Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Calgary Group was an informal, loosely structured group of artists with modernist concerns working in Calgary in the late 1940s. They responded to what they saw in Alberta as a lack of understanding concerning new developments in art. Key members included Marion Nicoll, Maxwell Bates, and Jock Macdonald.

In 1947 Macdonald, before leaving Calgary to head the Ontario College of Art, heralded the group in an article that appeared in the periodical Canadian Art. Stating that Alberta's altitude, climate, and geographical variations– ranging from mountains and foothills to prairie–represented the most desirable environment in which to foster artistic creativity, Macdonald asserted that the province was indeed beginning to produce its own distinctive art. The Calgary Group, he added, was characterized not by a single style or outlook but by its interest in contemporary expression. Also in 1947, members of the group exhibited works at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The exhibition later traveled to Saskatoon. This show led the curator, G. H. Tyler, to praise the new directions being taken by these Albertan artists, whom he identified as having departed from the artistic dominance within the province of artists such as Walter Phillips, H. G. Glyde, and A. C. Leighton. The following year, an exhibition review in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix identified the Calgary Group's traveling art exhibition, which was en route to the central provinces at that time, as being the first western art show to travel to the older provinces. Again the work was praised and its experimental nature commented upon.

In addition to the artists mentioned above, others who exhibited with the Calgary Group included H. B. Hill, Wesley Irwin, Luke and Vivian Lindoe, Janet Mitchell, Cliff Robinson, Roy Stevenson, and Dorothy Willis. The group does not seem to have lasted more than a few years and, as Macdonald stated, never had a defined program holding its artists together. It may be seen, then, as a group of artists held together loosely and for a short period of time during the postwar period by a desire to showcase the newer tendencies found within Albertan art, a desire that was seen as timely by many.

Joan Greer University of Alberta

J. S. "The Calgary Group at the Art Centre." Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, September 11, 1948: 1, 6. Macdonald, James W. G. "Heralding a New Group." Canadian Art 5 (1947): 35–36. Snow, Kathleen M. Maxwell Bates: Biography of an Artist. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995.

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