The First Twenty Years of the Medicine Hat Community Art Club
1945 to 1965
The first stirrings of an organized Art Club were felt in Medicine Hat in September 1945. Two members of the community, Mrs. Helen Benny Gibson and Rev. L.T.H. Pearson, Rector of the St. Barnabas’ Anglican Church, had both attended the Banff School of Fine Arts that summer. In the fall, they agreed to explore the possibilities of an Art Club. Mrs. Gibson phoned Mr. Donald Cameron to ask whether he could provide the same sort of itinerant instruction which he had provided for several other centres. He agreed at once to send someone to Medicine Hat early in October, at $8.00 per student. Forty students enrolled in the fall, and the instructor came every third week for twenty-one weeks from October to April. The weekly classes were held at first on Thursday evenings for two hours, then on Friday evenings.
The Club had the good fortune to get Mr. H. G. Glyde, A.R.C.A., as their first instructor and advisor. After being on the staff of the Institute of Technology, Calgary, for many years, he had been appointed Professor of Art, and Head of the newly formed Department of Fine Arts at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. His vision, enthusiasm and ability got eh group off to a good start in the fall of 1945 in the Council Chambers of the City Hall. He had known Miss Marion Newman (later Mrs. Dan Jensen) as a student at “Tech” and recommended her as a part-time instructor for the group. The actual program of study was arranged under the joint direction of the Institute of Technology, Calgary, and the Department of Extension, University of Alberta. Walter J. Phillips, R.C.A., was also a visiting instructor this first year.
One of the original members of this emerging group was Mrs. Tom Hargrave of Walsh. She tells of being in town over night with her son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Hargrave, for a dentist’s appointment on Saturday morning, late September, 1945. Her daughter-in-law said to her as she prepared to leave the house, “There is an Art Class being organized this morning in the City Council Chambers at 10 o’clock.” Mrs. Hargrave decided to see what it was all about. She remembers seeing one of two familiar faces as she went in, and when introduced to Mr. Glyde, said “Am I too old to join this Art Class?” “No,” he said. “Do I have to know anything about Art?” she went on. “No,” again. “Well, you can count me in then,” she said. Mrs. Hargrave remained one of the Club’s most active and talented members for the next sixteen years and spent six summers at the Banff School during that time.
The first formal meeting of this group was held on January 13th, 1946 at Mrs. Gibson’s home with thirty members present. The first exhibition of work, held in the City Hall March 16, 1946, consisted chiefly of sketches by the members, as well as a small group of Mr. Glyde’s work. Over 300 people turned out to see this first exhibition. Mr. Pearson became the first President of the group. Mayor and Mrs. Hector Lang consented to act as patron and patroness. Other members of this first executive were, Mrs. Gibson as Secretary-Treasurer, and as Board of Directors, Mr. J. R. Vallis, Mr. J. J. Barrie, Mr. J. M. Naismith, Mrs. D. S. Hawthorne, and Mrs. Monica Bain. The assistant instructors who took over the classes wen Mr. Glyde was not present were Mrs. C. Bain, Mrs. W. R. Clark & Miss Marion Newman.
Congratulatory messages were received from Mr. R.W. Hedley, Director, Edmonton Museum of Arts, and Chairman of the Western Canada Art Circuit. In welcoming Medicine Hat as a new recruit for the Art Circuit, he expressed the hope “that in the not-too-distant future, they will see that Medicine Hat has a gallery in keeping with this energetic centre.” He congratulated Medicine Hat as well, for sponsoring a Royal Canadian Academy Exhibition, on May 18th and 19th, 1946. When Mayor Hector Lang opened this exhibition he said, “This old City Hall is highly honored to have the exhibition on its walls. One of the City’s great milestones is the showing of this Art exhibit.”
The first two scholarships were awarded that same summer, a senior one to Mr. J. J. Barrie, and a junior one to Stan Fleming, which encouraged them both to go to Banff, July 17 to August 24. Further recognition was gained that summer by three members of the local group who submitted works to the Calgary Exhibition. Mr. J. Naismith tied for third place for his water colour, Mr. Barrie for an “honorable mention” and Mrs. Gibson received a “highly commended” for her submission.
