Over 80 years ago Margaret Shelton began making block prints of her world in Banff National Park, Calgary and the Drumheller Valley.
Works from the artist’s estate and private collections allow glimpses of early familiar sights, some of which still exist today and others that have not survived the advance of ‘progress.’ There are views down the Bow River (1945), the Massive Range (1949) panorama, landmarks like Calgary’s Centre Street Bridge (1940) and Knox United Church (1941). We see C.W. Moffat’s Dairy Barns (1942) and L.C. Fulman’s Lumberyard (1938), the CPR Clubhouse (1941) now the Waldhaus Restaurant at the Banff Springs Hotel, and the Tudor Gothic architectural style of Parks Canada’s Administration Building (1941), only six years old when the artist did the block print.
Margaret Shelton was a committed artist, best known for her intricate linocut prints as well as her watercolour and oil paintings. With a deep passion for nature and the diversity and beauty of the Alberta landscape and built environment, Shelton’s interpretations are distinctively vital and energetic. Her contributions to the development of printmaking in Canada are significant, having created hundreds of prints in her career. Her works are in collections at the National Gallery (Ottawa), the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the Glenbow Museum (Calgary), where the retrospective exhibit "Margaret Shelton: Block Prints 1936-1984" took place after her untimely death in 1984. She exhibited with the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers (CPE), the Canadian Society of Graphic Art (CSGA), the Alberta Society of Artists (ASA) and the Calgary Sketch Club.
Born 15 August 1915 on a farm near Bruce, east of Edmonton, she grew up in the Drumheller Valley in south-central Alberta. From an early age she began to draw, and was encouraged by both parents and teachers. Throughout her high-school years, she sketched her surroundings, roaming the hills and mine works, drawing and painting whatever seemed of interest.
While attending Normal school (a teacher’s college in Calgary) during 1933-34, she also took evening classes at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA) where she studied drawing and painting with A.C. Leighton, the celebrated English landscape painter. From 1934 to 1943 she attended PITA on scholarships, under the tutelage of Leighton and H.G. Glyde, among others. In 1941 she learned Japanese wood block printmaking techniques from W.J. Phillips. Shelton taught school periodically for a few years and also worked as a commercial artist at an advertising agency in Toronto for six months before deciding to commit to full-time painting and printmaking.
“Unlike earlier Canadian artists including the CPR artists … and the Group of Seven, Shelton chose to interpret nature directly, without any romantic notion that it stood for or represented something else. Hers was a simpler and less spectacular rendering of the world than that of earlier romantic artists. She did not choose to convey the wildness, grandeur or primitivism of nature. She selected straightforward scenes which she depicted in a well-executed representational style that relied on nature for its impulse.” (Ainslie, p.8)
Margaret Shelton's work is wide ranging in its media: watercolors, oils, and block prints (linocuts and woodcuts). Pieces date from the 1930s through to striking images from the 1970s and 80s. They show Shelton's insatiable desire to travel and record that travel with her artwork. They also indicate the artist's concern with technique; she searched for appropriate means to communicate what she saw.
“That the 1940s were Shelton’s richest and most productive time is borne out by both the strength of the work and the exhibition and reproduction of her prints" (Ainslie, p.19-20).”
National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa)
Alberta Foundation for the Arts
Art Gallery of Alberta (formerly Edmonton Art Gallery)
Private collections in Canada and the United States.
Our gallery represents the Shelton estate as well as other Private Collections.
"...From the dry severity of the Badlands of the Drumheller valley to the fir-fringed lakes of the spectacular Rocky Mountains, Margaret Shelton continued to draw from this impressive country throughout her career" (Patricia Ainslie, Margaret Shelton Block Prints 1936-1984, Calgary: Glenbow, c.1986:7)
Bibliography-Ainslie, Patricia. Images Of The Land, Canadian Block Prints, 1919-1945. Calgary: Glenbow Museum, 1984.