By Submitted Article on February 11, 2020.
By Mary-Beth Laviolette
Early Alberta artists Michael Pisko and Ernest E. Riethman had many things in common. They worked in commercial art and in their spare time were respected members of the Lethbridge art community. This included teaching, exhibiting and receiving critical recognition.
An influence for both of them was the more direct style of Canada’s Group of Seven. Painting or sketching outdoors, each also shared time with A.Y. Jackson of the group. Along with other early Lethbridge artists, they struggled to exhibit at a time when there were few options in southern Alberta.
There were differences, too. Pisko was Lethbridge-born, Riethman an immigrant from Switzerland. While Riethman was formally trained in Europe, Pisko self-developed as a painter through short courses. Inevitably, this meant they had different styles as artists. Although both Riethman and Pisko painted widely in southwestern Alberta, certain locations seemed to hold a special place in each artist’s heart.
With Riethman, it was Waterton, perhaps a reminder of Switzerland with its pristine lakes and scenic mountains. The family often came along and while they played and picnicked, the artist used pencil and watercolour to render sketches for later paintings. Besides the Waterton area, to the left of this panel are other unidentified locations with mountains in the background. In contrast to Pisko’s more consistent style, varied approaches was a Riethman characteristic.
Family history partly accounted for Pisko’s steadfast attraction to the Crowsnest Pass. A descendant of Slovak miners who worked in the area’s coal mines, Pisko also had an aunt who lived on a ranch north of Lundbreck. With his limited palette of colour – which never seemed to restrict him – communities in the region such as Coleman, Lundbreck and Burmis are featured in these paintings. Pisko painted these similar-sized oils on site (outdoors or plein air) while his artistic colleague, Riethman, painted his larger works in his studio.
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