The membership fee for the Federation of Canadian Artists was set at one dollar per member at the first meeting in the fall of 1945. The other fee was originally set at $8.00 per term but later changed to $10; then $15, with an extra dollar for the magazine “Canadian Art.” The most active members in this initial phase of the Club seemed to have been Rev. Leslie Pearson, Helen Beny Gibson, Thelma Osborne, Charlotte Dell, Gertrude Davidson, Jack Naismith, Jack Barrie, Milta Hawthorne, Bessie Clark, Marion Newman, and Marion Morrison. Senator F. W. Gershaw opened the Art Association’s first formal exhibition, September 23, 1946.
In January, 1947, a new executive was installed, with the following patrons: Senator and Mrs. F. W. Gershaw; Dr. J. L. Robinson, M. L. A., and Mrs. Robinson; W. D. Wylie, M. P., and Mrs. Wylie; Mayor and Mrs. W. M. Rae; Dr. & Mrs. G. G. Elder; Mr. and Mrs. H. A. Moore; F. Martyn Oliver. Thirsty-four members more enrolled at this stage. Then, as new, the Club had three objectives; first, to create a greater interest in visual art in the city; second, to provide art instruction for its members; and third, to sponsor travelling exhibitions.
Marion Nicoll (Mrs. James Nicoll) of Bowness was the instructor from the University, 1946-1947. From May 4th to 11th, there was an exhibition of 77 water colours & oils by the Medicine Hat Art Association shown at the Allied Arts Centre, Coste House. Combined with this was a one-man show of Helen Beny Gibson’s consisting of thirty-three water-colours. Luke and Vivian Lindoe exhibited forty-five paintings in the City Hall, May 3rd and 4th. Later that year, during Thanksgiving weekend, twenty-one oils by Emily Carr were on exhibition and the next month Luke Lindoe, Instructor in Ceramics at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art, Calgary, was on hand in the Council Chambers to offer comments about an Exhibition of the Alberta Society of Artists, the Calgary Sketch Club, and twenty-five watercolours by Gordon Sinclair.
The year 1948 started off well with a one-man show in March by Jack Taylor, assistant to Mr. Glyde, who was instructing the group at this time, one Saturday afternoon and evening a month. Mr. Taylor also taught the first week of a two-week summer art school May 31st to June 12th; the second week was taught by Mr. Glyde. The exhibitions of the Western Canada Art Circuit operated at a loss, 1948-1949, and were dropped in 1949 because of the small attendance at the exhibitions. Mrs. Helen Ritz and Howard Mantz were the 1948 scholarship winners.
Mr. J. J. Barrie was the President of the Art Association for 1949-1950. Annora Brown, A.O.C.A., A.S.A., from Macleod, was the instructor this year, and Walter Danyluk, a 15-year old High School student was the winner of the annual scholarship awarded jointly by the Department of Extension, University of Alberta, and the Medicine Hat Branch of the Federation of Canadian Artists.
The year 1950 was marked in November, by the visit of Mr. Donald Cameron, Director of the Banff School of Fine Arts. He spoke to four groups in the City on the Banff School of Fine Arts and on “The Community Art School Project in Alberta.” Over the years many enthusiastic and talented members of the Medicine Hat Art Association won awards to the Banff School. As well as those already mentioned must be added the names Malcolm O’Connor, Don Oliphant, Ruth Shepherd, Donna Maclean, who all won awards. Other who attended over the years were Mrs. Mabel Stone, Mrs. Mary Stone, Mrs. Helen Beny Gibson, Miss Eileen Pattison, Mrs. Allison Smith, Mrs. T. Hargrave, Miss Helen Mitchell, Carrol Beny, Annemarie Gibson, Margaret Butuk, Linda Lewis, Jim Boylan and Elan Gibson.
