Canmore Flaneur Find: Electric Grizzly Tattoo Parlour?

I have no desire for a tattoo. I never have. But I am still fascinated with them as works of art and as identity statements. Over the years, I have seen friends, who I never thought would get them and their teenage children get them. I don’t get the attraction, but obviously some – in fact many – do.

About ten years ago I was introduced to yoga and by the nature of yoga apparel, I was also introduced to people of all ages and body types having tattoos. Tattoos of all sizes and in all places – some entire backs, arms and legs, some very subtle. Some have spiritual words and phrases tattoos; others are beautiful images from nature (trees and flowers) and some I don’t understand at all. I am still surprise by some of the young women who have significant body tattoos –guess I am old school.

Award winning tattoos by Derek Turcotte.

Recently, after a day of flaneuring in Canmore – thrift store, Main Street, disc golf course and abandoned golf course, we headed with friends to Red Rock Pizza for dinner.  We chose an outside picnic table, which happened to provide not only a great view the Three Sisters Mountains, but also tattoo parlour next door.  One “eagle eye” in our group noticed there was a guy on the bed getting a tattoo. We also noticed a cougar pelt on the wall, making the space even more intriguing and authentic given it was Cougar Creek Drive after all! 

We got chatting about tattoos and why would people get one (none of us have one). Our world traveller friend said that in his opinion Canadians have more tattoos any other place he as visited. I said I would try and check it Canada is in fact the tattoo capital of the world.

Curiosity didn't kill this cat?

Smiling cougar pelt on the wall of Electric Grizzly Tattoo Parlour.

Just as we were leaving (the Mango Tango pizza is very good by the way) the guy getting the tattoo, his girl friend and the tattoo artist came out to get some fresh air and take a break from the ordeal (my word not his). My curiosity getting the better of me, I struck up a conversation asking questions like “Is this your first tattoo? How did you decide on the image? How much does it cost? How long does it take?”

They were all more than willing to answer my questions (and the others’) and share their story.  Turns out the guy getting the tattoo and his girlfriend had travelled from Fort McMurray to Canmore to get his tattoo.  And it also this wasn’t their first trip to get tattoos by Canmore tattoo artist, Derek Turcotte.  And turns out this wasn’t his first tattoo as he rolled up his other pant leg showing me an entire leg tattooed.  His theme is super heroes and Turcotte is a master when it comes to the super hero, science fiction and surrealism. Turns out Derek is in demand across Alberta – there’s at least one other regular who lives in Lloydminster. 

Close up of leg tattoo of client who was getting his other leg done. 

Who knew people travelled so far to get a tattoo? And they aren’t cheap; a full body tattoo can cost $100,000.  The one we saw being done - about 16 inches high by 5 inches wide was estimated to cost about $1,500 and takes 10 to 15 hours to do.   They had started the tattoo at 2 pm and they were still working on it at 9 pm.  And although the tattoo customer said it didn’t hurt much then, he said it would really hurt in a day or two.

I asked if it is true that Canada is the tattoo capital of the world. They said they didn’t know if that was true but Derek said Calgary has 100+ tattoo parlours while Edmonton has 130.

The operating table -oops tattoo table. 

Tiny ink jars used to create the rich deep colours of Turcotte's tattoos. 

Derek invited us inside (he’d just opened six days ago) and of course we jumped at the chance.  Inside, there was also a grizzly bear; appropriate given it was called the Electric Grizzly Tattoo Parlour.  The parlour’s decor not only includes the cougar and grizzly hides but numerous animal skulls and scary, surreal airbrush paintings by Derek. It is gallery, taxidermy and tattoo parlour all rolled into one – you gotta like that! 

Below air brush artworks by Turcotte.

About Derek Turcotte

Born in Ottawa, Turcotte move to Calgary about 11 years ago and to Canmore just a few years ago.  He trained under Cye Delaney and Blake McCully the latter being one of the most influential motorcycle artists.  In 2012, Derek won the “most realistic” and “best full sleeve” (full sleeve is a tattoo that covers an entire arm or leg) competition organized by the Perfect Image Tattoos  & Piercing Studio in Banff.

