Irene McCaugherty was a southern Alberta artist, writer, and poet. She was born in Hardieville, a suburb of Lethbridge, on November 27, 1914, was raised near Milk River, and lived in Fort Macleod, Alberta a great deal of her life. It was there that McCaugherty painted and wrote about southern Alberta’s pioneer days.
Irene McCaugherty found her voice through her watercolors of the historical past of Southern Alberta and of the people who lived there. Her paintings explore our cultural narrative and help us to know how prairie people looked and dressed and the activities they engaged in during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
According to Randy Adams, in “The Creation of Art Implies a Future”,
Art has been said to embody both a desire for the future and a nostalgia for the past. And, for artists working in the folk tradition, the medium is less important than either the longing to create or the memory that initiated the process.
Irene McCaugherty’s folk art paintings, which do not conform to traditional one-point perspective, invite the viewer to enter her world of auction sales, musical rides, road building, small town life, and ranching. It is said that ‘locals’ can recognize the people that populate her work; we identify with her vitality and joy about life in early Alberta. She records the daily happenings of our predecessor’s with humor and spice.
Early in her career as an artist, she traditionally painted flowers and worked in oil as well as watercolor media. For many years she wrote a newspaper column for the Lethbridge Herald about cowboy life on her ranch in the Porcupine Hills as well as for the Chinook Reporter, Fort Macleod Gazette, and Pincher Creek Echo. She self-published three books and one cassette tape with her poetry, stories, and paintings that illustrate Southern Alberta’s past through her memories.
The artist received an Alberta Achievement Award (1992) and an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Lethbridge (1995) for her work to preserve the history of Southern Alberta.
The Irene McCaugherty fonds are at the Glenbow Museum, Calgary.