Under the presidency of Jack Naismith, in 1951, the Club had two instructors, Mr. Glyde and Miss Annora Brown. The Club welcomed one travelling exhibition from the Banff School, which included leather craft and weaving as well as watercolours and oils. Two members of the group, Gertrude Allison Smith and Anne W. Shepherd had one-man shows in the City Council Chambers, sponsored by the Art Club during 1950 and 1951.
By now, elections for the Executive took place in September, and Mr. Robert Block assumed office in September, 1952. Thirty-four members enrolled and the name was changed to “The Medicine Hat Community Art Club.” In March 1953, the members were invited to show their work at the Lethbridge Sketch Club. The work of four members, Mary C. Stone, Helen Beny Gibson, Mary Hargrave and J. J. Barrie represented Medicine Hat. This same year, the Medicine Hat Public Library made available one window for a continuous display of paintings. The Stampede Exhibition committee asked that an Art show be made a regular part of the annual three-day event at the Stampede grounds. In October, an exhibition of Medicine Hat Community Art Club work, consisting of seventeen adult contributors and eight children was on exhibit from October 1st to 15th at the Rutherford Art Gallery, Edmonton. During the fall of 1953 and the spring of 1954, four major exhibitions were sponsored by the Kiwanis Club who agreed to pay the rental charges on these shows as a public service to Medicine Hat. These were shown in the City Council Chambers, and they have been, and still are, one of the most worth-while public under-takings of any service club in the City.
Mr. Harry Wohlfarth was the Instructor from the Extension Department of the University for the 1953-54 season.
In April 1955, the Rotary Club brought an oil painting by Donna MacLean to present to the Public Library with the hope that this painting would be the start of a permanent collection. This gift was made in honour of Alberta’s 50th Jubilee celebration. Later on, the Rotary Club bought two other paintings from the Art Club members for Rotary International, an oil by Helen Beny Gibson which was hung in the Elks’ Club at Havre, Montana and an oil by Joan Van Belkum for an International meeting at Waterton.
In May of 1955, the members took part in a most successful eight-day out-door painting session under Mr. Wohlfarth. In October the retiring President, Mr. Robert Block, was succeeded by Mr. W. N. Hogle. The Vice-President was Donna MacLean, and two new names appeared on the Executive, Lois Lavers and Marion Jensen. The Art Club by now had under-taken a new project, the instruction of handi-capped people, with classes held every second Wednesday. Marion Jensen and Helen Gibson, with their usual generosity, alternated with Rosemary Adams from the local school teaching staff, as instructors.
Public interest, if not approval, reached an excited “high” during the 1955 showing of “Collectors Choice”, one of the Kiwanis-sponsored shows. B. C. Binning’s “departure from Bowen Island” came in for some lively comments in the “Medicine Hat News” – “One Eye Tug Atrocity” was the headline. Another viewer felt moved to suggest that B. C. Binning “should come back to the Hat and get his feet back on prairie ground. He’s had too much salt air out there on the Coast.”
The works of two other well-known Canadian artists, Paul-Emile Borduas and Marian Scott were labelled as “blobs” and “incomprehensible” by the newspaper editor. Other lively comments had previously found their way into print in February, 1954 when thirty-six watercolours from the National Gallery of Canada were on Exhibit. They were called “immature daublings,” “nightmares” and “a tawdry and uninspiring collection” under big headlines. Controversy always boosts attendance. Meanwhile, in response to the irate editorials, there arrived patient explanations of the values of this contemporary show from both Mr. Archie Key in Calgary and Mr. J. W. G. Macdonald, President of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, in Toronto. Several people in Lethbridge and Calgary hurried to agree with Mr. R. M. Block, the Medicine Hat Public Librarian and chief critic of this controversial show.
