By Mabell, Dave on August 24, 2019.
Two Spanish artworks, purchased separately six decades ago in New York, have been reunited in Lethbridge. Now on view at the University of Lethbridge, they symbolize the lifelong friendship between an Alberta art instructor and a star pupil.
Margaret (Marmie) Hess met Roloff Beny – then 15 years old – at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the 1940s. The Medicine Hat teenager was studying with H.G. Glyde, a well-known Alberta artist.
Though she was a staff instructor, Hess was just eight years older than Beny. The two stayed in touch and became close friends, with Beny often advising Hess on many of her art purchases.
By 1955, Beny had built a reputation as a photographer as well as an artist. He was visiting the Curt Valentin gallery in New York when he came upon two drawings by Spanish artist Joan Mir—, up for sale. He contacted Hess with a suggestion.
Beny wrote to Hess about “two small but superb Mir— drawings,” pointed out he could get a better price on if he bought both. Hess took him up on the offer and each bought one.
“The drawing titled ‘Composition’ stayed with Beny and came to the University of Lethbridge in 1982 as a gift,” reports Juliet Graham, registrar at the U of L Art Gallery.
“The drawing titled ‘Sun Moon & Man’ stayed with Marmie and ended up here because of her bequest.”This is the first time they’ve been together again in 60 years.” Now they’re being exhibited in the university’s Hess Gallery on Level 6, along with a photo of Beny and Hess taken at the McIntyre Ranch in the winter of 1974.
The exhibit – Collected by Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Hess: Roloff Beny – explores the relationship between Beny and Hess. The works on display illustrate the scope of Beny’s practice and his influence on the international art which Hess collected.
“This show is all about the friendship of Roloff and Marmie,” says Graham. “Marmie followed Roloff’s career and kept a scrapbook of his achievements.”
Beny died in 1984 at the age of 60, and Hess served on an advisory committee to his estate. It unanimously determined that Beny’s collection of more than 1,000 artworks should come to the U of L. When Hess died three years ago, at the age of 100, many pieces in her art collection were donated to the U of L.
The long-held Mir— drawing might have been “lost” to the university were it not for a keen-eyed executor who went through her personal papers and effects one by one.
The exhibit will remain open weekdays until Aug. 29 in the Hess Gallery; no charge.