Turcotte is most intrigued by wildlife images, hence the hides and skulls. He loves the work of Robert Bateman and H.R. Giger.  Yet what he loves most about being a tattoo artist – “the great people you meet, develop a friendship with.  The relationship between a tattoo artist and their client is very special”.

Tattoo Capita of the World?

A quick google search found one site proclaiming Paris is the tattoo capital of the world as it was hosting a major tattoo convention.  The site also claimed a good tattoo artists in Paris can make 250 euros per hour.  Another site ranked USA cities based on the number of tattoo parlours per 100,000 people.  Austin has 7.5 parlours per 100,000 people, while Portland has 12 and Miami Beach was #1 with 24 parlours per 100,000 people. So I am not sure Canada is the tattoo capital of the world, but we in the running.

Last Word

It was a perfect ending to a perfect day of flaneuring. You never know what fun experiences you will happen upon if you keep your eyes, ears and mind open. And let your curiosity get the better of you! 

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What is "Maximalism" you ask?

Bet you didn’t guess that “Maximalism” is the catalogue title for Seattle’s Hotel Max’s art collection. Yes, the hotel not only has a wonderful art collection, but also like a public art museum, they have documented all of the hotels artworks (250) reproduced in full colour and each artist has two pages with an artist’s statement and bio. In addition, there is an introduction by curator Tessa Papas and a very readable short essay by Bruce Guenther, Chief Curator at the Portland Art Museum.

In the catalogue, Guenther writes, “This adventurous act of cultural patronage suggests a new, creative ways to bring serious art into the public’s experience and celebrates the plentitude of its practitioners and of aesthetic attitudes at work in Seattle.”

On a recent trip to Seattle, we stayed at the Hotel Max for a few nights and we were most impressed with the art; it was everywhere! And, this art is not just a bunch of pretty pictures; this is hardcore modern art. The hotel has respected the art and the artwork, each of the artworks has its own label and in the catalogue is the email of each artists if guest wished to contact them to comment or perhaps buy one of their works. 

I am sorry I can't reproduce all of the artworks in this blog, you will just have to check out Hotel Max for yourself next time you are in Seattle. 

I loved this haunting image of Samuel Beckett that greets you as you enter the hotel.  It immediately shouts, "This is a cool place!" The artwork is by local artist Stephen Kaluza. 

I was most impressed by the Hotel Max’s guest floor hallway art program. Nine photographers were selected and each given a floor to showcase their work creating nine mini exhibitions with 17 photos per floor. All of the art in the rooms and lobby were also selected from local artists.

What makes the hallway exhibitions really unique is they aren’t in standard fames on the wall but rather large format photographs covering the entire room doors with the doorframe doing double duty as the frame for the artwork.  Dark hallways with lighting focused on the black and white photography create a dramatic and pensive sense of space, in sharp contrasts with the rooms, which have light, bright and full of colourful artworks.

Byan Smith, Upside, mixed media 40' x 24' was the feature artwork in our room.  It would fit easily into our art collection and made us feel at home. We even had a turntable with Seattle indie group records in our room 9as did all rooms on the 5th floor) given the subject of the photographs was Seattle's music scene. How fun is that? 

I have never experienced anything like “maximalism” anywhere else.  The entire hotel is like a giant installation artwork with literally hundreds of contemporary artworks that have been thoughtfully selected and installed.

The hallway on the fifth floor as we exit the elevator. 

Amy Mullen, Untitled, photograph, 8th floor 

Paul Sundberg, Mr. Smith #3, photograph, 4th Floor (there was a series of Mr. Schmidt photographs, other titles included: Mr. Schmidt comes home, Mr Schmidt goes to work 

John Armstrong, Dancing Neon Couple, photograph, 10th floor

Charles Peterson, Nirvana, Los Angeles, 1990, 5th floor

Charles Petterson, Laughing Hyenas, Seattle, 1991, 5th Floor

Erin Shafkind, Her head is in the world, photograph, 2nd floor

Joan Broughton, Magical Tom Frank, photography, 3rd Floor

Joan Broughton, Greg Spence Wolf, photography, 3rd Floor 

Lesson learned?

I have never experienced anything like “maximalism” anywhere else.  The entire hotel is like a giant installation artwork with literally hundreds of contemporary artworks that have been thoughtfully selected and installed.

