neilson Building, and the space crisis for a number of arts organizations that were evicted to accommodate new buildings in 1996. One of those organizations mentioned was The New Gallery which returned back to its original home it had 20 years prior. The building they returned to was a small two-story commercial building facing 9th Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets, directly behind what was once Penny Lane Mall. If I was to guess it stood about where the East Lobby for the Eighth Avenue Place now is. Long story short, they stayed at that location for approximately 10 years. Most of those years I served as the treasurer for TNG. In turn as is often expected in Calgary for arts organizations, the building sold and they once again were evicted. It is all in the name of progress. It is the reality more often than not and just the way it is.

TNG has in turn occupied three different spaces, each time moving for the same reason significant renovations planned for each of the buildings they occupied – first it was Eau Claire Market (they had two different spaces there); then it was Art Central and now they are in Chinatown.

In addition Penny Lane Mall at various times housed commercial galleries, art exhibitions, pop-up galleries and artist studios over the years. In some ways it was a bit of a dead mall, but that was what sometimes made it possible for these organizations to survive. Underutilized commercial or retail spaces are an important part of the ecology for visual artists and arts organizations.

* * *

After my circuitous and rambling pre-amble . . .

The building that rose from the rubble of these two buildings (and others), is now known as Eighth Avenue Place.

There is a bit of an acknowledgement of the history of what once stood on the footprint of the current building location. It is a nice touch. Sadly so much of the knowledge of our city’s built history has been lost over the years. It is found on the +15 level near where SQ Commons once stood. It was in the midst of where the Art Forum Gallery Association‘s initial show which featured a retrospective exhibition of work by Alberta College of Art and Design instructor Dave Casey, the opening of which was held in October 2013.

It is a very interesting building with intriguing architecture. It is more unique than most in the city. I have intended to write about it for quite some time. I just have never got around to it.

A few days ago (Monday, September 22), I noticed that workmen with masonry drills and scissor lifts were installing large illustrated signs on the cement walls on the 5th Street SW underpass – a place where there has never been any signage or artwork previously (except for maybe the occasional piece of graffiti). This underpass is below the railway tracks between 9th and 10th Avenues. I continued on my merry way, but noticed artwork had been installed upon the large plywood or MDF panels, similar to what was done on the construction hoarding when the west tower of Eighth Avenue Place was being built last year.

At the time I thought the use of artwork on the construction hoarding to be a great way to promote Alberta artists and artworks.

I still do.

Of course this was rather fascinating for me to see, as only a month or two ago I wrote about the temporary chalk figures installed in conjunction with Beakerhead on the 4th Street underpass (on the other side of the block). They were  there earlier this week, but have subsequently been painted over by Friday evening, September 26.

Recently, like within the year type of recent, the West Tower to the two tower Eighth Avenue Place was being built. The exterior construction of the second tower is now complete and the new portion of the complex is in the process of being populated with new office workers.

One of the interesting things that the building ownership group did when constructing the second tower was install construction hoarding around the site. That in itself is not all that interesting, but rather what they did with it was. As described in a small double-fold brochure produced by Hines Canada Management Co., ULC (I would assume was produced primarily for tenants) entitled Images of the Alberta Landscape: Sustainability, Art and Architecture, the area is described as follows:

Beginning on Eighth Avenue, following south on Fifth Street and then east along the busy downtown thoroughfare of Ninth Avenue, a continuous stream of art images engage the eye. Enlarged and reproduced on the construction hoarding at Eighth Avenue Place, this outdoor display of original works of Alberta art is a first for the city. A unique affirmation of Eighth Avenue Place’s commitment to Canadian art.

When this first went up probably about two years ago I was very excited to see some familiar works, some of which I had handled in a gallery sales situation previously. One of the works (a Helen Mackie print) I had even used for the print invitation to a solo exhibition of her work. It was truly a wonderful thing that the property owners (presumably) and/or property managers did to draw awareness to Alberta art. It is my wish that more situations would continue. The visual arts is a very challenging place to gain traction and positive awareness in this city. So any little piece of assistance, however small it may be, is greatly appreciated – not that I am working in that field anymore. This of course relates directly to my previous comment. In all there probably was somewhere in the range of 50-100 images used, with a template of the artists, titles and acknowledgement of collection (if applicable) found on each wall for reference.

The choice of selecting Alberta landscape based art was spot on, as it lent itself to the architecture of the building which features an irregular roofline on each of the two towers. This no doubt was meant to mirror the physical attributes of mountain peaks in an architectural manner. The external architecture and the external design of the construction hoarding worked well together.

I am uncertain exactly when this happened, but if memory serves me correct, the hoarding was removed at some point in the last couple months (maybe around Stampede?). I thought I had photos of the installation. After review, apparently I do not, nor could I find photos online. I would have been nice to have this for comparison purposes.

This rambling conversation leads me to the current installation on the 5th Street SW underpass.

As I looked at the works, I noticed a strong resemblance to those that I recall seeing on the Eighth Avenue Place construction hoarding last winter. In fact as seen in the photo below, four of the sixteen works are illustrated in the small brochure I have in my possession – Annora Brown, E.J. Hughes, Ron Moppett, and Walter J. Phillips.

8th_Avenue_Place_Images_of_the_Alberta_Landscape_brochure_2013 (1024x785)

This leads me to believe that those involved in putting up the construction hoarding at Eight Avenue Place, somehow must be involved in this as well. It would sense as it is practically across the street from where these images once stood.

