Annora Brown’s Summer Afternoon

Gallery 1C03 invites the public to learn more about some of the fascinating works in the University of Winnipeg’s art collection. We would like to begin this series by highlighting a large oil painting titled Summer Afternoon, created in 1952 by Alberta-based artist Annora Brown. This painting can be viewed on the fourth floor of the Buhler Centre where it is displayed in the Faculty of Business and Economics meeting room. Summer Afternoon was commissioned by the University’s class of 1929 to commemorate a much respected classmate, R. Gerald Riddell, and it was originally installed as the centerpiece of the former campus library on the main floor of Bryce Hall.

Annora Brown (1899-1987) was raised in the settlement of Fort Macleod, Alberta. She was the daughter of Forster Brown, a North West Mounted Police officer, and Elizabeth Cody, one of the first school teachers in the area. Throughout her childhood, Brown’s interests grew from her love of the nature that surrounded her. Her drawing skills were noticed by her high school teachers, and they encouraged her interests in botany and sketching.  After a series of illnesses, Brown went to stay with her aunt in Toronto, applying to the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University), where she received a four year scholarship. Brown’s instructors there included Group of Seven members Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald.

Upon graduation, Brown returned to Alberta where she taught art at Mount Royal College in Calgary and at the Banff School of Fine Arts. She spent the majority of her life, however, back in Fort Macleod, conducting field work and creating handicrafts for the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta. Brown was the only woman among the founding members of the Alberta Society of Artists. In 1955, she published Old Man’s Garden, the first book on Canada’s western flora. During her career, Brown saw her artwork included in collections throughout Canada, the United States, Britain, and Australia, illustrated multiple children’s stories, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law by the University of Lethbridge.  

Brown is most recognized for her paintings of southwestern Alberta landscapes and wildflowers that demonstrate her close observations of nature, born of a lifetime spent outdoors. Summer Afternoon depicts Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, a place where the artist often travelled to sketch and paint. While the influence of Brown’s Group of Seven art school mentors can be seen in her use of evergreen trees as a framing device in this painting, her work is distinct. Brown places people at the centre of this image, making their activity the focus of the scene. By the 1950s, Cameron Lake was a popular destination frequented by tourists and locals alike; here, we see vacationers enjoying a day of boating. Summer Afternoon is also indicative of Brown’s experimentation with bold colours and diverse brushstrokes, creating work that the Glenbow Museum has described as “realistic but sometimes fanciful.” This can be seen in her depiction of the water by the dock where she attempts to capture texture and movement in a loose manner.

During the course of her life, Brown developed and maintained friendships with many other artists, including a number of women artists. While a student at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Brown and three of her female cohorts from Alberta formed a collective known as the “Western Group.” She and Gwen Lamont, Euphemia McNaught, and Ruby Henry exemplified the camaraderie between women artists which Brown discovered to be valuable throughout her artistic career.

Brown's connection to Winnipeg and to the University’s class of 1929 was made through another friend, Jessie Doris Hunt (1909-1999). Hunt was an alumna of the class of ’29 and an artist in her own right who, like Brown, taught art to support herself. The two met while they were both instructors at Mount Royal College between 1934 and 1938, where the older Brown mentored Hunt. Brown and Hunt shared a mutual interest in nature and embarked upon en plein air sketching expeditions near the college. Hunt recounts these journeys and the context for the commissioning of Summer Afternoon in her unpublished biography of Brown titled Annora Brown of Fort Macleod, Her Life and Art. Indeed, if it was not for the commendation of Brown’s art by Hunt to her fellow classmates, Summer Afternoon would not be part of the University’s collection.

Sarah Brereton
Curatorial Intern, Gallery 1C03
Summer 2015