I have often thought hotels (Calgary and elsewhere) could do a much better job of selecting artwork that reflects the “sense of place” where they are located. A downtown Calgary hotelier once blasted me when I questioned their choice of art for a new hotel because all the imagery was of the mountains, nothing reflecting Calgary urban sense of place.  

My thinking was this new hotel would enhance the visitors’ stay by providing them with images (realistic and abstract) of the fun things to see and do in Calgary - architecture, parks, plazas, streetscapes and public art that are right in the hotel’s backyard!

I even suggested commissioning several local artists (painters, printmakers, photographers) to explore the city and create a portfolio of images from which the hotelier could create a unique art collection. Kudos to Calgary's Hotel Arts for their commitment to contemporary urban art as part of their brand. 

Hotels across the world - big and small, luxury and economy - could learn from Hotel Max how create a unique hotel experience for visitors.

Even the room keys are mini works of art from the hotel; this was my room key.  It was a reproduction of a photograph from the 10th floor by John Armstrong, titled "Rue Reamumur, Paris."  I keep mine as a souvenir.   

Last Word

If we want to make downtown Calgary a tourist attraction (and I think we do), more must be done to promote our unique urban sense of place.  In addition to hoteliers becoming ambassadors for urban tourism, so too should restaurants and retailers.  Everyone could help by using local art that reflects local spaces and places as part of their interior design or window displays.

Any hotelier interested in creating a unique, special and meaningful experience for their guests should visit Seattle to check out the Hotel Max.  And if you are tourist visiting Seattle, for business or pleasure, Hotel Max is the best place to stay.

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DREAM: Calgary's best kept public art secret?

Recently I have been spending a lot of time flaneuring downtown Calgary’s +15 (the world’s longest, glass-enclosed, elevated walkway 15 feet off the street that connects over 100 office, shopping, hotel, convention and cultural centres via 60 bridges).  Why? Because it is a great place for winter flaneuring in a winter city like Calgary. 

One of the things I love about the +15 is how there it can be “hustle and bustle” in some places and yet, just a few feet away there is a tranquil garden oasis. In the evenings and on weekends it is like a ghost town, which can be fun too.

Another thing I love is the unique perspective the +15 bridges give as you walk above the downtown street life below – way more interesting than Montreal and Toronto’s underground pathways. I always discover something new each time I explore. 

One of my discoveries last week was Derek Besant’s artwork on the window of the +15 over 8th Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets SW. I really didn’t know much about the piece so I thought I’d email him and see what he could tell me.

The response, “Man…  that is one of my best-kept secrets and one of my favourite public art integrations…. anywhere.”  


The title of the piece is DAYDREAM and it was installed in 1996, so unfortunately, like a lot of public art it has perhaps been forgotten as downtown office workers rush by to get their caffeine fix or to sign off on the next big deal.

It consists of 24 white images on the windows of the bridge each accompanied by a short sentence or statements. One side contains “thoughts about a woman” while the opposite side’s are “thoughts about a man.”   Because of the transparency and reflections of the glass you have to look carefully to read the text and see the sketch-like images against the backdrop of the street life below and the architecture that surrounds them.

The cryptic images and text make them intriguing and open to many interpretations.  The text could easily be the thoughts of those people who cross the bridge at any time of the day. They are open-ended statements about the male/female relationship.  It creates a voyeuristic sense of place, which somehow seems appropriate as you spy on the world from the unique perspective of the +15 bridge.

For those who take the time to notice and think about the images and text, it is like walking through a poem, maybe eavesdropping on a private conversation, or reading somebody’s diary. However you experience or interpret it, Besant has transformed Fred Valentine’s +15 Bridge (Valentine is one of Calgary’s most distinguished architects, with his signature work being the stainless steel, razor edge-like Nexen tower a few blocks west on 8th Avenue) into a uniquely Calgary experience.

About Besant

Homage, 6.6 meter high, Mount Royal University campus, 1989

Besant is a Calgary-based artist who exhibits his work internationally.  He is a graduate of the University of Calgary and was the Head of Alberta College of Art and Design’s Drawing Program from 1977 to 1993.  He has several other public art works in Calgary including Skywalk (pedestrian bridge mural) over Mcleod Trail at Anderson Station, two pieces on the campus of Mount Royal University and along downtown's 7th Avenue LRT corridor. Learn more.  