My curiosity is, what is the connection?

There is a new development called Place Ten which is located between the 4th and 5th Street SW underpasses, facing 10th Avenue (as seen in the picture below with the base of Eighth Avenue Place the primary building complex directly behind the construction site. That would make this new construction site as being bounded by two sets of artwork- the Beakerhead art on one side and the Eighth Avenue Place art on the other.

Place_Ten_under_construction_and_Eighth_Avenue_Place_behind_2014_Sept_23 (1024x683)

Is this the connection? Are both projects owned by the same ownership group?

The 16 artworks by 14 artists whose work is reproduced on the signage placed on the 5th Street SW underpass are:

  • Barbara Ballachey [1945 – ] Butte Two, 1981 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Annora Brown [1899 – 1987] Foothills Village, n.d. oil on canvas (Glenbow Museum, Calgary)
  • Michael Cameron [1955 – ] Searching for Elvis, 2012 oil on canvas (Elevation Gallery, Canmore)
  • O.N. (Rick) de Grandmaison [1932 – 1985] Grey Road, 1983 oil on canvas board (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Dulcie Foo Fat [1946 – ] Lake O’Hara Shoreline, 2006 (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Roland Gissing [1895 – 1967] Clouds over the Prairie near Cardston, circa 1925 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Edward J. (E.J.) Hughes [1913 – 2007] Calgary, Alberta, 1955 watercolour on paper (Glenbow Museum, Calgary)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Ranch Below Yellow Hills, 1971 oil on canvas board (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Turner Valley Nocturne, 1986 oil on canvas (Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Young Antelope, n.d. linocut on paper (Edge Gallery, Canmore)
  • Janet Mitchell [1912 – 1998] People of the Street #24, 1971 watercolour on paper (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Ron Moppett [1945 – ] MoonWaterTree, 2010 alkyd, oil on linen and wood (TrepanierBaer Gallery)
  • Walter J. Phillips [1884 – 1963] Mountain Torrent, 1926 colour woodblock on paper (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • John Snow [1911 – 2004] Near Bragg Creek, 1979 stone lithograph on paper (Collector’s Gallery, Calgary)
  • Jack (J.B.) Taylor [1917 – 1970] Lake McArthur No. 7, 1963 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Doug Williamson [1974 –] Not by Our Wisdom, 2011 oil on linen (Edge Gallery, Canmore)

These type of selections always will involve a certain amount of second guessing. It is the nature of a curatorial project such as this, and is as predictable as death and taxes. The questions almost always are: 1.) why did they include these artists, and 2.) who did they miss?

As a result, I will try to keep my comments in this regard to a minimum.

  1. Of course the most obvious question is why was Illingworth Kerr selected three times and someone like Marion Nicoll whose work is included in the brochure photo I have included above, not included at all?
  2. The other interesting question is why was E.J. Hughes included? E.J. Hughes hardly can be called an Alberta artist. He had very little connection to Alberta outside of a short training period on one of the military bases, prior to being dispatched to serve overseas with the Princess Patricia’s (or the PPCLI) during WWII. Having said this, I am of the opinion that he is definitely an important artist worthy of inclusion in a Canadian landscape survey show.

An aside regarding the Hughes watercolour

I have often wondered and this is probably a rhetorical question more than anything else.

  • Was this painting produced as a result of Hughes potentially being on holidays in Calgary during 1955?
  • If so, did he attend the internationally travelling exhibition put together by Seagram’s entitled Views of Canada when it was on display at the old Calgary Allied Arts Centre (just down the street from where it is currently installed) in 1955?
  • I wonder this, because A.C. Leighton (another Alberta artist who should be included) painted a very similar view of the Calgary skyline dated 1951 which is in the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal. Recently many of the works were brought out of storage and re-circulated a few years ago. One of the stops in this most recent tour, was the Kamloops Art Gallery in which they illustrated the Leighton painting in this essay. As one can see from the two photos I have placed below for comparison purposes they are both taken from almost the exact same viewpoint on Rotary Park at the top of the Centre Street Bridge.

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(The Hughes watercolour above)

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(the Leighton painting above)

Notwithstanding my comments about Hughes stated above, the work shows how others from elsewhere have interpreted the Alberta landscape.


This situation was relatively common from the pre-Confederation era with early explorer/artists such as Paul Kane and William G.R. Hind (along with often forgotten anonymous aboriginal artists who produced petroglyphs and carved effigies found at places such as Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and other traditional Native hunting grounds) until about the 1960s or 1970s when the provincial art scene could be considered to have begun its “coming of age” as evidenced by the Made in Calgary series of exhibitions hosted by the Glenbow – the final installment “the 2000s” which opened half the show last night at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary and the main portion of the show which opens tomorrow at the Glenbow.

It could be argued that half the artists featured came from elsewhere (Foo Fat, Gissing, Hughes, Kerr, Moppett, Phillips and Taylor). This has not stopped their impact upon the art history of the province. This is evident from the place both Kerr and Phillips have, since both artists have public galleries named after them at the Alberta College of Art and Design (Kerr) or the Banff Centre (Phillips), recognizing their individual significant contributions to the province.

* * *

Addendum and Correction (2014 October 11)

In the body of this posting I indicated uncertainty about how these works ended up on the wall of the underpass. Quite by accident, when I was looking for something else, I stumbled upon something that helped solve this for me.

