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The murals of Heritage Hall have their moment

"These be stirring times — the walls are coming to life!"

With these words in the 1948/49 yearbook, Illingworth (Buck) Kerr — Head of the Art Department at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA), as SAIT was originally called — described the launch of an ambitious art project to "liven our walls with color."

Between 1949 and 1955, twelve murals were painted by students in stairways and corridors throughout what was then called the Main Building. “The day-to-day progress of these pioneers is of constant interest to fellow students,” wrote Kerr. Today, Heritage Hall’s murals are both a testament to the importance of the Art Department in Calgary’s arts community and a gallery showcasing artists at the start of their careers. LINK talks with Calgary art historian Lisa Christensen about the murals and their meaning.

Beginning with a blank canvas — or wall

"In many ways, Calgary’s art world began in the halls of Tech and in the classes that were run there,” Christensen says. “Illingworth Kerr was one in a line of very important Canadian artists who served as head of the Art Department, beginning with Lars Haukaness in 1926 and followed by A. C. Leighton, H.G. Glyde, Jock Macdonald, Stanford Perrott and Ken Sturdy. They were all sought out to head a very prestigious program and each had solid training and an established career of their own. They were expected not only to teach, but to drive the program. And to be an example in the community of what being an accomplished artist was all about."

And, Christensen says, murals like this one painted by Ted Browning [see gallery below] interest her because of their post-Second World War optimism. "They share a broad world view about art, creativity and industry, like this mural focusing on what students were learning in PITA programs."

“Other murals focus on classical themes. They talk about history and they look very much towards the future and many of the things Canadians fought for in the war: freedom of expression, personal growth and the ability to live your own life. The Art Department had always been about doing those things."

Full view of "Sports at Tech" 1949, mural by Roy Kiyooka.
"Sports at Tech", 1949 by Roy Kiyooka: View of mural from outside the east doors from Heritage Hall to Stan Grad Centre, main floor.
"Sports at Tech", 1949. Close up of details on shield.
"Sports at Tech", 1949. Close up of details of one of the subjects boxing.
"Sports at Tech", 1949. Close up of details of two of the subjects racing.
Vintage photo of Roy Kiyooka painting his mural "Sports at Tech"

“[A] survey of space was made and panels on the stairways were given first choice. Fitting subjects were discussed in class — Alberta’s history, natural resources, industries and agricultural background; the Institute’s activities, educational, cultural, athletic — and in due course all these themes will be created.”
— ILLINGWORTH (BUCK) KERR,
1948/1949 YEARBOOK

 “Great art begets great art, and we have some amazing artists in Calgary. It’s not something we brag about,” Christensen says. “But having these murals intact in Heritage Hall is an amazing thing, because they do the bragging for us. You don’t need someone like me to stand up and say, ‘This is great.’ Because the murals do that. This was a rich, rich time in Calgary art, and PITA had students who went on to become really big players, like Ron Spickett.”

Ted Godwin (Art'55) Untitled, 1955 West central stairwell, main floor
Close up of detail on Ted Godwin's mural found in the west central stairwell on the main floor of Heritage Hall.
Close up of detail of Spartans on Ted Godwin's mural found in the west central stairwell on the main floor of Heritage Hall.


When will it be done?

Christensen muses that the first reaction to Ted Godwin's mural [shown in this gallery] might be that "perhaps it's not finished — that it's a preparatory sketch because it’s so soft compared to the others." But, she says, it relates directly to the series of tartan works Godwin would later execute.

“In a way, this mural foreshadows the important series of works that really made him famous."

“This was the last mural painted in Heritage Hall, and it’s easy to walk by it. But if you look at the Spickett mural, which was one of the first painted, and this one, you’re looking at two artists who now are of such stature. These works are from the very beginning of their careers, but you can see glimmers of what is to come. Spickett became famous for his horse and rider paintings; Godwin became known for his colours and brushwork. And I think that's a really nice bookend around the whole mural project.”

Lisa Christensen standing on stairwell in front of mural
Lisa Christensen  

More of the murals

Take in the vibrancy of the murals as you flip through the photo gallery. You'll see a full version, close up shots of details and photos of some of the artists from long ago. 

If you want to learn more, be sure to listen to "Masters of murals: Establishing Calgary's art scene," which is Episode 5 of the award-winning audio series of If These Halls Could Talk. Hear Lisa Christensen discuss the murals plus personal memories from Canadian sculptor Katie Ohe (Art '58) and the lifelong impact studying at PITA has had on her art. 

