A History of Art in Alberta, 1905–1970


304 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 1-896209-71-8
DDC 709'.7123'0904





Reviewed by Kathy E. Zimon

Kathy E. Zimon is a fine arts librarian (emerita) at the University of
Calgary. She is the author of Alberta Society of Artists: The First 70
Years and co-editor of Art Documentation Bulletin of the Art Libraries
Society of North America.


Although this title was originally planned as a two-volume text (volume
two, by Mary Beth LaViolette, was to cover Alberta art from 1970), at
some point during gestation, the volumes were unlinked, and in 2005 both
authors published their texts independently.

Nancy Townshend, a curator specializing in Alberta art and the author
of Maxwell Bates: Canada’s Premier Expressionist of the 20th Century
(2005), spent nearly a decade researching this book. Its 10 chapters are
a roughly chronological account of art activity from the founding of the
province in 1905 to 1970, when Alberta art began to evolve within a
modern gallery/museum infrastructure. The first chapter introduces the
author’s thesis: that the modernism of Maxwell Bates and W.L.
Stevenson, thwarted in the 1920s by the dominance of the British
academic tradition of A.C. Leighton, who excluded them from the Alberta
Society of Artists, was the most important development in Alberta art.
Other artists, groups, movements, and institutions are discussed within
the loose chronological framework, such as H.G. Glyde’s figurative
art, the Carnegie Corporation’s role during the Depression, modernism
and The Calgary Group, Marion Nicoll and metaphor, and the inroads of
objectivity and non-representational art during the 1950s and 1960s. The
last two chapters are devoted to crafts and public art, including

The pages are packed with previously unpublished facts, details, and
quotes from wide-ranging, original archival sources about the Alberta
art scene and its protagonists (which would have benefited from a
comprehensive, rather than selective, index). It is debatable whether
the central role assigned to Bates’s modernism and figurative
expressionism is fully warranted in the Alberta context, where then and
now, other preoccupations have flourished more vigorously.

This book appears to have been rushed to publication, perhaps to
coincide with the province’s centennial. More scrupulous writing and
editing would have been welcome to do justice to the results of such
extensive research. Although indispensable for students of Alberta art,
it will nevertheless pose a challenge for readers to assimilate its


Townshend, Nancy., “A History of Art in Alberta, 1905–1970,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/32212.