By Sulz, Dave on July 31, 2020.
Artist offers unique look
at Prairie wildflowers
A new edition of a book that is a Canadian classic has been produced, its focus the native plants and wildflowers of southern Alberta.
“Old Man’s Garden: The History and Lore of Southern Alberta Wildflowers,” was written by Annora Brown, the acclaimed 20th-century artist who grew up in Fort Macleod.
Brown was not only one of the province’s foremost early artists, but was also a talented writer and a devoted naturalist, says Mary-Beth Laviolette, a Canmore-based independent art writer and curator who wrote the introduction to this third edition of Brown’s book, which was first published in 1954, with a second edition published in 1970.
Brown’s father served with the North-West Mounted Police in Fort Macleod and Brown developed a strong appreciation for the natural world of the Prairie grasslands.
“I think that was something probably instilled in her since she was a little girl,” Laviolette says. “I think her mother in particular was very interested in the natural world, and I think that was a very natural thing for her (Brown) to do.”
During the 1920s, Brown was trained at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art, where she learned from members of the famed Group of Seven as well as noted wildflower artist Robert H. Holmes. Returning to Alberta, Brown made the Prairie landscape, including its unique flora, a prime focus of her art. She wasn’t the sort of person to pick flowers and press them into books for keeping, however. She preferred them where she found them.
“She had a very strong interest in conservation,” says Laviolette. “She liked to depict wildflowers within their natural setting.”
Brown was also interested in the region’s Indigenous people, and “how they used plants, how they regarded plants,” Laviolette added.
Consequently, “Old Man’s Garden” features not just Brown’s pen-and-ink illustrations of the area’s plants and wildflowers, but also stories about the Indigenous culure of the Blackfoot Nation in regard to the plants.
The new edition also contains full-colour images of Brown’s later paintings of Blackfoot lodges (teepees) and regalia, along with the dramatic landscape of the Oldman River region, including Waterton Lakes National Park.
The combination of flora illustrations, Blackfoot stories and Brown’s other artwork make “Old Man’s Garden” different from other wildflower books.
“I think it’s a very unique book by a very unique individual,” says Laviolette. “I think people will find her writing to be quite charming. She’s a very good writer.”
The third edition also contains a foreward by Fort Macleod’s Sidney Black, the Indigenous Anglican Bishop for Treaty 7, commenting about Annora’s art and writing in relation to the Blackfoot.
Laviolette says she is glad to have had a part in this latest edition of “Old Man’s Garden.”
“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “It was just something I wanted to see happen.”
“I consider it a Canadian classic,” Laviolette says of Brown’s book. “I have to compliment the publisher, Rocky Mountain Books. They did some absolutely fantastic design. They included some colour plates of Brown’s other work. You’ll see that she was really quite wide-ranging in what she was interested in.”
“Old Man’s Garden” is available at the Galt Museum gift shop as well as online at Amazon, where there is also a Kindle edition.