Artist Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d., located in the east central stairwell on the main floor of Heritage Hall. Upon closer look, you'll note that this vibrant artwork is painted on canvas rather than directly onto the wall.
Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d. Close up of art students.
Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d. Close up of two female students wearing yellow dresses.
Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d. Close up of welding students.
Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d. Close up of airplanes details.
Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d. Detail view of an instructor and students working in a lab and with technology.
Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d. Students of the automotive program working on a car.
Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d.,
Ted Browning (Art '50), "Untitled (PITA in Action)", n.d., Two silhouettes of individuals climbing a power poles.
Steve Kiss (Art '54), "Untitled (Early Days of the West)", 1952. Located in the east entrance stairwell on the main floor.
Steve Kiss (Art '54), "Untitled (Early Days of the West)", 1952.
Steve Kiss (Art '54), "Untitled (Early Days of the West)", 1952. Close up of a steam locomotive going through the prairies.
Steve Kiss (Art '54), "Untitled (Early Days of the West)", 1952. Close up of artist's interpretation of Indigenous peoples riding horses.
Steve Kiss (Art '54), "Untitled (Early Days of the West)", 1952. Close up of tipis.
Steve Kiss (Art '54), "Untitled (Early Days of the West)", 1952. Voyageurs canoeing down a river.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949. Mural located in the east central stairwell on the second floor of Heritage Hall.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949. Close up of detailed work artist took to paint his interpretation of Indigenous people on horseback.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949. Close up on horse heads.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949. Close up of two traders.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949. Two boys looking in a bag.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949. A trader sitting a top of a wagon with supplies being pulled by a horse.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949. Close up of Indigenous person wearing a red and white striped blanket.
Ron (Gyo-zo) Spickett (Art '49), "Untitled (Frontier Scene)", 1949. An Indigenous person sitting cross-legged on the grass.
Henry Bonli (Art '51), "Untitled", 1951. This mural is located in the east central stairwell between the second and third floors.
Henry Bonli (Art '51), "Untitled", 1951. Close up of orange and yellow butterflies on a leaf.
Henry Bonli (Art '51), "Untitled", 1951. Yellow and green butterflies on an orange background.
Henry Bonli (Art '51), "Untitled", 1951. Photo of Henry Bonli posted in a yearbook.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildlife of Southern Alberta", 1950. This mural can be found in the west central stairwell on the third floor.
Photo of Gertrude Anderson Hudson from 2001 when she returned to campus to restore the mural as part of major renovations to Heritage Hall.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildlife of Southern Alberta", 1950. Blue Jays.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildlife of Southern Alberta", 1950. A winter weasel.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildlife of Southern Alberta", 1950. Male and female pheasants.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildlife of Southern Alberta", 1950. Grouse.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildlife of Southern Alberta", 1950.
A photo from the 1949/1950 Yearbook showing second-year art student Gertrude Anderson painting the "Wildlife of Southern Alberta" mural. Mural is located in the west central stairwell, third floor of Heritage Hall.
In 2005, Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50) created this mural, "Wildflowers of Southern Alberta" as a companion to the mural she had painted 55 years earlier in the west central stairwell.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildflowers of Southern Alberta", 2005. Close up of wood lilies.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildflowers of Southern Alberta", 2005.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildflowers of Southern Alberta", 2005. Harebell flowers.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildflowers of Southern Alberta", 2005.
Gertrude Anderson Hudson (Art '50), "Wildflowers of Southern Alberta", 2005. Prairie Coneflower.
Sally Margaret "Kay" Kolodychuk (Art '54), "Leisure", 1954. Located in the west central stairwell on the second floor.
Sally Margaret "Kay" Kolodychuk (Art '54), "Leisure", 1954.
Sally Margaret "Kay" Kolodychuk (Art '54), "Leisure", 1954.
Sally Margaret "Kay" Kolodychuk (Art '54), "Leisure", 1954. Close up of architectural work painted by artist.
Sally Margaret "Kay" Kolodychuk (Art '54), "Leisure", 1954. Detail of painted tiger.
Sally Margaret "Kay" Kolodychuk (Art '54), "Leisure", 1954.
Patricia Stopford (Art '51), "Untitled (Children)", 1951. Second floor, corridor across from the Office of the Registrar.
Patricia Stopford (Art '51), "Untitled (Children)", 1951. At the time, Heritage Hall's west wing was home to the University Demonstration School (UDS).
Patricia Stopford (Art '51), "Untitled (Children)", 1951. Two boys playing on the floor.
Patricia Stopford (Art '51), "Untitled (Children)", 1951.
Patricia Stopford (Art '51), "Untitled (Children)", 1951.
Patricia Stopford (Art '51), "Untitled (Children)", 1951.
Patricia Stopford (Art '51), "Untitled (Children)", 1951.
Indigenous woman standing in front of wood pile with text overlayed saying LINK

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