The art of giving

Date: Dec 14, 2022

On September 29, 2022, we marked the 50th Anniversary of the AFA Art Collection. As part of the celebrations, we are sharing snippets from the history of the collection. 
Learn more about the celebrations

By Erin McDonald, former Manager, Art Collection, and Gail Lint, Art Collections Consultant

The formative years of the AFA Art Collection were benefited from the generous donations of artworks from artists, collectors and benefactors. 

Donations were the stepping stones to building the collection in the first year – without them the collection may have faced a challenging time to establish its reputation and credibility!

A.Y. Jackson

In 1973, the AFA received an unprecedented donation of 18 drawings by illustrious Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson. Jackson spent time in Alberta documenting the landscape while visiting his cousin in the Lethbridge area.

A.Y. Jackson, Rolling Landscape with Ranch, 1940, pencil on paper

Later the same year another donor approached the Foundation with a gift of an A.Y. Jackson oil painting, Northland Tapestry. This work has been loaned to major institutions for numerous exhibitions:

A.Y. Jackson, Northland Tapestry, 1950, oil on board 

Arthur Lismer

Artwork by Arthur Lismer, another artist of Group of Seven fame, was gifted to the collection through a private estate. People may not realize that some of Canada’s most celebrated artists can be found in the holdings of the AFA's provincial art collection.

Arthur Lismer, High Glacier, c. 1926-1928, oil on board

Emily Carr

Another highlight of the  collection is acclaimed Canadian artist Emily Carr, represented by two artworks gifted in 1977 by a gallery owner in Eastern Canada. Without the "art of giving," these Canadian icons may never have found their way into the AFA Art Collection.

Emily Carr, Market by the Sea, Brittany, 1911, watercolour on paper

Throughout the years acquisition by donation has been one of the foundational building blocks to create a diverse, intrinsic and invaluable legacy collection. Alberta artists have contributed to the holdings with donations from their personal collections, including their own artworks and those of colleagues.

James and Marion Nicoll

Major donations from Calgary based artists James (Jim) and Marion Nicoll, during their days of productivity, and from their estate, increased the holdings by more than 400 artworks. They were considered instrumental in the development of the Alberta art scene, and influenced and mentored numerous artists who became key players in the province.

Unknown, James and Marion Nicoll, n.d., silver gelatin on paper

Their artistic styles were polar opposites! Jim focused on a traditional academic approach...

1981.155.002 James Nicoll, Home of Paint, n.d., oil and ink on canvas board

... which was contrasted by Marion’s eclectic exploration of modernist design and abstracted form.

Marion Nicoll, January, 1969, woodblock on paper

Illingworth Kerr

In 1978, a gift from Illingworth Kerr featured a suite of more than 50 drawings illustrating circus scenes and a journey to Africa. This was followed by an additional donation in 1982 and 1983 of lino cut print portfolios depicting fauna accompanied by the original lino blocks.

Magpies, Winter Sun by Illingworth Kerr

Illingworth Kerr, Magpies, Winter Sun, n.d., linocut on paper

Illingworth Kerr, Magpies Winter Sun, n.d., original lino block & synthetic floor tile,

R Gyo-Zo Spickett

A donation deserving honourable mention came to the AFA in 1993 from Calgary artist R Gyo-Zo Spickett (formerly known as Ron Spickett). A celebrated figure in the Alberta art scene, Spickett was also an educator and mentor at the Alberta University of the Arts (formerly known as the Alberta College of Art and Design) and the University of Calgary.

  • Through his commitment to Zen Buddhism, the artist changed his name to Gzo-Spickett and eventually shifted his focus to music. At the time of this donation the artist had not painted since 1981, though he did return to his visual art practice in his later years.

Spickett held the AFA Art Collection in high regards and, although other institutions expressed interest in his artworks, he gave the AFA the first opportunity to make a selection. AFA staff visited the artist’s studio and recommended 24 paintings be accepted as a gift from the artist.

R. Gyo-Zo Spickett, Dream Painting, 1974, oil on canvas

In 2009, a major retrospective was on exhibit at the Univeristy of Calgary Nickle Galleries featuring artworks from public and private collections. A catalogue by the curator, Geoffrey Simmons, entitled Spirit Matters: Ron (Gyo-Zo) Spickett, Artist, Poet, Lay Priest was published to accompany the exhibition. The AFA loaned 33 artworks to the exhibit, the majority of them having been gifted to the foundation by the artist.

Artist upon artists...

Donations to the AFA Art Collection account for more than 26 per cent of our artworks in 2022. Significant donations have been received during the past 50 years, which has helped the AFA build the curatorial representation of some of the major artists in Alberta.

To name and credit all the donations to the AFA collection would require a year of blog posts! A few additional donations worthy of mention (but only a sampling of them) include:

  • Janet Mitchell
  • Graham Peacock
  • Sveva Caetani
  • Robert Chelmick
  • Kay Angliss (Alberta Society of Artists Highlights Prints – a complete set)
  • RFM McInnis
  • Jacques Rioux
  • George Webber (photographer)
  • George Weber (printmaker)
  • Ron Kostyniuk
  • Sylvain Voyer
  • Robert Scott
  • Hazel Litzgus
  • Greg Payce
  • Don Wells
  • Murray MacDonald
  • Peter Hide
  • Arlene Wasylynchuk (estate)
  • John Clark (estate)
  • Les Graff 
  • ... and so many more!

Les Graff, Garden Things/Still Life, 2006, oil on canvas

The "art of giving" to the AFA collection has been an invaluable to building this treasured art collection. A sincere thank you to all the donors and benefactors – where would we be without you?

A new way to give

In June 2022, the AFA announced the new Arts Sector Donation Program. This program is designed to foster and contribute to the growth and development of the arts in Alberta by accepting cash donations from donors that wish to support AFA programs and services.

The AFA can accept cash donations from individuals, nonprofit organizations, public and private foundations registered as charities, and private sector organizations. Qualifying cash donations of $50 or more are eligible to receive an official donation receipt. 

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