In November, 1954, forty works of Roloff Beny were warmly and more quietly received. After an enthusiastic year of Saturday morning Children’s art classes, under Donna MacLean, it was arranged to have a children’s section in the Spring Show to allow inclusion of both individual and team efforts of the forty-five junior members. Mrs. MacLean gave her Junior classes quick life drawings using members of the class as models. They also sketched to a background of recorded music. Prize winners in the children’s class competition, in April 1956, were Ben Levinson, Kandy Scherger, Joyce Yamamoto, with “Honourable Mentions” going to Kathleen Palmer and Margaret Myers.
In July 1956, two works by local artists, Verle Carscadden and Mrs. Ailsa Thompson, were chosen for exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. On October 24th, 150 paintings went on a “wash line sale” in T. Eaton’s Department Store. Prices ranged from .50 to $5.00 for unframed original paintings by members of the Community Art Club. Trading was brisk and by the end of the day, receipts totalled $130.10. These proceeds were contributed to the cost of the historic memorial mural to be painted by Mr. Glyde in honour of Alberta’s 50th Jubilee in 1955.
Donna MacLean became the Club’s new President, in October 1956, and in January, 1957, the Club acquired renovated headquarters. The Council Chambers were altered, at a cost of $4,500.00 to provide cupboard space, new linoleum and three foot panels of cork composition board for hanging paintings. Five artists were honoured in February by having their paintings chosen for a 17-picture travelling exhibition for the opening of the Edmonton and Calgary Auditoriums. Those so honoured were Donna MacLean, Mrs. Hargrave, Anne Shepherd, Verlle Carscadden and Marion Jensen.
Progress continued under the presidency of Anne Shepherd during 1957-58. Donna MacLean continued her successful children’s classes, with twenty-three young people registered. Marion Jensen undertook a similar venture in Redcliff with fifty turning up on the first Saturday morning. Not all of them stayed to register, however. In November of 1957, an interchange of paintings was arranged with Grand Rapids, Montana, and on December 20th, an exhibition of paintings by H. G. Glyde was opened. This exhibit remained on display until January 15th, 1958, at which time the Alberta Jubilee Memorial mural was unveiled by Mr. Glyde himself, in the Public Library. The mural, in casein and oil, was done in four sections, to depict the history of the province during the last fifty years.
In May 3, 1958, several Medicine Hat artists travelled to Lethbridge to take part in a Conference of Southern Alberta Community Art Clubs. Mr. Wohlfarth conducted a successful week of outdoor sketching in Medicine Hat June 9th to 14th. About this time, Donna MacLean was advised that a large casein portrait had been selected to hang at the University of Alberta. This portrait was later sent on exhibit to the University of Munich in Germany. Vivian Lindoe also had one of her paintings chosen for exhibition at the C. N. E., Toronto, and later in the University of Munich. Helen Beny Gibson showed several of her paintings at two successive Triennial Conferences of the Canadian Federation of University Women at Ottawa and Edmonton.
In September 1958, the Club reluctantly announced that there would be no more children’s classes for the time being. Anyone fourteen and over would be admitted to the adult class. Mr. Wohlfarth got the classes under way on October 3rd, followed by Les Graff as the regular instructor, who came once a month, on Friday afternoons and evenings. The exhibitions for 1958-59, included twenty paintings from the National Gallery, the Monsanto Collection which represented the top thirty-seven designs for Christmas cards, and finally a joint exhibition of twenty-three oils and four water-colours by Luke and Vivian Lindoe.
In October 1959, Vivian Lindoe took over as President. Bob Oldrich came from Calgary once a month to instruct, while Luke Lindoe assumed the responsibility for most of the local instruction. In February, 1960, the Club exhibited paintings from the Fourth Annual Winnipeg Exhibition. Two paintings of local scenes by member artists were presented to Cypress View Lodge in February. Later in the year, another painting was presented to the Welfare Observation Home.