Artist’s Reflections: Notes from Besant’s email

“I love the fact Calgary’s downtown contains within itself a secret network of walkways that links 100s of different buildings. I remember well wandering as far as I could throughout the downtown core before selecting Fred Valentine’s spacious architectural envelope for this work.

I worked with engineers to design a special safety vacuum system that would enable us to work on-site during business hours, even with all the pedestrian traffic and exhale the sandblast debris into containers located in the adjacent parking lot.  

But what was truly brilliant about the experience was the moment when the Engineered Plastics technician and I were part way done the windows and a woman came up to me (not knowing I was the artist) and remarked that the window we were working on was “his” window.  

She was referring to an image of a half-closed window sandblasted onto the surface of the real window, but it also framed an office window just adjacent to the +15 in the opposite building.  The text said, “HE WORKS IN THAT BUILDING OVER THERE."  I took "HE" was the guy she was returning from lunch with.  

And if that was not wild enough, it was the next line she uttered that really meant the artwork held some portent.  She stated, "yes, that’s him, but it is the first window I really wonder about” and then she walked off.

I kind of scratched my head and then wandered back to the first window we’d worked on.  It held an image of a half-empty (or half-full) glass of water and the text under it read “DOES HE LOVE ME?”  

I love it when the sunlight catches the images and text and in such a way that their shadows are cast across the floor space adding another dimension to the public experience of the work. There is a playful public interaction between the light, image, text, street, architecture and human beings that makes this a very special piece for me.

I’ve tested the equation by loitering as if waiting to meet someone in that corridor above the city traffic, but really watching what happens as people walk by. While most people are either totally lost in thought, or on their phones, it is amazing how many people do stop to read the text, ponder the image, often looking up to see if anyone is watching them.

Over the past decade, I have studied the implications of text / image as identity in different ways.  I love embedding the art with a participatory equation.  I’ve done similar projects that are evolutions of this in Hungary, Russia, China, and London UK.  My next one will be for Scotland as a feature for the 2015 Edinburgh International Art Festival.”

Last Word

As a result of the City of Calgary’s “bonus density program” that allows office developers to buy more floors for their development in return for public art, Downtown Calgary now boasts hundreds of artworks - on the streets, in the lobbies, plazas, parks and +15 system. I love getting lost in (the nooks and crannies looking at the art and architecture. Sometimes just for 30 minutes between meetings and sometimes all day.

Calgarians (both those who work downtown and those who don’t) should get out and explore the unique art, architecture and artifacts of our downtown +15 walkway.

By Richard White, February 8, 2015

Architect Fred Valentine's +15 Bridge over 8th Avenue SW, just one of 60 bridges in downtown Calgary that collectively create a 20 km walkway. 

National Music Center accepts authenticity challenge

Andrew Mosker, President and CEO of the Calgary's National Music Center responded to a the Everyday Tourist blog about the great music museums of memphis and their authenticity. Specifically, he responded to the following paragraph:  

"In chatting with Andrew Mosker, CEO, National Music Centre (NMC), who is currently construction a new museum in Calgary, I was told they would be incorporating some of the lessons learned from STAX on how to engage, entertain and educate the public about music.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if the NMC could match STAX museum’s authenticity as most of NMC’s artifacts will be imported from elsewhere. Also a big shiny new museum located in a glitzy new master planned urban community seems diametrically opposed to places that are the catalyst for artistic creativity. Time will tell."

Mosker writes:

Authenticity is a challenge for all organizations like ours, but I’m confident we will deliver authenticity in culture, space and public programming when the new National Music Centre opens in 2016. 

STAX — along with many other famed music venues and museums — helped to inspire NMC. I find it inspiring that STAX uses its history, influence and the social demographics of the neighbourhood to support education, cultural tourism and economic growth in the area.

