Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 162


Copyright 2009 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska- Lincoln


As books about art go, The Painted Valley is an unusual undertaking because neither Christopher Armstrong nor H. V. Nelles is a specialist in the field of Canadian art. Both emeritus professors at Toronto's York University, they are environmental historians who, in the process of researching a book about southern Alberta's 600-kilometer-Iong Bow River, "stumbled" upon a "cache of pictures" inspired by that stony ribbon of blue: paintings, photographs, and works on paper found largely in the collections of Calgary's Glenbow Museum, Banff's Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and the Edmontonbased Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

The contents of the cache-as they discovered- were the product of a diverse group of observers categorized in the book's chapters as imperial topographers {including military artists}, railway romantics {commissioned by Canadian Pacific Railway}, impressionists {including the Ontario-based Group of Seven}, and finally those who could actually call the river and its valley "home." In this latter group, which spans a period of over seventy years, are such early figures as Lars Haukaness, A. C. Leighton, and Walter J. Phillips to name a few, followed by the more modernist energies of Marion Nicoll, Illingworth (Buck) Kerr, and later Ted Godwin and others. In all cases, as Armstrong and Nelles assert, their representations of the Alberta river and its valley were shaped as much by certain art styles in Western art as they were by the less obvious matter of changing cultural perceptions of nature. In a nice turn of phrase, the authors hoped to see the river through the art and instead ended up seeing art through the river (art, it should be said, that is poorly served by the quality of some of the book's color reproductions).