Picking 50 artworks that reflect Red Deer’s “artistic voice,” past and present, turned out to be something of a connect-the-dot centennial challenge for guest curator David More.
No sooner did he select one creative work for the Reflections from a Century: Artists of Central Alberta show at the Red Deer museum, when another piece — often produced by another artist, decades later — leapt out to join the first.
“After a while, you start to see the links,” said More, who felt some artworks were so closely aligned with others, “the show began to shape itself.”
For instance, More discovered a small “gem” of a watercolour of a Victorian mother and infant, created by Jean Rollins Muldrew in about 1910.
Muldrew was “lady principal” of the Central Alberta Presbyterian Ladies College, which operated in what several years later became the Michener Centre administrative building. “She was obviously a very skilled painter,” said More. “But who was she?”
More doesn’t know if she was professionally trained or if she taught art to her students. “The mystery deepened. I’ve never seen (her work) before.”
Yet Muldrew’s small painting made More think of a much larger one recently painted by Red Deer artist Shane Young, which depicts firefighters putting out the 2003 lightning-caused blaze at the landmark Michener building. He also selected this contemporary painting for the show “for its excellence,” and because of its indirect connection to Muldrew.
“Ninety years later, here’s (Muldrew’s) building in a whole different context,” said More.
In a similar linked pattern, artworks by a half dozen aboriginal artists hang near a 1970s painting of the ruins of Red Deer’s notorious Indian Residential School, by Florence Aubichon.
The powerful contemporary works include Mother and Child, by artist Jane Ash Poitras, Lest We Remain Ignorant for That is a Sin by George Littlechild, and War Shirt For the Earth, by Joane Cardinal-Schubert (Douglas Cardinal’s sister), who was born in Red Deer.
More is “amazed” by the range of local art, past and present, saying “once I got into the vaults, I discovered a lot of high quality gems.”
The nationally known artist from Benalto was asked by museum staff in February to help celebrate Red Deer’s centennial by choosing two- and three-dimensional artworks from the museum’s historic collection. Somewhere along the way, he decided to also fill in the display with local art borrowed from private collectors and artists.
And several pieces were specifically created for the Reflections exhibit — including Dawn Detarando’s ceramic Honey Pie, which is imprinted with honeycomb and bees on top, and Darren Petersen’s spectacular glass sculpture, Ephemera, which resembles a fountain of foliage spilling out of a vase.
For every artist whose work was selected, More said two other artists had to be excluded from the show because of space constraints.
He purposely didn’t choose his own well-known paintings, or pieces from other prominent local artists, such as Dennis Moffat, saying he preferred to spotlight less ubiquitous talents.
All the works were primarily picked for their quality, said More, but he also wanted to highlight artists who made a difference to Red Deer’s art scene in other ways.
Local fabric artists Patti Morris and Matt Gould, who weave political and social messages into their works are represented, as is painter and art booster Susan Delaney (who has written various newsletters). There’s a whimsical piece by ceramicist Shirley Rimer, as well as paintings by former RDC student and now art teacher Erin Boake, Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School commercial art teacher Albert Schmidt and the former student he influenced, Art Whitehead.
Diverse photography is displayed by Tim Van Horn, Hedley Blake, and Arto Djerdjerian, as are examples by painters Margaret Seelye (who once lobbied to save the allied arts council) and Susan Woolgar, ceramics sculptors Pat Matheson and Brian McArthur, mixed media artist Elyse Eliot-Los and others.
Jean Weddell, who painted peonies over a collage, and Ingrid Plaudis-Bowie, a former RDC instructor who delicately hand-coloured a photograph of her daughter Alanna, are two artist who sadly died shortly before the show’s opening.
More aimed to showcase an eclectic mix of amateur and professional works. Through the selection process, he noticed an evolution in Central Alberta art.
In the early days, settlers had to make a living doing something else, so most creative expression happened only when they could find time, said More. Still, a lot of creation went on.
“It shows that art has a solid, although sometimes well hidden, foundation here from the beginning.”
Some earlier examples include the haunting black-and-white photograph Indian Dancers from 1958 by Eric Bundy. He came to this area in the 1960s and worked as a professional photographer for the Red Deer Advocate and Hudson’s Bay Company.
Detailed watercolour paintings show ocean-side scenes by Annie Bradley Rich, who arrived from Nova Scotia in 1920 to teach, before marrying and farming near Springbrook.
And there are archival photos of Edmonton-based sculptor Hubert Norbury carving the Red Deer Cenotaph — which More calls the most prominent example of public art in the city — and likely the first.
As the decades rolled forward, More discovered local art moving more front and centre, from being a “buried treasure” to becoming a community attraction for which several Central Alberta artists have built national and international reputations.
More believes the formation of Red Deer College’s visual arts department in the 1970s turned out to be a lightning rod for creativity in Central Alberta.
The college not only attracted talented people from across North America as instructors, these artists also passed along skills to successive generations of new artists, many who stayed in the community.
Striking works by past and present RDC instructors Joseph Reeder, Jason Frizzell, Ian Cook, Robin Lambert, Pierre Oberg, James Trevelyan, Jim Westergard, Chuck Wissinger and others are featured in the exhibit.
Some of the most eye-catching artistic examples are located nearest the entrance: RDC instructor Tanya Zuzak Collard’s intricate wire formation #5 of 8 Arc appears tornado-like, in a wall-mounted mirror, and Trudy Golley’s wave-like ceramic wall hanging reflects light on the wall above it.
Golley’s dramatic wave suggested another connection to More.
He chose to hang another artwork that incorporates light beside her piece — a cabinet of mysterious articles, framed by a lit silhouette of a deer’s head, created by Golley’s husband, Paul Leathers.
The Reflections from a Century: Artists of Central Alberta show is on until Aug. 5 at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.