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Thinking About the Collection

In writing this series of blog posts about Alberta women artists I have found the project evolved so much as I went along. Where I started in planning these posts is not where I ended up, especially once artists kindly responded to my inquiries with information I could not have hoped to receive. Each had their own take on what arts education meant in their lives and careers. This speaks volumes about just how wonderful and varied Alberta’s art scene has proven itself to be. For now, I’ve only scratched the surface of what could be shared. For this final post, I thought it would be nice to run through a few more stand-out artists in the University of Lethbridge Art Collection who contributed to arts education. There is far too much to show off in a single series, so we’ll end off with a few of the artists too interesting to overlook.

Still Alive (detail), 2015. University of Lethbridge Art Gallery photograph. This exhibition looked at still life as a popular subject for artists. Jessie Ursenbach, discussed below, had works included in this show that I loved looking through.

Annora Brown (1899-1987)

“Untitled (Black-eyed Susans/Yellow Daisies”, watercolour, by Annora Brown (Canadian, 1899-1987). University of Lethbridge Art Collection, gift of William H.S. Skelton and Mary T. Skelton, 2001.

Annora Brown, a long-time Fort Macleod resident, studied at the Ontario College of Art. She went on to teach at Mount Royal College (1919-1931), the University of Alberta Handicrafts program (1931), and the Banff School of Fine Arts (1945-1950). Throughout her life, Annora received numerous national and provincial awards for her art. She was even granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Lethbridge in 1971. Her artistic practice focused on Albertan identity, natural landscapes, wildflowers, and First Nations communities. These interests led her to some major projects and milestones. She documented more than two hundred Alberta wildflowers for the Glenbow Museum (1958-60), was the first female member of the Alberta Society of Artists (1931-36), and published Old Man’s Garden (1954)—an illustrated collection of local folklore and legends that was re-released in 2020.

Jessie Ursenbach (1895-1987)

“Unfinished Orchid”, watercolour, by Jessie Ursenbach (Canadian, 1895-1987). University of Lethbridge Art Collection.

Watercolour artist and devout Mormon Jessie Ursenbach was inspired by her home and the people surrounding her, painting realistic landscapes and floral arrangements that need to be looked at by anyone who enjoys flower paintings. She studied at the Banff School of Fine Arts and the Ontario College of Art. Over the years, Jessie taught art in various Southern Alberta communities, particularly with an interest in cultivating a love of creating with younger students. She was an active member of the Lethbridge Sketch Club, the Alberta Society of Artists, and the Canadian Federation of Artists. The collection has some great finished pieces that show off her talents, but the pencil lines of this unfinished piece caught my eye.

Barbara Leighton (1909-1986)

“Range Gossip”, 1941, ink, by Barbara Leighton (Canadian, 1909-1986). University of Lethbridge Art Collection, gift of the Estate of Gwendolyn Williams Pullen.

Barbara Leighton attended the Provincial Institute of Design and Technology, where she met her husband Alfred (A.C.) Leighton. Barbara would manage and promote his career until Alfred’s death in 1965. While an independent artist in her own right, Barbara is well known for continuing to print her husband’s earlier works as colour woodblock and lino block prints after his death. In 1970 she completed an Alberta College of Art and Design diploma in fibre and metal crafts. She was a member of the Alberta Society of Artists and the Canadian Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. Her Calgary foothills home has grown to become the Leighton Art Centre, a local destination for art and nature.

I loved jumping in to learn more about Alberta’s women artists, and seeing the legacy of these women as educators unfold the deeper I went into the history of our arts community. In concluding this project, I give all my thanks to Juliet Graham and Andrea Kremenik at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. Without their hard work these posts would never have been ready for an audience.

Kelsey Black

Collection and Outreach Assistant

Acknowledgements and Sources

Thank you to the estates of Annora Brown, Jessie Ursenbach, and Barbara Leighton for allowing the inclusion of their artworks. Check out the University of Lethbridge Art Collection for more examples of their work.

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