One of the oldest Calgary Stampede traditions is the creation of the Stampede Poster. It began with the very first Stampede in 1912 when Guy Wedick invited iconic Western artist Charlie Russell to provide the artwork for the first poster. Since then, the Stampede poster tradition has evolved significantly from one of advertising all of the Stampede events to becoming a collectors' item.
If you are interested in starting a collection, Aquila Books’ website lists a 1945 poster for sale at $650 US and a 1961 poster for $525 US. In addition, they have a large selection of Stampede posters from the ‘70s to the present.
If you are interested, you can see all of the posters on the Calgary Stampede website, or see them paraded in the +15 concourse connecting the BMO Centre to the Saddledome – expect for 1922, 1926 and 1930 which they have been unable to find for their collection.
(Backstory: The Stampede didn’t develop an archive until 1999 which meant they had to source all of the posters from other collectors. If you have one of the missing posters or know someone who might, the Stampede would love to talk to you.)
For something different to do at Stampede this year, why not flaneur the posters with family and friends. It is sure to bring back memories. You will discover lots of fun facts, like what years the 3 Stooges or Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were the feature entertainment. It is fun to see how the admission to the Stampede has changed and discover some intriguing statements like “ Wheat And Meat Will Help Win The War.”
It is also enlightening to see how graphic design has changed over the past 100+ years in typography, colour, paper and printing quality. The early posters are very busy, full of information with a matte finish, while the modern posters feature a large glossy image with just the name and dates. It is also interesting to see how the people of the First Nations were featured on many of the early posters, while modern posters focus on the cowboy and his horse.
In 2007, the Calgary Stampede began commissioning an original artwork for the poster as a means of supporting Western artists and elevated the status of the posters as a work of art in its own right.
Poster History 101
The history of posters, which begins with the invention of lithography in 1798, is a very interesting one. It wasn’t until 1891, that Toulouse-Lautrec’s extraordinary Moulin Rouge posters elevated the status of the poster to fine art and started a poster craze. The early Stampede posters have much in common with the late 19th early 20th century European Poster culture. At that time, French posters focused on the café and cabaret culture, Italian ones on opera and fashion and Spanish ones on bullfight and festivals, so it is not surprising Calgary’s early poster culture reflects its largest festival and Western heritage and hospitality.
The concourse area where the posters are displayed is available to visit free anytime of the year, (many of us have passed by rushing too and from the LRT Station to the Saddledome). Bonus: At Stampede time the concourse provides panoramic views of the Stampede grounds with all its colour and pageantry.