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Annora Brown Society forming in Fort Macleod to promote artist

annora brown display

A display was set up Thursday at Fort Macleod Library.

joyce sasse

Joyce Sasse gave a presentation on Fort Macleod artist Annora Brown on Thursday at the library.

Preservation and promotion of the life and legacy of a Fort Macleod artist is taking shape.
The latest step is the formation of the Annora Brown Society.
“We need to get behind this work to say that we have something here that is pretty special,” Joyce Sasse said. “And we’re proud of it.”
Sasse gave a presentation on the artist and the life and legacy project at Fort Macleod Library.
“Annora Brown grew up in this community but her roots are even deeper than that,” Sasse said.
Brown’s father was a member of the North West Mounted Police stationed at Fort Macleod, and her mother came here to teach from eastern Canada.
The family lived briefly at Red Deer before returning to settle in Macleod.
Sasse said young Annora was influenced by her mother, who had an artistic bent.
Members of the Famous Five, including Henrietta Muir Edwards, visited the Brown home, and her mother arranged for book boxes from McGill University for the Fortnightly Club.
“All of this was influencing Annora as she grew up,” Sasse said.
The young girl’s direction in life was further influenced when someone gave her the gift of art supplies.
Words of advice from her mother served Annora well throughout her life and career.
“You have to be where you live and appreciate what you’ve got,” Sasse explained. “It seems that was a line that as so dominant in her life.”
Annora Brown became a teacher like her mother but soon decided to attend art school in Toronto.
“It just brought out the best in her to be able to do that,” Sasse said, noting Brown received instruction from members of the famed Group of Seven.
Upon returning to Alberta, Brown was hired by Mount Royal College in Calgary to set up its art department.
Brown was just getting into that work when she was called home to Macleod by her father to help care for her mother, who had suffered a stroke.
Brown returned to Macleod with college debt, the poverty of the Dirty Thirties, the responsibility of running a household and caring for her mother in front of her.
She proved worthy of those challenges, fashioning a career that saw her work displayed in prominent galleries across the country.
“She loved the people here,” Sasse said. “There were a variety of nationalities here, and she particularly loved the Blackfoot people.”
Brown recognized that others in the community were also hard-strapped for cash, but believing that every woman deserved to own something beautiful, she painted nature scenes on small cards that she sold for $1 apiece.
Sasse said Brown had a love of history, botany, art and writing.
Brown documented the wildflowers of southern Alberta on trips to Waterton and the Porcupine Hills.
“She put all of these interests together,” Brown said of the publication of Old Man’s Garden in the 1950s. “She put together this wonderful book that has become a classic.”
The Blackfoot people were another passion of Brown’s and she worked to make a visual record of their culture, even illustrating school textbooks on the subject.
“The other thing she wanted to do was tell the rest of Canada that the West was here,” Sasse said, explaining too many people in the East thought of the prairies as a vast waste land.
Brown worked as an instructor at the Banff School of Arts and was the first woman appointed to the Alberta Art Society.
When she was 55, Brown was commissioned by the Glenbow Museum to complete 200 paintings of the rarest wildflowers in the area. She completed 500 paintings in three years.
Brown retired to the Saanich peninsula in British Columbia in 1965. She died in 1987 at the age of 87.
“She led a heck of a good life,” Sasse said. “It’s just fascinating to me to think of the great work.”
Sasse has spearheaded the Annora Brown Life and Legacy Project that led to 265 of Brown’s paintings that are stored at the Glenbow Museum digitally reproduced and displayed on-line and establishment of the Web site www.annorabrown.ca.
The University of Lethbridge has done oral histories and included Annora Brown in its curriculum this fall.
People from the University of British Columbia and Queen’s University are doing a doctoral thesis on Annora Brown.
“Athabasca University at this time is exploring with us how we might preserve this work and make it available to the public,” Sasse said.
The next step is to find a way to showcase Brown’s art and her life in Fort Macleod.

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