A particularly successful open meeting was held in the Council Chambers, February 2, 1961, to hear Douglas Motter, artist and master weaver of Calgary, who described his trip to the Aegean Islands and Greece. He and Mrs. Motter brought with them twenty matted water colours done in Greece, in Aegean and Yugoslavia, the previous summer. In March, a joint show by George Kuthan and Fenwick Landsdowne was hung, followed by another West Coast artist’s Batiks. Cliff Robinson accompanied his batiks with slides and a taped talk to describe how batiks are done. From April 5-12, an interesting Israeli art show was sponsored by the Lillian Freiman Chapter of Hadassah. In May, Mr. Archie Key, Director of the Calgary Allied Arts Centre, came to open the Community Art Club’s Annual Spring Show and Sale of Paintings. The Club arranged a preview showing by invitation on Friday evening, followed on Saturday by a 2:00pm official public opening and a talk by Mr. Key. The artists had been asked to submit their paintings for jurying by a three-man jury a week in advance of the opening. The Club was particularly fortunate this year to have three professional artists, Luke Lindoe, Walter Dexter and Olle Holmsten, all living in Medicine Hat and all generous enough to give instruction.
Mr. Lyle Shaver assumed the Presidency for the year 1961-62. An impressive one-man show by Vivian Lindoe in September, represented work done by the artist during a four month stay at the D’Allende Institute in Mexico. The following May, Kenneth Sturdy of the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, addressed the club members and their guests on the opening evening and again on Saturday afternoon after the official opening of the annual Spring Show.
Under the guiding hand of Isabel Sharp, the year 1962-63 had its share of interesting travelling exhibitions, the most important of which was a three-man exhibition of water-colours by Calgary artists, E. Stanford Blodgett, Stanford Perrott, and Rolf Ungstad. The Club was fortunate to have William Townsend of the Slade School, London, England, as a guest speaker for the May Spring Show. Mr. Townsend was visiting professor in the Fine Arts Department of the University of Alberta for the current year, and had been on the staff of the Banff School for a number of summers. Luke Lindoe continued to give outstanding instruction once a month to the Club, aided from time to time by members of the Club, Marion Jensen in drawing, Isabel Sharp in design, Margaret Butuk in oil painting and Helen Gibson and Pat Gordon in water-colour and silk-screening.
During Helen Gibson’s tenure of office, 1963-64, W. L. Stevenson undertook the Club instruction once a month with local instructors filling in the other three Friday evenings. In January 1964, Izzette Mitchell and Milta Hawthorne each contributed to an Art appreciation evening. The same month, a show of Janet Mitchell’s work was officially opened by Mr. Clarke Moon, President of the Downtown Kiwanis, who generously continued to support the travelling exhibitions. In March, the Club hung a one-man show of W. L. Stevenson’s work. Next on the year’s agenda was a three-day workshop given by Janet Middleton, who brought her own model, Mahara Christante, which her. The fifteen members who signed up for this workshop, learned to stretch their own canvasses, after which they went on to a life study of “Mahara”. In May, Jack Taylor of the Department of Fine Arts in Edmonton, opened the Spring Show, and showed slides of his own work.
As a new September arrived, a new President, Cootje Rozenhart, assumed office. Mr. Stevenson agreed to continue as the Club’s Instructor. Two travelling exhibits were on display during the fall, the first a water-colour exhibition lent by the Glenbow Foundation, Calgary, and the other twelve small original oils by the Group of Seven. In November, the honour of a one-man show by invitation was accorded one of the Club members, Joan Van Belkum. The show, consisting of twenty-one large and impressive oils was hung at the Calgary Allied Arts Centre for three weeks, November 27th to December 18th. On February 6th, 1965, the Art Club and Hadassah jointly sponsored the same show in the Library, the proceeds from which were to go towards the presentation of a piece of sculpture to the Library. In March, Luke Lindoe accepted the commission to do the sculpture for the Art Club.
Over the years the Art Club has contributed to the cultural life in Medicine Hat in ways that are impossible to measure. Individual members have judged poster contests, painted stage sets, donated paintings for raffles and public institutions, judged parade entries and Christmas decorations, decorated the Municipal Hospital for Christmas, but most of all, they have felt the need of artistic expression themselves and have helped to generate an enthusiasm and awareness of the importance of art in the community at large.