The mystery has been solved.

In a news release issued by the City on September 23, it was reported that this is part of the City of Calgary’s Underpass Enhancement Program which is a component of the Calgary Centre City Plan (2007). Elsewhere, it was disclosed that:

In early 2014, the Eighth Avenue Place Ownership Group offered the City of Calgary the gift of a number of graphic art panels that previously adorned the construction hoarding on their site.

In the news release from September 23, it is stated that this was done for the following reason(s):

The Centre City Underpass Enhancement Program is being implemented to achieve one of the objectives of the Centre City Plan: to make the Centre City a ‘walkable place that is safe, secure, accessible, legible, interesting and enjoyable for pedestrians’.

I believe that it does do this. It is also increases awareness and introduces an educational component regarding art from the region in a public setting. This is an important thing that is necessary to grow cultural awareness of the visual arts in the city.

For that I applaud this initiative.


Yup, it is Still Burning

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Last night, I attended the opening of the 35th anniversary show of the Burn’s Visual Arts Society (BVAS) exhibition held at Passage. The space where it was held, literally is as described, a passage between two buildings in the old Dominion Bridge building complex in Ramsay.

This is an event that I have looked forward to for about a month, when I first heard that it was in the works.

Whenever I have been able, I have made best efforts to attend the Burns open house. It only happens once a year, and more often than not I usually had to work which always made it difficult to attend.

This year the open house will be next weekend. That is the weekend which corresponds with Alberta Culture Days and ArtWalk (which amazingly within the last year has come back from the nearly dead). The same can’t be said for ArtCity, which went from a yearly event, to a biennial event, until last I heard it was registering a flatline.

The Burns Visual Arts Society has an interesting story. It is a story few know about.

The organization should be known more as many of the past members of the Society have gone on to great artistic success both here and elsewhere. As you can see by the incomplete list of past members below there have been some important artists who had studios in the BVAS that achieved a certain level of critical success such as Martin Bennett, Dennis Burton, Mark Dicey, Greg Edmonson, Marjan Eggermont, Marianne Gerlinger, Mark Joslin, Ron Moppet, Arthur Nishimura, Evan Penny, Bill Rodgers, Noboru Sawai, Jeff Spalding, Bev Tosh and Peter von Tiesenhausen.

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I must admit there is not much available to work with in terms of public information about the Burns Visual Arts Society. In some ways this is to be expected as most visual artists quietly produce work in the confines of their studios – with little fanfare. It is a solitary career for the most part.

When there is information, it is usually in conjunction with the individual artist’s work being produced, sometimes years after the fact when an exhibition is mounted and the artist acknowledges the contribution that the society did to enable and provide a supportive environment to create the work. Even then there is little discussion about the place where the art was produced, but rather about the artist him or herself. Fortunately, I have an amazing library as it relates to art from the region and have worked in the business and attended numerous exhibitions and networked with artists and administrators with amazing regularity in Calgary for a very, very long time. . .

This is a milestone exhibition.

The BVAS has reached it 35 year anniversary. From what one of the didactic panels stated, the BVAS is “Canada’s oldest continual art studio cooperative.”

This is something definitely worth celebrating.

This fact alone shows how difficult it is to keep an organization such as this going. It is an amazing feat that this cooperative society has survived this long in Calgary.

No doubt it also speaks to the 175+ artists who been involved in the organization over the past 35 years. The numbers alone would indicate that each artist stays for over five years on average. Some have stayed longer. Artists such as Bev Tosh, Louise Williamson and Cecelia Gossen have maintained studios at BVAS for substantial periods of time and in so doing have been the glue that holds the organization and in so doing have provided the stability allowing the organization to flourish.

So a catalogue is definitely in order and is available from BVAS for $20.

I am glad to see that it happened. And in colour too.

I must hand it to curator Colleen Sharpe who wrote an essay for the catalogue. In talking to her last night she indicated that the catalogue was only put together in two weeks. From the significant amount of research I have done in this area over the past couple years, I know this for a factas I have stated above, there is not much material to work with to create a history for BVAS. So as a result, she must be commended that she was able to create as much as she did.

Having worked with Colleen before, I knew that the show would be well-curated before I even got there. Colleen does a good job in what she does. I am one of her biggest fans – maybe even her biggest.



What is stated below is a bit more history on the Burns Visual Arts Society.

This is all primarily new information and is not in the essay.

On Thursday, December 28th, 1978, midway between Christmas and New Years Eve, the tenants in the Burns Building were evicted by the landlord and told to vacate their spaces by January 31st, 1979.

This was not surprising news as only a month earlier, the Globe and Mail reported `that “the city is assembling the four city blocks, bounded by 7th and 9th avenues and 1st and 3rd streets SE, to hold a new city hall, a centre for the performing arts, and possibly some commercial development.” This area incorporates the geographical area incorporating what is now known as Olympic Plaza, the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts and City Hall.

In 1979, building permits were forecast at the end of January to be $1.3-billion. The city was in the midst of the great boom that ended in 1980-81.

