Turner was born 9 January 1900 in Woking, Surrey, England. In 1906 the Turner family emigrated to a homestead near Vegreville, Alberta. His interest in painting and drawing was evident at an early age; he often made use of the unused sides of torn open envelopes. On the death of his mother in 1912, the family moved to Edmonton, where he became “an office boy in an attorney’s firm” instead of continuing with school.
In 1921 John Turner was a co-organizer and charter member of the Edmonton Art Club (one of fourteen: Berangere Mercier, Justine Springer (Rice), Theo Adamson, James Gillies, William Johnstone, Robert Campbell, J. Gordon Sinclair, C. Lionel Gibbs, Fred M. Kitchener, H.E. Bulyea, A.C. McCauley, J. Davenall Turner); he was later granted Honorary Membership. The Edmonton Art Club is the oldest continuing art organization in Alberta. Although he thoroughly enjoyed creating artwork, he was not able to make it his full-time occupation and so took on other work. In 1928 he married Grace Ann Robertson. When the depression arrived Turner’s job was one of the first casualties, so for a period he sold paintings for five dollars each. Eventually Turner found employment in a coal and wood office in Edmonton.
In 1935 the Turner family, now four in number, drove to eastern Canada to further John’s training in art. The trip was financed by painting sales en route. After three months they returned to Edmonton. During World War II Turner enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Although Turner never managed to get formal art training, his works are highly regarded impressions of the landscape around him. He was also adept at caricature. He was a member of the Alberta Society of Artists (ASA), where his work was shown in travelling exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada, the R.C.A.F. Show, and the 1966 ASA Winnipeg exhibition. In 1945 the Turners founded the Canadian Art Galleries in Calgary, which they owned for twenty years. The first gallery sale was a small woodcut by Walter Phillips, purchased by one of his students for $20. The support of his friends (WJ Phillips, H.G. Glyde, A.Y. Jackson, and Arthur Lismer) enabled him to convince other artists, including A. C. Leighton, Maxwell Bates, Illingworth Kerr and Luke Lindoe, to contribute works. It was the first art gallery in Calgary that avidly attempted to expose Calgarians to ‘good’ art by some of the best contemporary artists of the day. With the sale of the business in 1965, Turner was able to spend time painting and writing.
Much of his later work stems from his trips to the west and south of Calgary into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Selected Collections: Peter Whyte Foundation, Glenbow Museum, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, University of Alberta, University of Calgary, the Calgary Court House, the Ranchmen’s Club, various oil companies and numerous private collections.
Cochran, Bente Roed, Printmaking in Alberta 1945-1985. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1989.
Greer, Joan, The Changing Picture, 65 Years of the Edmonton Art Club. Edmonton: Edmonton Art Club, 1987.
Turner, John Davenall, The Artful Codger. Banff: Peter Whyte Foundation, 1978.