Mountain Shooting Star 58.45.23-A - Collection of Glenbow
Used with permission of Annora Brown Estate
All contents © Copyright 2017 Joyce Sasse
Picture courtesy of Mary-Beth Laviolette
The Annora Brown Room
Our goal is to preserve and record the life and achievements of Ms. Brown. If you have any information, know where we can locate private / public paintings, would like to send us copies of books or you are willing to donate to help with costs for acquiring / re-matting paintings and prints etc., please contact us at
We Need Your Help
Then enter “Annora Brown” into Keywords/Phrase
Or you may order prints at:
Digitized photographs of 260 Annora Brown paintings in the Glenbow Museum (wild flowers, Blackfoot culture & art, landscapes in the Oldman and Waterton River drainage area) can be viewed at:
From Annora Brown’s Folio of Selected Memories
(notes by Joyce Sasse, June 2018)
Gray Campbell wrote “Annora Brown was born with the eye of the artist and the pen of a gifted writer.”
Sketches from Life, Annora’s autobiography,was written in the l970’s by a woman in her mid-seventies looking back on her “folio of selected memory”. The bookshows her gift for writing, but since it is rare to find copies of Sketches from Life at the present time, I shall try to use quotes from it as much as possible.
In it, Annora speaks about how her experiences in Waterton helped her face hardship, find courage, see beauty and cling to hope.
SHE FACED HARDSHIP
Annora Brown was raised and schooled in Fort Macleod, Alberta. She tried teaching in one roomed schools in the vicinity, but never felt this was her vocation. An Aunt in Toronto encouraged her to check out the Ontario School of Art while visiting in the city in 1925. It was there her calling was affirmed.
When she graduatedfrom the Art School, at 30-years-of-age, she “never doubted that the world would receive (her) newly found wisdom with open arms” (p. 109). She was ready to take up her new and exciting job in Calgary where shehad beenasked to develop an Art program at Mt. Royal College.
But by the spring of 1931 her life in Calgary took a sharp turn. Her father asked if she could possibly come home to Fort Macleod because her mother had a stroke and he could not manage alone.Annora’s response was immediate and without question. But it was not easy. “I had been trained as a teacher and an artist, not a nurse and a house-keeper.” (p. 127) With directness she confessed, “housework and painting have always been at odds in my life.” (p. 153)
She later writes that “for three years I did not know which of my parents I would lose first.” (p. 128) This was compounded by the fact she was indebted for her last two years in Toronto. Furthermore, medical bills and household expenses depleted her father’s life-savings.
It didn’t make it any easier, as she quipped, that she “graduated just in time for the Depression,” but she found strength-building resources through her art, her creative resiliency and from within nature.
She was a modern woman who drove a second-hand car, bobbed her hair and planned to live on her own in Calgary. It took courage for this single 31-year-old to choose to live in small-town, conservative, couple-oriented Fort Macleod, where she had to try to find ways to make a living using her creative talents. Furthermore, she was a female artist in a male and urban dominated art world of her time.
Of the many hardships she faced – as a caregiver to elderly and ill parents, during the bleak economic and social 1930s, living in the hinterland of Canada, far beyond the creative vibrancy she had experienced in Toronto - with honest and overwhelming melancholia she wrote it was “like a blinding sandstorm blackening my spirit” (p. 128).
SHE FOUND COURAGE
The world weighed heavily on Annora’s shoulders because of the many challenges that confronted her. She watched the windstorms moved off the prairie and saw how “the great (dust) cloud would eat up the landscape, field by field, house by house until it enveloped me in blackness, blotting out all but the nearest churning grasses.” But out of all that turbulence of wind and dust “something elemental in my nature responded to its hugeness and its violence.” (p. 132)
Her creative resiliency helped her find focus while she was on a sketching trip to Waterton. “I came to a decision … If I was to starve, it would be with dignity, in the clean air of the out-of-doors … Like the mountains, I would sit and wait. But I had no intention of starving. I would try every means possible of turning my talents into enough money for food and shelter, without denying MYSELF the right to exist. It is the life of the spirit that counts.” (p. 169)
Quiet and introverted by nature, she thought of herself as a mouse. “I must accept myself as I was. I was not a showman. I could not assume a public image as I had seen others do … My work must speak for itself and it must be sincere.” (p. 215)What a mouse!
She resolved early on to “learn all (she) could about the country in which (she) lived.” (p. 7)With her artistic skills and perceptive eye, she translated what she saw and felt, what she learned of the flora and fauna, the landscape and the history of southwestern Alberta. She then brought these details together in her classic work Old Man’s Garden, which was researched and drafted in the 1930s.
She drew heavily on her own experience with the Blackfoot People who lived nearby, and with the socially and ethnically diverse women who lived in the community. She respected their intellect and their ability, and sought ways, using her artistic design skills, to support them and help enhance their lives.
She was sensitive, also, to how her Indigenous neighbours where threatened with loss of culture because of the integration policies of the Federal Government. By devoting herself to “a life-long study-of and work-with the Plains Indians” , her own thirsting spirit was given sustenance. “Let me first acknowledge (the Indians are) the original naturalists and poets of the country. (They) have added so greatly to the world’s collection of beautiful thoughts.” Through their language they “had a perfect genius for choosing the most poetic and significant name for things about them …”
Annora Brown was a passionate conservationist, an accomplished historian and educator, and a prolific artist. The work she produced between 1930 and 1960 was of the highest quality. It was about the life and landscape of Southwestern Alberta. Then, because of diminished health, she had to leave her home in Fort Macleod and retire to the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island.
Many of her paintings hang in private homes, offices and galleries. Glenbow Museum Archives collection of 260 paintings of flora, landscape and Blackfoot culture have only recently been photographed, digitized, and made available to the public as images and prints. They are pristine in quality and a reminder of the unique contribution this gifted artist has bequeathed.
Little has been done since her retirement in 1965 to celebrate her work and identify her legacy – until now!
In conjunction with the Fort Macleod Library, I am announcing the launching of an “Annora Brown Life & Legacy (2017) Project”. And you, the citizens of Southern Alberta, are invited to participate in this project.
I’m calling for “Do Crews” (of individuals or groups) to volunteer to help search out the legacy aspects of this woman’s multi-faceted life. Through the year we will collect and collate these learnings, try to find her diaries and sketch books, make an inventory of privately owned paintings, and seek out the numerous ways we can name and celebrate her legacy.
Whatever your interest – be it conservationist, artist, educator, citizen – we need your help. Bring your web-building and social media outreach skills so we can fan the flames that bring this person’s “Life & Legacy” back to life. Our Annora Brown is a National Treasure. As part of our “Canada 150” celebrations we need to share this wonderful story.
You may contact us at the email address shown below.