The Burns Building was in a seedy area at the time. Across the street also facing Macleod Trail stood the Queen’s Hotel along with neighbouring Alexandra Hotel which were part of what was a seedy part of town, what was once called Whiskey Row. Both of these hotels were subsequently demolished to make way for the new City Hall Building and the Centre For Performing Arts. Initially, this was all part of Mayor Ross Alger’s planned $234-million Civic Centre project and was the subject of a November 29, 1979 plebiscite to approve the project. That first project was defeated by 1841 votes. This controversial project, of course, was partly responsible for bringing former CTV News, City Hall reporter, Ralph Klein to the mayoral seat in 1980. The end result was that the project still went ahead a couple years later, only that it changed somewhat.

This all was background.

There were a number of artists who maintained studios in the Burns Building.

The Burns Visual Arts Society was formed as a result of the December 1978 eviction with artist Bill Rodgers acting as spokesman for the group. The City at that time was largely unsympathetic to the artist`s plight as evidenced by Alderman Barb Scott‘s comments where she bluntly stated that the Burns Building was private property and the artists should not come to the City for help with relocation. However in Barb Scott’s defence, she did indicate that with little more than 30-days notice “there (was) no need (to) vacat(e) for several months”.

It was in this context that artists such as Evan Penny, Laura Pope, Wayne Giles, Bill Rodgers and others established the Burns Visual Arts Society as a cooperative in 1979 – 35 years ago.

Ironically, as a side note, and this more of a happenstance than anything else, earlier this year Calgary Arts Development Authority and Studio C both relocated to the Burns Building. So the arts now live again in the Burns Building as this has almost come full circle.

The next home for the BVAS was on the fourth and fifth floor of the five-storey Neilson Block located at 118 – 8 Avenue SE just over a block away from its former home. During that time, the Neilson Block definitely was a visual arts friendly building. The Off Centre Centre (now known as The New Gallery) was also located in this building on the third floor for a number of years. Also there was a hair salon (the name of which I forget) on the second floor that also regularly featured artists and openings.

This building with its close proximity across the pedestrian mall from the Glenbow Museum, was operated as normal until it was sold in 1995 with plans for redevelopment were announced. This resulted in changes starting to happen. The society remained there until they were forced to relocate in 1998 as a result of the new Telus Convention Centre and Hyatt Hotel construction and redevelopment which affected the entire block that the Neilson Block stood on. The building façade has been retained and incorporated into the design of the new part of what was then known as the Calgary Convention Centre.

It was at this time that the BVAS moved to its present location 828 – 24 Avenue SE in the community of Ramsay, where it is still located. It is situated almost directly across the street from where the art space Passage, where the exhibition Still Burning is hosted, on the site of the old Dominion Bridge Building.

This site where the exhibition is held is notable for being the site where Dennis Oppenheim‘s controversial sculpture Device to Root Out Evil was located between 2008 until it was quietly removed in January of this year at the end of its five-year lease. In addition, it is notable for housing a number of artist studios, production shops and was the original home of NewZones, a commercial gallery, before they moved to their present location on 11th Avenue SW.

Passage_Gallery_Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_Still_Burning_exhibition_Sept_18_2014 (1024x683)

Overall this is a good show. It is well worth a visit.

I am glad to see that they acknowledged the current 20 members of the Studio Collective. They also tipped a hat and acknowledged the contributions and memory of former members who are no longer involved or have passed away. They did this by including a major dress piece by long-term member Elizabeth Clark who passed away suddenly on March 10, 2008 as a gesture of tribute and by including recent studio artist Graham Page who also passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer this past summer on July 6, 2014.

Make sure you include a visit as part of the East Side Studio Crawl which was initiated by a couple of BVAS members Cecelia Gossen and Celia Meade in 2003 which was based loosely on a similar successful initiative that was held in Vancouver around the time that it was established. This event will take place this weekend on September 20.



One year anniversary of this blog, with review

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Today is the blog’s one year anniversary.

In my original post the discussion centred on digging out rocks from what was to become a new garden. I talked about hard work and finding interesting things amongst the rubble. So it seems appropriate that I revisit the same image from a year ago.

I closed out my first post with this:

That is one of the things I want to do with this blog – search amongst the rocky ground of our cultural landscape and find interesting things.

I think I have done that.

Now, a bit of history

The primary reason why I created this blog back then was that I had just applied for a job. In my mind, it had my name all over it. The only weakness that I perceived was that depending on who interviewed me, there possibly could be an assumption that my skill sets were focussed on the commercial gallery world only and not enough knowledge outside of that small word – whether this was correct or not.

However, I knew this assumption was wrong, as would anyone else who had dealt with, or talked with me previously to any extent. Those people would know that my interests are actually quite broad and encompassing.

Regardless, the end result was that I did not even receive acknowledgement of my application – much less an interview. Stuff happens and I am not complaining. However, my interest the subject carried the blog forward nevertheless and it still does.

I still don’t have that job in the arts community, but as seen here my interest still remains. Sometimes being an informed outsider is more interesting, because one can reflect my interests and as a result there is no axe to grind.

I will however continue to carry on with my blog when time allows, as I have done since that time.

* * *

As I look back on this past year there have been some very interesting developments in the cultural landscape in Calgary, not to mention exciting programming which various places have done that I am not even going to talk about.

Some of these things I talked about during the past year. Others I did not.

In some cases I now wish that I did.

Either way, I mention the interesting developments below, and depending on how things go for the upcoming year I may even talk about them this time around.

