“The rectangular shape of many of the paintings reflects the view she had out the window of her pickup truck as she drove around southern Alberta.” - Ron McCaugherty
Her paintings can be found at the Galt, the Glenbow and the National Gallery of Canada, as well as on the walls of the University of Calgary, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and hospitals and public buildings throughout the province.
And later this year, the watercolours of the self-taught painter, poet, photographer and songwriter Irene E. McCaugherty will also have a new home – in the newly opened Founders’ Square at Lethbridge College.
McCaugherty’s son, Ron, donated 59 of his mother’s original paintings to the college earlier this year. Valued at approximately $58,500, the paintings will be part of the southern Alberta story told in Founders’ Square, a space in the heart of campus dedicated to showcasing the history and heritage of the land where the college now sits and highlighting the institution’s lasting legacy.
Ron McCaugherty, who taught welding in evening courses as part of the continuing ed program offered at the college from 1965 to 1970, says he felt the college would be an excellent home for some of his mother’s work. She was born in Hardieville in 1914 and lived most of her life in Lethbridge and the surrounding communities, becoming enthralled by the region’s history and that of Alberta as a whole. Her passion for history found a home in the regular column she wrote for the Lethbridge Herald called “Diary of a Farmer’s Wife,” as well as in the more than 1,000 paintings she created before her death in 1996, with titles like “Lethbridge Home Town Parade,” “Alberta’s Wild Horses,” “A Blue Windy Day in Southern Alberta” and “The Hold Up.”
“The rectangular shape of many of the paintings reflects the view she had out the window of her pickup truck as she drove around southern Alberta,” says McCaugherty, describing the unusual 7.5-by-21.5-inch dimension of many of his mother’s paintings. “She started painting for therapy because she and my dad didn’t get along so well. It gave her an outlet.”
Irene McCaugherty’s folk art paintings, which do not conform to traditional one-point perspective techniques, capture the “imagined pasts and invented histories” of the happiness and hardship found in prairie life. They encourage the viewer – including, in a few months, viewers at Lethbridge College – to step inside the world of ranching, wild horses, saloon holdups, settlers, log houses and prairie life.
“Lethbridge College has been at the heart of the region since its inception and this collection will be a great reminder of the many stories that we share together,” says Joyanne Mitchell, director of Development and Alumni Relations. “We are thrilled to be able to share her artistic creations with our community.”