This summer, visitors to the Glenbow Museum will be able to travel back in time to witness some of the masterpieces seen by those who attended the very first Calgary Stampede 100 years ago.
When Charlie Marion Russell was invited to exhibit his work at the 1912 Calgary Stampede, he was among the most famous artists of the Old American West. His illustrations were featured on postcards, in calendars and in literature embodying the spirit of the plains.
Although Russell was American, Canadian ranchers, cowboys and First Nations connected with his vision of the west. "He spoke their language," says Lorain Lounsberry, senior curator of cultural history at the Glenbow Museum and co-curator of the Russell exhibit.
Part of Russell's inspiration came from a summer spent in Canada near High River in 1888, where he spent time with the Blackfoot and Blood tribes in the area. This experience, according to Lounsberry, allowed Russell to translate the images he saw into works of art.
"What Charlie [Russell] has done in his art is capture the relationships between settlers, cowboys, natives and the land," says Lounsberry, describing the enduring relevance of Russell's artwork. "The qualities of the landscape that he shows us are of the land that we're familiar with and the landscape the ranchers were familiar with. Whether it is the dry coulees or a river scene, it's timeless."
Along with evoking a sense of intimacy with the land, Russell's work was seminal in producing imagery for what is now known as the Old West. "Some of the paintings were foundational images that were used repeatedly in pulp magazines and Western movies," says Lounsberry. "You'll see them and you'll recognize them."
The Charlie Russell exhibit will be on display from June 2 to July 29, in addition to another collection of artifacts from the first Stampede. This collection will highlight some of the extraordinary personalities who helped put the Calgary Stampede on the map. The hand-decorated saddle of Stampede founder Guy Weadick and the prize buckle of his trick and fancy roping wife Florence LaDue are key pieces in the collection.
Also on display is Edward Borein's famous 'I-See-U' illustration used for the 1919 Stampede advertisements. This image has since been immortalized as one of the most well-known symbols associated with the Calgary Stampede.
"The art that was created and exhibited at the first Calgary Stampede had a big impact in the city and on the imagination of its people," says Lounsberry.