Hung out to dry

By Karoline Czerski

Overlooking 300 kilometers of mountain horizon, a serene, enigmatic landscape surrounds the Leighton Arts Centre. The Centre is the site of the annual Clothesline Art Sale, attracting artists, buyers and onlookers Sun., June 1.

What began as a strawberry tea gathering in 1974 with Barbara Leighton and her friends has turned into an annual ritual. This year, over 60 local artists will come to sell their artwork, mostly original paintings in oil, acrylic and watercolor. All the pieces will be hung, unframed, from clotheslines covering the Leighton landscape.

The works primarily include landscape art, a theme the Leighton Centre has perpetuated since being founded in the 1950s when Barbara’s husband, A.C. Leighton, bought the 160-acre property.

The Leighton history stretches back past the 1950s to the days of the untamed West, when CP Rail was expanding into the region in the early twentieth century. Leighton, an artist from Britain, was hired by CP and immigrated to Canada, helping create advertisements for settlement in the prairies.

What Leighton found in the Rocky Mountains was inspiration for a lifetime of artwork, now scattered among various private galleries, the Glenbow, and an extensive permanent collection at the Leighton Arts Centre.

Bringing with him the knowledge of a rich European arts culture, Leighton spent a lifetime working to develop an artist community in the young western region. At 28, he became President of the Art Institute–the 1920s forerunner to the Alberta College of Art and Design–and founded the Alberta Society of Artists, the only provincial artist organization to this day, in 1931.

Under Leighton,young art students would flock to the mountains to experience the landscape, a trend that led to the foundation of the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1933, now the Banff Centre.

After her husband’s death in 1965, Barbara Leighton worked to maintain his legacy. She went back as a student to ACAD, where she found the support of young artists who, attracted by the natural and artistic richness of the Leighton history, worked to develop an artistic community which formally became the Leighton Arts Centre in 1970.

The Centre became a pseudo-hippie attraction in the 1970s, and the house opened as a gallery in 1974. Since then, the Leighton Foundation has maintained a strong local membership, today exceeding 350 members, as well as a devoted volunteer base.

Barbara died in 1986, leaving the Centre in the hands of the artist community that helped maintain it. Over 13,000 children pass through the Centre annually, where summer camps are held in the old schoolhouse. The Centre also provides space where artists hold shows, where travelling exhibits are displayed and where the rich history resonates.

The Clothesline Art Sale continues the strawberry tea tradition that has survived for 30 years. It is a chance for members to showcase artwork and a chance for all to enjoy live music, museum tours, and the scenery that makes the Leighton experience.

The Leighton Arts Centre Clothesline Art Sale runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sun., June 1. Call 931-3633 for more information.

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