A 1560 AD Virginal from the National Music Centre's collection. Virginals are from the harpsichord family and were popular in Europe  the late Renaissance early Baroque period. (photo credit: National Music Centre) 

There’s no question that it is difficult to compare the authenticity of Memphis and the broader social realities of the American south, and their respective impact on the development on American popular music to a Calgary or even Canadian experience.

I would argue however, that when I first socialized the idea of creating a National Music Centre on the site of the King Eddy hotel in East Village, which was before Calgarians believed that executing a master plan was even possible, the response was that it was not a safe place to go. The combination of low-cost housing, homelessness, and criminal activity meant that Calgarians were very skeptical of the idea that the East Village could evolve in a meaningful way.  

My view was that given the King Eddy’s music history and authenticity, that this was the perfect site for NMC given our vision be a catalyst through music and to celebrate the contributions that music has made and continues to make in Canada by offering a wide range of public, artist and education programs. The King Eddy is an artifact that we want to preserve and share, and hopefully the programming inside of it will deliver an authentic experience to audiences.

Yes, the East Village expansive development may reduce some of the original grit and authenticity of the area, but I believe that this can be mitigated by the quality of NMC’s public programming, investment in community building and more awareness and development of our regional music industry.

Thank you for the excellent blog posts and for the chance to offer my two cents.

You can read the entire Everyday Tourist blog at: Music Museums of Memphis / International Blues Challenge

Rendering of National Music Centre's bold design at night. (photo credit: Allied Works Architecture)

Rendering of the dramatic design of the National Music Centre during the day. (photo credit: Allied Works Architecture)

National Music Centre has one of the largest keyboard instrument collections in the world; this is Elton's John piano. (photo credit: National Music Centre).

 A sample of the diversity of keyboard instruments in the National Music Centre's collection. (photo credit: National Music Centre)

East Village Transformation

East Village's King Eddy Hotel would not have been out of place in Memphis or Clarksdale. Iconic bluesman played at the Eddy for decades until its closure in 2004.  The building's bricks and footprint will be incorporated into the new National Music Centre. 

East Village one of Calgary's oldest communities, is just 14 blocks, many of which were just surface parking lots, before the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) developed a master plan in 2007.  Since then the City of Calgary via CMLC has invested $160M to upgrade the roads, sidewalk, sewers, as well as create new public spaces like Riverwalk, St. Patricks Island pedestrian bridge and island redevelopment.  All levels of government, as well as the public and private sector have contributed to the development of a new iconic Central Library and the National Music Centre both under construction. 


The private sector has or is in the process of investing over $5B in new residential, office, retail and hotel that will create a vibrant urban village for Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds.  To appreciate the scope of the East Village transformation from a community dominated by three homeless shelters and several affordable seniors apartments into a mixed-use 21st century urban village click here to view Calgary's RKVisualization video:

Before the mega makeover of East Village began, the neighbourhood was very seedy with homeless, drug addicts and prostitutes. 

Even the once proud King Eddy Hotel was no longer the Home of the Blues by the 21st century. 

Andrew Mosker

Andrew Mosker is the President and CEO of the National Music Centre (NMC) in Calgary. He has a B.A. in History from Concordia, a Diploma in Contemporary Jazz Performance (piano) from Grant MacEwan College and a Masters of Musicology from the University of Calgary. A native Montrealer, Andrew came to Alberta as an aspiring musician and now as the President and CEO of NMC, he is creating a home for music in Canada through the National Music Centre building project in Calgary’s East Village. Learn more at

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La-Z-boy Tourist: Colour in the Canadian Rockies

You don’t always have to leave home to be a “tourist.” Recently, I curled up with a book I bought on a whim in a used bookstore in Salt Lake City (they have some of the best used and rare bookstores). Entitled “Colour in the Canadian Rockies” this 1947 book was authored by Fredrick Niven with full colour illustrations by Walter J. Phillips. 

Regular readers know I am mostly an urban guy, but once in awhile I like to get beyond the glitz, grit and grid of the street and experience the pastoral pathways of nature. 

I had never before heard of Niven, but I did know Phillips and just looking at the 32 full-page, full-colour reproductions of his watercolours of the Canadian Rockies is like taking a trip to the mountains without leaving your La-Z-Boy (the book also has 33 of Phillips’ fine pen and ink drawings).  I later learned that he was commissioned to do the watercolours to illustrate Niven’s prose as opposed to just a selection of his works.

