Two of the most influential individuals in the history of painting in Alberta were Barbara and Alfred Crocker Leighton. Alfred was born in Hastings, England in October 1901. He attended the Hastings Grammar School, and the Hastings Municipal School of Art, where he studied architecture. He served with the Royal Flying Corps in World War I, and was severely injured after a crash. Following the war, he began to paint landscape scenes and was encouraged to submit his work to the Royal Society of British Artists. He became influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, established earlier by William Morris, and his paintings in this genre began to draw attention in the early 1920s.
In 1924, the Canadian Pacific Railway commissioned Leighton to do paintings about the western Canadian landscape in order to attract potential immigrant farmers. In 1925, he was sent out to paint the scenic Canadian Rockies. He produced paintings exclusively for the CPR until 1929 when he resigned and accepted the position of Director of Art for the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Art, a position he held until 1935 when he was forced to return to Britain due to ill health with his wife, Barbara (Harvey), an art student whom he had married in 1931. Barbara was born in 1909 in Plymouth, and would become a direct associate in all of Alfred’s undertakings.
While at the SAIT, Alfred Leighton had been instrumental in founding the Alberta Society of Artists. In 1933, he established a summer school in the Kananaskis which was the precursor to the Banff School of Fine Arts. Upon returning to Canada in 1938, he resigned from SAIT and moved with Barbara to southern British Columbia. Here he tried farming in Chilliwack, but soon moved to Crescent Beach, where he and Barbara did commercial art work.
In 1952, the Leightons purchased an acreage near Millarville where they designed and built a one-room dwelling with the idea of having it serve as a art studio, with adjoining rooms to be added later. It was named Ballihamish after the school district of which it was a part. The structure was designed in the form of a cross, which allowed painters to focus on different perspectives of the Millarville Valley and Rocky Mountains at different times of the season. It was completed over the course of many years, with the inheritance from Arthur Leighton’s father in 1960 being a major contributing factor.
Following Alfred Leighton’s death in 1965, Barbara Leighton established the Leighton Center for Arts and Crafts, which was officially opened in November, 1970. The 1928 Billihamish School was also brought in to become part of the complex. In 1974, she established the Leighton Foundation for the encouragement of art, and an arts and crafts center for all people to engage in landscape painting. The Foundation is currently housed in the Leighton Art Centre, which includes a museum, art gallery, and educational programming.
In May 2009, the Leighton House and Art Centre was designated a Provincial Historic Resource. Its historical significance lies primarily in its direct association with Alfred and Barbara Leighton, two of the most influential people in the history of art in Alberta.
Written by: David Leonard, Historian
In the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Collection of over 7500 works there are paintings by Alfred and Barbara Leighton. The collection represents more than 1700 Alberta artists. Like the Leightons, many of these artists have significantly contributed to the development of the visual arts throughout Alberta. You can search the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Collection, and other provincial art collections here.
To view works by Barbara Leighton, click here.
To view works by Alfred Leighton, click here.
Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Leighton House and Art Centre. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Leighton House and Art Centre.