Works from the Hess Collection curated by David Smith.
Alfred Crocker Leighton (1901 – 1965) was a British-born Canadian artist who is best remembered for his watercolour and oil paintings of Canadian landscapes that are rooted in the academic traditions of British art. A.C. Leighton first came to Canada for six months in 1924 when he was hired by the Canadian Pacific Railway to paint scenes along the railway’s main line. On his third trip to Canada in 1929, he decided to stay and accepted a position in Calgary as the head of the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (now SAIT and AUarts). In 1931, he and H.G. Glyde founded the Alberta Society of Artists, which is still actively promoting visual art in this province today. In 1933, A.C. Leighton started a summer art school which would become the Banff School of Fine Arts and is today known as the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. In 1931 A.C. Leighton married fellow artist Barbara Harvey, and the two would go on to share thirty-four years of marriage and artmaking together.
Barbara Leighton (1911 – 1986) was a British-born Canadian artist who is best known for her lino and woodblock prints made after A.C. Leighton’s paintings. She studied art at the Provincial Institute of Design and Technology and after her marriage, decided to dedicate her artistic practice and time to the promotion of A.C.’s career. Her prints are signed “Barleigh” which is a combination of her given and married names, Barbara and Leighton respectively. In 1941, she was elected as a member of the Canadian Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. After her husband’s death in 1965, she enrolled in classes at the Alberta College of Art and Design (now SAIT and AUarts), and in 1970, she earned a diploma in fiber and metal crafts. In 1974, Barbara Leighton opened up her home to share her passion for artmaking with the community. The legacy of A.C. and Barbara Leighton lives on today through the Leighton Centre which is located just outside of Calgary near Millarville, Alberta, and continues to value creativity, relationships, learning and the aesthetic experience.
The artworks in this exhibition were collected by the late Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess and were gifted together with more than a thousand other pieces to the University of Lethbridge by her estate in 2017. Hess was an art historian and collector of Canadian, indigenous and international art and knew the Leightons well. Marmie returned to her native city of Calgary after finishing her undergraduate degree in art history from the University of Toronto in 1938, and the same year she acquired her first A.C. Leighton watercolour, Sheep Creek, (1935). The provenance records which accompanied the bequest tell us in her words that, “Acie gave me my choice of his pictures when I had helped clean mats. He was pleased I selected a spontaneous quick sketch done on location.” This piece is also significant because it has the second oldest provenance record connected to the Hess collection and was the first piece she acquired after completing her degree in art history. As one of the first pieces to enter her collection, it’s possible that it helped inspire her lifelong passion for collecting. Marmie would go on to teach at the Provincial Institute of Art and Technology from 1940 to 1947 and shared A.C. Leighton’s passion for education and art appreciation. A letter written from Barbara to Marmie indicates that in August of 1943, Marmie was the first person to purchase one of her “Barleigh” prints Lake Louise no.1. Unfortunately, this print wasn’t in Marmie’s collection when she passed away and her provenance records indicate that Moraine Lake, (undated) was purchased circa 1940. Marmie’s appreciation of A.C.’s work seems to have been shared by her father Frederick whom she gifted Mount Taylor, (1948) on the occasion of his 74th birthday on November 29th, 1948.
The Leightons are also connected to the Hess collection in another way. In 1963, Marmie purchased her most significant Walter Phillips print, Karlukwees, (1929) from the Leightons. Phillips was a big supporter of A.C. Leighton’s work and wrote about him several times including an exhibition review in 1929 where he said, “I have always felt a genuine admiration for this painter’s superb draughtsmanship, the quality of his color, and for his handling generally. I have coveted many of his sketches. Now I proudly confess I own one. It will remain one of my most treasured possessions.” A.C. and Barbara also appreciated Phillips’ work and had collected a number of them; Marmie purchased four more from Barbara in 1965. Phillips had popularized woodcuts from the Japanese method in Canada and influenced Barbara in her use of translucent water based inks. Marmie had also purchased works by other artists from the Leightons including Toshi Yoshida, John Cotman and Walter Sickert.
Marmie understood the importance of her works by A.C. Leighton and after he passed away, she had Barbara authenticate his works by signing and dating them on the reverse in 1966. When Marmie opened a commercial gallery, Calgary Galleries Ltd. in 1970, A.C. and Barbara were two of the artists that she represented. She purchased her last two A.C. Leighton works The Wanderers and Winter Wonderland, (both undated) in 2007 at auction by absentee bid at the age of 91 and attended events at the Leighton Centre until she was 97. Marmie collected works by the Leightons for nearly seventy years and had them proudly displayed in her dining room and mother’s bedroom until her passing in September of 2016, four months after her 100th birthday.
1 “Our Values,” Leighton Philosophy, Leighton Centre, Accessed August 29, 2019, http://www.leightoncentre.org/about-the-centre/philosophy.
2 Correspondence from Barbara Leighton to Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Hess, May 20, 1947, 2017.76, Box 2, Margaret P. Hess Fonds, University of Calgary Archives and Special Collections.
3 Walter J. Phillips, “Arts and Artists,” The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, November 9, 1929, 5.
4 Bente Roed Cochran, Printmaking in Alberta, 1945-1985 (Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press), 100.