A surprising international world of art in Lethbridge

Paula Worthington

A surprising international world of art in Lethbridge

Picasso, Matisse, Carr and Thomson among 15,000 works of art

By Paula Worthington

The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery is likely the only place in the world where you can see works by famed Canadian artist, Bill Reid next to a Picasso… yes, a real Picasso.

Forget the halls of the Louvre or National Art Gallery, Lethbridge is home to national and international art treasures, which can be explored for free.

Some of these exhibit masterpieces are thanks to a generous donation by Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess, who gifted more than 1,000 pieces from her collection, including Canadian icons like Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and members of the Group of Seven, First Nations and Inuit artists, and of course, Picasso and Matisse.

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Art in Lethbridge
Paula Worthington

No crowds, no flashing bulbs. Just you, the art, and endless contemplation.

While the gallery can only showcase a certain number of pieces at any given time, the entire collection is accessible to the public. According to David Smith, U of L Art Gallery Assistant Curator, “We have more than 15,000 pieces, all searchable in an online database, and we can provide access to any piece the public wants to see.” says Smith. Their team is still going through the huge collection it has received, and pieces are regularly changed in the gallery, making a repeat visit necessary for art lovers.

Visiting the gallery also gives you the chance to explore the university – a piece of art all on its own. Where else can you enter from the parking lot, and travel down to the 11th floor? Designed by renowned architect Arthur Erickson, the main University Hall blends seamlessly as it sits perched on the edge of the city’s grand river valley. Its art gallery is small and unassuming but is home to one of the largest post-secondary collections in Canada – and Picasso.

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Lethbridge Art
Paula Worthington

Lethbridge ’s downtown core has its share of emerging and established art talent too. The Southern Alberta Art Gallery, known as “SAAG” by the locals, is housed in a beautiful historic-meets-new building on the edge of downtown’s Galt Gardens. It features contemporary exhibits and a creative centre where visitors can practice their own artistic skills.

Not to be missed is the SAAG’s store, which features locally made items. “Many of our items are unique and one of a kind, giving a direct link to the local artists’ community,” says Jon Martin, communications coordinator for the SAAG. “People love to visit our exhibits, but also come in to shop, or attend one of our many events throughout the year.”

Not sure about contemporary art? Martin has some advice for first-timers: “It’s OK to have an opinion – art should be fun and it’s for everyone.”

A quick walk from the SAAG is CASA, the home for the arts in Southern Alberta. The bright, open building covers all the arts, from hobbyists to professionals. Wander the halls to see art on display, or shop unique, local items for sale. They run artisan markets throughout the year, where artists exhibit and sell their art.