November 28th, 2021

Local painters featured in Galt exhibit

By Bobinec, Greg on January 28, 2020.

Independent art writer and curator Mary-Beth Laviolette opens a new exhibit at the Galt Museum & Archives called A Painters Paradise, featuring the works of southern Alberta painters Michael Pisko and Ernest Riethman. Herald photo by Greg Bobinec @GBobinecHerald

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald

Painters from the past are being resurrected, thanks to a guest art curator who opened up the Painter’s Paradise exhibit at the Galt Museum & Archives.

Mary-Beth Laviolette, an independent art writer and curator, has researched through the history of art in Lethbridge and collected dozens of paintings depicting southern Alberta life in the 1940s and ’50s from two local artists who managed to capture the essence of Lethbridge during that time.

“One of (the artists) was from Switzerland and was born in 1895, the other one was born in Lethbridge in 1913,” says Laviolette. “They were part of the early art scene here in Lethbridge, they were a part of the Lethbridge Sketch Club, which was a very important artistic institution. They used to bring all kinds of artists from different parts of the country to come and talk about painting and to paint.”

Michael Pisko was born in Lethbridge and became a self-taught artist, taking classes locally and going to school to gain some training in painting. Pisko was interested in local landscapes and irrigation canals, which were being installed at the time. Through the search of his family and friends’ collections of his work, Laviolette is excited for the community to see his work once again.

“Michael Pisko was very interested in rural life, he was very interested in the working man, he was a sign painter and he ran a very successful sign-painting company called City Signs Company, but he also painted beautiful pieces about Lethbridge,” says Laviolette. “He loved the river valley, and you can see all kinds of buildings and shacks that don’t exist there anymore, so it is very interesting from a historical point of view.”

Ernest Riethman, born in Switzerland and later relocating to Lethbridge, was a well-educated painter with training from Europe, who when he came to Lethbridge joined the arts community to help teach and paint local landscapes such as the Oldman River, Henderson Lake, and a painting of 7 Avenue South, which truely captures the look of the area in that time.

“Riethman has so many different pieces. I think some of his landscapes of Lethbridge in the 1940s and ’50s are pretty stunning. This is where you see Lethbridge as a small town before what we know of Lethbridge today,” says Laviolette. “Although they didn’t have an exhibition space or art gallery, they did get their art out to different parts of the country.

“Riethman, who also did some teaching at the club at one point, his work was sent to Europe for exhibition, so these weren’t just isolated artists working in the middle of nowhere. Lethbridge was not in the middle of nowhere, it was somewhere.”

Laviotlette says the collection by the two artists is a good representation to what life was like in the ’40s and ’50s around Lethbridge as Pisko and Riethman helped make the art community into what it is today. Galt Museum has a handful of programs related to the Painter’s Paradise exhibit coming up and for more information, visit

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