Mount Rundle

I am also not usually drawn to wordy, flowery, poetic prose but for some reason Niven’s descriptions of the sense of places as he travelled up, around and through the Canadian Rockies seemed authentic and appropriate for the magic and majesty that is the Rockies.

I was immediately captured by “Sometimes they are the colour of ripe plums and seem immense. Sometimes they are just a low wavering inky smudge along the horizon…Sometimes they are smoky-hued mountains of illusion, clouds, and peaks blending in the eye….they give a sense of eternal permanence that makes the sound of bells ringing down the quarters of hours over Calgary, and the honking of motor cars in the streets, and the cough of trolley cars’ warning seem vague, unreal.”

On the opposite page was Phillips’ painting of Mount Rundle, which at first glance is a straightforward tranquil painterly realism representation, but upon further portrays the clouds in the sky and the reflections in the water as wonderful colourist abstractions.  

Cloud abstraction 

I immediately thought of Georgia O'Keeffe when I saw the Phillip's Lake Louise: Dawn - symmetry, sensuality,  abstraction, expression and rich colour.  

For several hours over a few days I was quickly transcended back in time and place to when the Canadian Rockies were first being discovered by Europeans on foot, by horse and by canoe.  Niven tells his personal tales of exploring the hills, rivers, and peaks, as well as the people of the mountains in a philosopher’s prose. Phillips would paint the sense of space, place and silence.

There were even a few history lessons, like was makes a good guide, "A good guide is one who breaks his dude (client) in slow, if he sees he's not in form, without letting him know it, and brings him in to camp just reasonably and healthily tired and with an appetite on him. 

Below Lake Oesa 

Sample Prose

“the names of the creeks and peaks had for me the quality of ballad music.”

“the still reflection of the spire-like trees that stood, as in tranced stillness…an effect of eternal imperturbability on the mountains…lonely projections into radiant space…two pyramidal, very majestic slashed with moonlight and shadow.”

“memory also I have of how the sense of immediacy fell away and yielded to a sense of timelessness.”

“a sense of loneliness inevitably enfolds us in these great solitudes”

“In the tree-tops down Sheol Valley, beyond the awesome slide, little winds sigh and pass and leave profound silence. The tom-tomming of creeks only accentuates the silence.”

“A forest of pillared quiet.”

“They rode on. Immediately we were again alone. Such is the effect of these places when others are encountered and pass. Loneliness enfolds us. The meeting takes on a quality of unreality. Human beings seem transient. They were here; they are gone; they are ghosts; we are all but as ghosts travelling through that quiet.”

Seven Sisters Falls, Lake O'Hara

About Niven

Frederick John Niven (born March 31, 1878, in Valparaíso,  Chile, died died January 30, 1944, Vancouver, B.C., Can.), regional novelist who wrote more than 30 novels, many of them historical romances set in Scotland and Canada. Three of his best-known novels - The Flying Years (1935), Mine Inheritance (1940), and The Transplanted (1944) - form a trilogy dealing with the settlement of the Canadian west.

Educated in Scotland, Niven worked in libraries in Glasgow and Edinburgh before immigrating to Canada about 1900 and working in construction camps in the Canadian west. Returning to the British Isles, he was a writer and journalist in England until after World War I, when he settled permanently in British Columbia. He also published verse and an autobiography, Coloured Spectacles (1938).

Hamilton Falls, full of wonderful colour, shapes, textures and subtle lines, makes further links to O'Keeffe, abstractionists and colourfield painters. 

About Phillips

Phillips was born in Barton-on-Humber in LincolnshireEngland. As a youth, he studied at the Birmingham School of Art. After studying abroad in South Africa and Paris he worked as a commercial artist in England. In June 1913, he moved to Winnipeg, where he lived for more than 28 years. Phillips died in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1963.

Phillips is famous for his woodcuts and watercolours. His artistic career spanned from the 1900s through the 1940s, during which time his work was exhibited throughout North America and Great Britain. Common subjects for Phillips included the lakes of Manitoba, the prairies and in his later years, the Rocky Mountains where his ashes were scattered.