We have seen the following cultural items between August 2013 and August 2014 (and I am sure that I am missing something – probably significant. So forgive me in advance:

  • Of course it is necessary to mention (as it was the big story locally for the year) that during June 2013, many artists and arts organizations were affected by the flooding in the city. This time last year (two months after the fact) things were starting to get back to normal. I probably mentioned it before, I spent the month of July 2013 for the most part in High River helping those who live there, to get back on their feet again. This is something that is quite close to my heart as a result.
  • Calgary Opera started its initial summer outdoor opera festival in conjunction with East Village. It is called Opera in the Village.
  • A new arts facility opened in Forest Lawn last August. It is a partnership between Calgary Arts Development Authority and the International Avenue BRZ, which is called Art Box on 17E.
  • Beakerhead, after a soft opening and trial-run in 2012 and held its first full-scale event last September.
  • Nuit Blanche had its initial and highly successful iteration in September 2012. It was originally envisioned to be an annual event. However, for reasons unknown, this was changed to become a biennial event at some point during the spring or summer of 2013. To meet programming obligations that a few public galleries and organizations had made for the Nuit Blanche weekend in September 2013, a new festival was formed to fulfill these commitments called Intersite Visual Arts Festival.
  • In September to kick off Beakerhead, Calgary Mini Maker Faire had its first event
  • ArtWalk limped along to celebrate its 30th year. In this city that is quite an achievement. I made a post about it, but for whatever reason it was never published and has been saved as a draft only. I only realized this fact much after the fact. Maybe if and when my blog gets published, I will include it.
  • Also in September, the folks at cSpace Projects initiated a similar type of follow-on event to the highly successful Wreck City event held in the spring of 2013, calling upon many of the same people involved. This project they called Phantom Wing.
  • The New Gallery moved from its location in Art Central to its new location in the heart of Chinatown.
  • The old Seafood Market building which was a vacant building since 2004 was used as artist spaces for a two-year period between 2010 -2012. In the summer/fall of 2013 it was finally demolished at some unknown point. Although it was already scheduled for demolition, it probably was affected by the flood as many buildings in the area were. The demolition occurred to make way for a new condo development in the East Village.
  • A new public art gallery using a different model was introduced called the Art Forum Gallery Association. The two key personnel were previously closely affiliated with the Triangle Gallery of Visual Art and are doing what made that organization successful, keeping its costs down and its options open. One was a former president of the board, Michael Rae and the other was a former director, Jacek Malec.
  • The Blue Ring sculpture by inges idee was unveiled in the midst of the city election. Remarkably, it has remained a topic of discussion and occasional subject of a letter to the editor since that time. I guess in a way it will most likely bear a striking resemblance to the Peace Bridge situation. If I was to speculate, I would expect to soon see it in use in tourist advertising for the city, just like the Peace Bridge now is. Maybe that will be what it takes for it to grow on people, hearing how wonderful it is from people in other parts of the world.
  • Demolition began on the King Edward School to make way for the new arts incubator that cSpace is developing in the community of South Calgary.
  • The chapter at the Art Gallery of Calgary which involved the Valerie Cooper fiasco finally came to a close in November, when she was sentenced to a year in jail for her actions. What that means is with good behavior, she should be released at any time now, if not already.
  • Calgary Arts Development Authority and Studio C both move out of the lower floor of Art Central. Both organizations now occupy separate spaces on the same floor of the Burns Building connected to the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts.
  • The Firefighters Museum of Calgary put its collection into storage in late 2013 and is available by appointment only until it reopens sometime in the next year or so in renovated premises.
  • For the second time in approximately a decade, the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA); the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts (aka MOCA-Calgary); and the Art Gallery of Calgary (AGC) all tried to hookup and jump into bed with each other. This was something that they originally tried to do when I was sitting on the board of the Triangle. This time, unlike the previous occasion the result was a successful consummation and marriage. The new organization is now called Contemporary Calgary.
  • The former vacant building which at one time housed the former Calgary Planetarium; Calgary Science Centre; The Children’s Museum; and TELUS World of Science was put up out to tender by the City which owns it (or owned it), for use as a cultural or heritage space. The successful applicant was Creative Calgary.
  • The amazing sculpture by Dennis Oppenheim’s Device to Root Out Evil was quietly removed after the end of its five-year lease in January 2014. It was situated on the Dominion Bridge Building grounds with much fanfare during Jeff Spalding’s tenure as head of the Glenbow Museum during June 2008. This relocation to Calgary, was partly a direct result of NIMBYism and the surrounding controversy that occurred during its two and a half year residency near Coal Harbour in Vancouver. Of course this whole situation is highly ironic. I have confidence in how smart my readers are, so I don’t need to fully explain where the irony originates, however I find it peculiar that inges idee was commissioned and created a popular new sculpture in the general vicinity of Coal Harbour. It was installed about a year after the Oppenheim piece left for Calgary. This only further illustrates how fickle tastes can be when it comes to public art and how these tastes can vary widely from city to city.
  • In the absence of the Oppenheim piece at the Dominion Bridge compound, a new programming space called Passage was developed and has shown a rotating schedule of exhibitions, usually video, installation or sculpture. Having heard quite a bit about it before it was operational, I believe that it is exposed somewhat to the elements which limits the type of work that can be shown.
  • Stride Gallery which was deeply affected by the flood, spent most of the fall and winter temporarily sharing space with Truck Gallery. In the early part of 2014, they moved back to the space next door to where they used to be, on the other side of the railway tracks two blocks away from City Hall, on Macleod Trail.
  • Back in the summer of 2012 a new organization called Gorilla House Live Art held its first art battle. It continued hosting weekly art battles until around January when they were informed by their landlord that the building they occupied was destined to be converted into a sushi restaurant. Recently, the building was surrounded by metal protective fencing. Presumably this means some sort of development will be taking place soon. Whether the Gorilla House will be resurrected remains to be seen. If it does, I am sure I will write about it.
  • A small and ambitious pop-up gallery space was introduced into the community of Bridgeland called the Tiny Gallery in early 2014. It is unique for its use of a stand-alone gallery space that occupies the footprint of a postal box.
  • After years of uncertainty, the former York Hotel which was originally intended to be incorporated into a purpose-built cultural space, the façade of which was put into storage in 2008, was finally put on indefinite hold. In that news story, the space it was to occupy will now be used as an open plaza instead. Various anchor tenants were proposed for this space from the time it was originally proposed as part of The Bow development, most notably the Portrait Gallery of Canada. The Portrait Gallery, like the York Hotel, also was put into abeyance by the Federal Government which made the announcement via a news release issued late on Friday, Nov. 7, 2008.
  • The old King Edward Hotel (aka the King Eddie) had the sign and bricks removed from its site. Presumably, and it is my understanding that they will become part of the architectural design, once the exciting new National Music Centre building is built on its site and the site across the street. Both sides are doing structural work above grade.
  • Alberta College of Art and Design, after years of trying, finally received approval to offer its first graduate degree program, a Master of Fine Arts in Craft Media beginning in 2015.
  • After a couple years of consultation the #YYCArtPlan came to fruition which resulted in a new Public Art Policy and a document called Leading a Creative Life
  • The last tenant at Art Central finally left at the end of June. The building was closed probably around the time Stampede happened, which corresponds to the time when the announcement that the space would be redeveloped as the new Telus Sky building which was made during Stampede 2013.
  • The Calgary Centre for Performing Arts expanded the amount of display windows for the visual arts, creating new display windows for both the Alberta Craft Council and the University of Calgary. I hear a rumour from a usually reliable source that there might be another new window on the way. From past experience with all rumours, it usually best to wait until the announcement is made to know with certainty if the rumour is actually either truth or fabrication. If it is true, I am sure I will write about it.
  • Alberta Printmakers Society moved to a new location about a week ago. I plan to write something about this in the near future.

