Packing watercolours and easel, Red Deer plein air painter Carol Lynn Gilchrist trekked into the Banff National Park wilderness to find the headwaters of the Red Deer River.
After a four-hour hike towards Skoki Lodge in the spring of 2016, Gilchrist reached Red Deer Lakes and surveyed the scene with wonderment.
“The wet, soggy landscape was so lush!” she recalled.
Willows stood amid a network of flooded creeks at the Red Deer River’s headwaters, and the water was “glowing green” from their reflection.
“There were misty clouds, and I was drenched from water vapour,” recalled Gilchrist, who felt she was seeing nature through “fresh eyes” in this special place.
Over the next year, the self-taught artist and retired community planner followed the Red Deer River down its 724-km course, from mountains to prairie.
Her resulting paintings, exhibited in The Life of a River: Maps and Landscapes, at the Kiwanis Gallery in the Red Deer Public Library, shows Alberta’s changing topography, with a focus on form and light.
Her delicately rendered watercolours depict mountains, flood plain, canyons and grasslands, and reveal Gilchrist’s emotional attachment to a waterway she has often canoed on.
“There is mindfulness to plein air painting that I enjoy,” said Gilchrist. “I find comfort in being there at that moment…. capturing the light and spirit of the place.”
The end of her journey came 16 km into Saskatchewan, where the Red Deer River flows into the South Saskatchewan River. The river bottom was so sandy at that point, and water flow so reduced from municipal, agricultural and industrial uses, that Gilchrist described it looking like an estuary.
“It was shallow, like a lake. There was hardly a ripple… and you could see sandhill cranes standing in the water.”
She hopes viewers will recognize some of the spots in her paintings, including the Dickson Dam, Sundre Bridge and Atlas Coal Mine, near Drumheller. Two striking, light-infused works, Canyon View and The Valley Glows, were painted at Red Deer’s Canyon Ski Area and Dry Island Buffalo Jump.
Gilchrist also hopes the Red Deer River, which provides our drinking water, recreational opportunities and the name of this city, will be regarded with renewed appreciation. “I wanted to celebrate the river, and to offer thanks.”
The exhibit, presented by the Red Deer Arts Council, continues until Dec. 24.