In 1940 he was asked to be a resident artist at the Banff Centre, then known as the Banff School of Fine Arts, where he played an important role in the development of their visual arts program. The  Walter Phillips Gallery, in Banff, which focuses on contemporary, is named after him. The Glenbow Museum in Calgary holds an extensive collection of Phillips art and a research archive.

Lake Louse: Dawn, right-side-up

Last Word

To paraphrase Niven, “it is not only scenery that the forest and mountains offer, but their memories, experiences, restlessness, peacefulness, solitude and companionship.”  

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Art / Fun / Airports

Jeff deBoer, When aviation was young, artworks in the WestJet boarding lounge.

I love flying WestJet for many reasons, not the least of which being able to see Calgary artist Jeff deBoer’s two giant art works, “When aviation was young” in the WestJet boarding lounge.  I love watching kids and their parents using the giant key to wind up these retro ‘50s tin toys on steroids, which then starts the giant toy planes twirling around and around.  This usually results in smiles on the faces of both the kids and adults, and even some dancing around the art.

For years I thought the pieces were just fun and decorative, creating a bit of a midway-like distraction for families with their bright colours and cartoon-like graphics. It was only recently when I took a closer look, that I discovered they are full of fun factoids. 

I love it when art is fun and informative at the same time. 

Calgary’s Aviation History

Did you know that Clennel “Punch” Dickins, back in 1928, piloted the first prairie airmail circuit from Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg in a Fokker Super Universal aircraft?

Or that in 1956 the City of Calgary named its new airport McCall Field after Fred McCall a World War I flying ace and barnstormer who pioneered a mountain air route linking Calgary, Banff, Fernie and Golden?

Bet you didn’t know Tom Blakely and Frank H. Ellis, were Calgary’s early aeroplane builders. In 1913, they purchased the remains of a Curtiss-Type biplane, rebuilt it, named it Westwind and used a field west of Calgary as their take off and landing strip. That field is now Shouldice Park.

And what about the story of how two deHavilland Twin Otters, flown by Kenn Borek Air of Calgary made history in 2001 by being the first aircraft to land at the South Pole in the middle of winter? 

So, next time you are waiting for your in the Calgary International Airport, walk around and explore, you never know what you will learn – there is lots of art to discover!


What children see when they look up at "when aviation was young." 

One of the story boards  on the side of the artwork.

Anchorage Airport Art Gallery

A few years back, we jumped at the chance to do a house exchange with friends who lived in Anchorage.  One of the more memorable experiences of that trip was the fabulous art at its airport.  We are not talking about a mural here and a piece of sculpture there. Someone had clearly realized airports make great art gallery spaces.  Kudos to them!

The Anchorage Airport art collection is extensive - murals, light shows, stained glass works, folk art, historic First Nations art, contemporary art, fabric pieces, masks and paintings.   Many of the smaller pieces are organized in display cases like you would see in a museum or art gallery.

In fact, when we were returning home, I made sure we got to the airport really early to give us as lots of time to explore the art. When was the last time you really wanted to get to the airport early? 

Hallway with art display cases and light show artwork on the ceiling makes for a dramatic entrance.

Stained glass artworks are both contemporary and traditional with their references to aboriginal design elements. 

One of many contemporary masks made out of everyday objects that link traditional mask-making with today's consumer culture. It was interesting to compare these with other displays of traditional masks.

One of many contemporary masks made out of everyday objects that link traditional mask-making with today's consumer culture. It was interesting to compare these with other displays of traditional masks.

Brenda checking for more information on the Art at the Airport program. 

Last Word

I understand Jeff deBoer is working on two new pieces for the Calgary International Airport.  I hope they are as playful and pensive as these two.  It will be a tough act to follow.

The Calgary International Airport is already full of art and artifacts and I expect there will be even more with the opening of the new International Terminal.  It would be great if the airport had an app, map and/or online site that would allow visitors to know the locations of the art, who the artists are and some background information on each piece.  It could make for a fun treasure hunt for families and art lovers and provide a welcome diversion when facing a long wait.

Come on Calgary, if Anchorage can do so can we!

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Edmonton: Borden (art) Park

Do we really need all of this public art?

Putting the public back into public art