As can be seen above, this was an exciting year for the arts in Calgary.


To return to the concept of building a rocky environment – just as I dicussed a year ago.

In that regard, I am reminded of the French postman, Ferdinand Cheval [1836-1924] who spent thirty-three years building Le Palais idéal in Hauterives.

He is someone I feel a special affinity to in this regard. His work was championed by the Surrealists more or less after he had died. I hope that is not the case with me. I hope that my passion and building in the arts community will be recognized while I can feel appreciated and that my work was worth all the trouble.

Cheval built a beautiful naïve palace one stone at a time. Every day for thirty-three years, he brought home at least one stone that he found in his day to day work.

In time his pockets were not enough to carry what he found. So he brought a basket to carry the stones.

When that was not enough, he used a wheelbarrow.

It is my hope that this blog will be like that beautiful structure Le Palais idéal.


My craft-based art proposal for the Western Showcase

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Yesterday, I talked about Yvonne Mullock’s hooked rug and its unveiling at the Esker Foundation.

In that post I indicated that I wanted to continue this discussion as it relates to the Calgary Stampede Western Showcase. This also is a continuation of my previous post from about a week ago that relates to the Artist Ranch Project.

As any reader of this blog can easily figure out I have shown my current minor obsession on craft as art. I am interested (and have been for quite some time) in the dialogue between, at what point does craft end and fine art begin.

* * *

There are all sorts of issues surrounding this dialogue such as, but not limited to:

  1. the necessity of artists to perfect their craft;
  2. craft as a viable medium for artists to explore;
  3. what role art can have in craft production;
  4. the role of language and the use of the term “craft” in art; and
  5. does the term “craft” actually inhibit growth and dialogue in art production and collections.

With this out of the way and as background to this discussion, I can now move forward.

* * *

In my blog post from last Friday (see link provided above), I proposed that the Stampede seriously consider working collaboratively with the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton in the Western Showcase.

In my opinion, this could be a very good collaboration as the Alberta Craft Council has connections to a significant number of professional craftspersons active in Alberta (and being a provincial organization would be involved in networks nationally and internationally); has a large exhibition space with active programming in Edmonton; and has explored possibilities over the past number of years with intent to set up a separate location in Calgary as well. For whatever reason none of those attempts to set up a space in Calgary has come to fruition. Things now seem to be moving forward as they have a soft agreement in place that they will occupy a space of some sort in the new King Edward School arts incubator that cSPACE Projects is moving forward on. It will probably be ready for occupancy barring any delays sometime in 2016.

Overview of the two organizations:

From its website Alberta Craft Council is described as follows:

The Alberta Craft Council is the Provincial Arts Service Organization that develops, promotes and advocates for fine craft in Alberta. Since 1980, the ACC has promoted craft in Alberta through exhibitions, publications, marketing ventures, education, awareness projects and information services to its membership and to the general public. The ACC has a dual role: to support contemporary and heritage crafts as significant art forms that contribute to Alberta’s culture; and to develop a craft sector of creative, skilled, viable and sustainable craftspeople, studio, businesses and networks.

Now the Stampede. The Western Showcase component has been described on their website as follows:

Western Showcase is recognized as one of the major destination areas of the Stampede. We are a vibrant group of nearly 200 volunteers showcasing our Western Heritage and Values. Western Showcase, located in Halls D and E of the BMO Centre at Stampede Park, showcases art, entertainment, presentations and exhibitions that depict our Western Lifestyle.

It would appear that this is how the two organizations envision themselves and what they do.

Now to expand my argument for this proposal:

In a previous post, I indicated in passing that that there is a Western Lifestyles Creative Arts & Crafts Competition. I didn’t call it by that name at that time, but this is what it actually is called. They have 14 categories in which competitions are held.

They are listed below, and I have only included the open division, which most adults would compete in. They are: 1.) knitting; 2.) crocheting & tatting; 3.) needlework & stitchery; 4.) quilting; 5.) paper crafts & calligraphy; 6.) assorted handicrafts; 7.) ceramics & decorative painting; 8.) rugs & weaving; 9.) wood working; 10.) dolls & toys; 11.) framed paintings; 12.) framed drawings; 13.) sugar art & cake decorating; and 14.) eco art.

As one can see from the list above many of these categories lie parallel to many professional artist’s practice. With blurring of boundaries in contemporary visual art practice and production, it is a fair assumption to say that all of the categories above are fair game for most artists to explore.

With that in mind, I thought it is worth investigating the rules for the competition. In the 2014 booklet containing the rules & regulations of this competition, I could only find one section (the last one) which addresses the inclusion of a professional artist or artisan from participating. It is as follows:

19. Participants in the Western Art Show will not be allowed to enter pieces for competition in the Creative Arts and Crafts Competition. . .

In my eyes, this would seem to be a fair rule. Here are some photo selections from the competition that are relevant:

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Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Window_Display_July_2014 (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Moving on to the Sales Salons

As I was wandering through the sales salon I very surprised to see some large ceramic vessels in one of the booths. I have included a photo of the booth and it shows work by Robert Behr from Montana who from his website, appears to travel the circuit of other festival events similar to the Western Showcase in California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

From this it would appear as if craft is not an issue in the Sales Salon and as a comment made by Sherri Zickefoose yesterday on a previous post (see link above) she indicated that this may be due to no other artists applying. This is a reasonable assumption to make.

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Moving on to the Art Auction

I have attended many of these sales over the years. Although I don’t have the catalogues close at hand to reference, however I do have them available should I need to. I do not recall seeing any craft included into the sale. Having said that there is this interesting thing that sometimes happens prior to the sale where they have a Quickdraw event. I can`t remember what it is called. As part of that in the past I recall seeing a sculptor on more than one year working with clay to create a sculpture. I can’t remember what they do with it, but I suspect it is either sold or cast at a later date.

Unfortunately I am unable to attend tonight as the job that I once was working full-time at has now cut my hours to only six hours a week over two days. As a result I am looking for new work. However, the hours that I must work this week are the exact same hours as the auction, tonight. I can`t even get a photo if they do something like this tonight.

Further to this, some time ago (I could be corrected, but I believe it was held between 2007-2010) there was an auction called Pavilion: Contemporary Art Auction. I attended all the sales and have the catalogues somewhere. It was held in September in the Victoria Pavilion in the old Agricultural Building. It was held in cooperation with Christie’s (the auction house) and eight commercial galleries – Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Masters Gallery Ltd., Newzones, Paul Kuhn Gallery, Skew Gallery, Susan Whitney Gallery, TrépanierBaer Contemporary Art and Virginia Christopher Fine Art.

During the 2008 sale one of the pieces was a work by Shary Boyle. She is kind of a big deal as she the following year won the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2009 and later went on to represent Canada in the Venice Biennale in 2013. The piece which was specifically commissioned for this sale was described by Nancy Tousley in the Calgary Herald as follows:

(Shary Boyle`s work) is represented in the Pavilion catalogue by a lace-draped porcelain figurine of a woman, with a bloody stump of a neck. She daintily holds her severed head in her lady-figurine hands.

It sold for $12,000.

Unfortunately the Pavilion sale was not to be, and only three sales were conducted. It was subsequently cancelled on the eve of the fourth annual sale. In this sale there was a definite interest in exploring contemporary art and new media, including craft-based work.

Moving on the Artist Ranch Project

Instead of repeating myself I would suggest that if the reader is interested in reading more, to visit my previous post (see link provided at the top).

However to add to this discussion I have included an image of a work by Wanda Ellerback from this year`s iteration of the Artist Ranch Project for reference. Here she is creating a work that uses craft, while creating a fine art object.

Wanda_Ellerback_sculpture_for_Stampede_Artist_Ranch_Project_2014 (1024x683)


The Guilds and Cabins

In the Western Showcase is a cabin which is daily staffed with volunteer members of various guilds. One of the guilds is the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts. Here they show how the crafts that they work with are done. Sometimes, depending on the guild, they will show children and other interested parties how to do these crafts. This is part of an educational initiative to keep these skills from becoming obsolete. It also harkens back to pioneer culture and especially as it relates to women as many of these activities are of a domestic nature or things that have relevance inside the home.

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Lifestyles_List_of_Participating_Guilds_2014_July (1024x683)

In my most recent post from yesterday, I mentioned work by Yvonne Mullock and the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts (see link provided at the top of this post). It will become readily obvious why I wanted to include them in this dialogue.

They produced a large hooked rug for the Esker Foundation. It is now currently being shown in the gallery as art.

As an aside the current exhibition at the Esker is very interesting and in the context of this discussion should be seen by all members of the Western Showcase Committee. Two artists, Beth Stuart and Cynthia Girard (who worked in collaboration with artists David Altmejd, Julie Doucet, Groupe d`action en cinéma Épopée, Henry Kleine and Noémi McComber) who produced work that uses a number of craft-based media in the work that is on display (I think immediately of quilts, needlework and eco art). Not only that it is presented in such a way that it could almost be dropped right into the middle of the Western Showcase and look like it was intended to be there. If it was to be included, it would certainly create an active discussion. But I digress.

Yesterday, I walked past The Women’s Centre. As I passed, I was invited in to enjoy a Stampede Lunch and BBQ by a lady standing on the step outside the main doors. Once I was in the space I noticed a number of quilts hanging on the walls surrounding the office. This then gave me the opportunity to talk to one of the staff members and inquire if these were any connection to the quilts that I had seen in a window display at the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts a couple months earlier. It was not the case, but it was an enlightening conversation nevertheless.

The quilts I referenced were made as a collaboration with some women that took part in a workshop connected to The Women’s Centre in cooperation with two artists (Cat Schick and Linda Hawke) connected to This is My City Art Society.

This project was a very fascinating collaboration. With the assistance of a Calgary 2012 grant the two artists led a workshop at The Women’s Centre, which answers calls to approximately 60,000 calls annually for basic needs from clients, the vast majority who are dealing with issues of poverty. This workshop was based on the theme of sleep and dreams and it is possible to read more about it here. Much of the work that was included was very powerful. I have included two small details from two separate quilts included in this art exhibition for reference below. Like the other collaboration that I have mentioned above (the Esker collaboration) The Women`s Centre collaboration, likewise crossed boundaries between untrained people and professional artists.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_one_January_2014 (1024x683)

For reference, the detail text from the above quilt states the following:

Sometimes when I should / be asleep, my mind is wide awake. Things I / need to do tomorrow nag at me, great / burdensome lists of thing, each with its own / list of associated details. On really bad nights / the shadowy corners of my life come into sharp / focus. I think about how I would relive / regrettable moments, fix mistakes. I replay / words I have said and haven’t said to people / alive and dead. My internal temperature / is thrown out of whack and I have too many / covers – then too few. I consider getting up but / usually don’t, afraid I’ll disturb some else’s / sleep.

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The detail from the second states the following:

A hawk flew into my dream,

down into my ruined house,

right through walls that weren’t there

and grazed my head.

The bird had a message for me,

but I was protected from

hearing it,

by the orange sunhat,

I wore in those days.

Synopsis and Conclusion

As we can see from the example of The Women’s Centre + This is My City collaboration craft engages viewers and practitioners on a very fundamental and structural level. When one looks at our Western ancestors we know that craft in some cases for survival, comfort or luxury. At some point in each of our family’s existence someone had to know how to darn a pair of socks, make and bead a pair of moccasins, knit a draft snake, hammer out a horseshoe, create a wedding band and set the stone, and make a ceramic plate – or be able to pay someone to do it for them.

We have determined that ALL sections of the Western Showcase have expressed some interest in showing craft as art up to a certain threshold. However there appears to be only very little of it shown at any one time.

There are probably reasons for this. From the vantage point of an interested observer and non-active participant, I would assume that the largest reason for this is a general lack of awareness that craft is a possibility to be shown in the Western Showcase. In other words, for whatever reason, the committee has not connected on some level with this specific audience.

For this reason I proposed that some initiative be created to allow craftspersons to participate in the Western Showcase. The province (and by extension, the larger region of Western Canada and the Northwestern USA) have some significant and important centres of craft production. This is a perfect venue to showcase this important cultural legacy.

The Stampede as a larger entity, has also shown that they are open to cooperative initiatives. I think of the partnerships that they have formed with corporate entities in terms of naming rights and funding for things such as the SAM Centre, the Youth Campus and its partnership with the Calgary Arts Academy along with the new Enmax partnership to relocate the Indian Village.

The Alberta Craft Council has also shown the same. About a month ago the ACC followed the lead of other organizations such as Stride, Truck, The New Gallery, Marion Nicoll Gallery, Untitled Art Society and the Alberta Printmakers Society in having a window in the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts. This is a new, purpose-built space that was constructed in the +15 corridor along with another newly built space for the University of Calgary Department of Art students between Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Martha Cohen Theatre. In this space the ACC, like the others, have begun regular programming of craft-based, fine art or installation-based artwork rotating on a monthly schedule.

In the local area there are isolated pockets of support for craft-based artwork. Unfortunately much of these opportunities are geared more to selling of pots and functional craft, with occasional art-based opportunities available outside of this narrow focus.

What I would like to propose is something like the Artist Ranch Project which I think is an amazing project. Like this, I would propose a thematic residency of some sort. The Western Showcase I propose to work in collaboration with the Alberta Craft Council to develop a new concept that will benefit artists and artisans who are interested in exploring craft-based opportunities further with a show at the end during the ten-days of Stampede.

I have no idea how this should unfold, but I would be very interested in seeing something like this happen. I am also very excited about what it could look like.

I have done my part, now I am passing off the baton to someone else, whoever that may be.