Christmas Art In The Country at Leighton Art Centre: Explore, Appreciate and Create

There’s something special that can happen when you’re taking a drive out in the expansive Alberta countryside.  If you’re not in a rush to get somewhere, there are any number of neat places to detour to, explore, and see more than you bargained for.  That’s partly why our website – I AM CALGARY – has the tagline “Detour.  Explore.  See more.” 

This could not have been better illustrated than when we recently took a trip to the Millarville Christmas Market on a frigid winter’s Saturday.  Upon returning home to Calgary we decided to detour via a random township road so we could enjoy the countryside before a fast-approaching winter storm threatened to blanket the region under a fresh dump of snow.  As luck would have it, we happened upon the understated signposts directing us to the Leighton Art Centre, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

I’d recently read up about the Centre online and had, fortuitously, added them to my blog about Christmas Market destinations happening in and around Calgary.  Because of personal calendar constraints I hadn’t put them on my radar as a destination that we’d get to visit this year.  However, now that we suddenly found ourselves a distant snowball’s throw away from the Centre, and with their closing time fast descending on us, not unlike the incoming winter storm, we hastily made a beeline to the venue. 

We could not have been more surprised and impressed by the variety of artworks that awaited us at the art gallery and museum.

Approach to the gallery and museum

When time is short and options abound

I’m not yet sure whether we should’ve been relieved or regretful that we had limited time at the Centre before their 4pm close.  There was no way we could do any justice to the diversity of artwork and fine crafts that they had on display as part of their annual Christmas In the Country Art sale.  Having recently purchased a beautiful piece of wall art from an exceptional local artist, Dennis Ronald at The Passionate Painters Fall Exhibition, we were cautious to discover any new artwork that we might feel compelled (or, probably more aptly, seduced) to buy.  It didn’t take long before we were eyeing a few gorgeous unframed and stretched pieces in a variety of media.  But, on this occasion, sensibility had to prevail.

A small sample of the artwork on display for sale

I recently confessed, in a separate blog, to our inherent lack of discipline when it comes to discovering and buying pottery.  So, when we discovered the top-quality selection of pottery on display, we knew we were in trouble!  Between the pottery and the mixed-media glass and other crafts (and, dare I say, the endearing felted craft that Christa adores!) we had a score on our hands that only the ticking clock to our 4pm deadline would possibly settle.

A sample of the pottery and other creative crafts available for sale

Quality craftsmanship trumps resolve

Confession #314: the clock didn’t win.  Neither did our resolve.  Instead, great craft trumped both.  Not that we’re sorry.  We came away from our all-too-brief debut visit to the Leighton Art Centre with a matching mug and bowl in colours and designs that we loved at first sight.

Our two-piece pottery purchase (IAC)

We’ve also since learnt a few notable things about the Leighton Art Centre.

About the Leighton Art Centre

Set on 80 acres of prime land in the foothills, and boasting an unobstructed sweeping view of 300 miles of the Rocky Mountains, the Centre has been around for many years.  The property became the home of the late British-born Alfred Crocker (AC) Leighton and his wife, Barbara, in 1952.  Both of them recognized and skilled artists in their own rights, it seems fitting that Barbara would later, after AC’s death, convert their home into a gallery and museum where she could exhibit AC’s and other prominent artist’s works.

That view …!

The little red school house that Barbara added to the property in the early 1970’s became an art studio, with two more studios added in the years following.  Still a focal point, the area around the school is now an education centre, hosting children’s programs, countless annual school tours, summer camps and artists’ workshops.  Today, “Leighton Art Centre is a vibrant display of Alberta’s artists, both past and present. Leighton Art Centre was established by Barbara Leighton in 1974 and continues to operate as a not-for-profit organization”.

Read more about the history of AC and Barbara Leighton and the Centre here.

Exhibitions, Programs and Activities

The Centre runs six to eight juried or curated exhibitions per the year, displaying a wide range of media and subject matter. Their website is updated regularly with these events.

In addition to the exhibitions, the Centre also hosts two particularly popular annual art sales that are worth highlighting. 

The Christmas in the Country Art sale (which we happened upon) traditionally runs for the first two weekends in November.  Due to popular public demand – and in order to capitalize on the effort that the Centre puts into making this formidable event happen – the 2019 sale has been extended and will run during their regular operating hours (Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm) until December 21st!  Read more about the 2019 Christmas sale here.

The Clothesline Festival and Art Sale is their ever-popular public spring event that takes place in early June.  Set outdoors with unframed artworks displayed on clotheslines, supported by live music and food vendors, and located in this outdoor setting that is to die for, this event sounds like one that is not to be missed.  Details of the past 2019 event can be found here.  Needless to say, we hope to be making our debut visit to the 2020 event once we’ve saved up some cash to do justice to the exceptional art and craft associated with the Centre.

Admission and parking to both the Christmas and Clothesline events is free, with donations always gratefully accepted!

The Centre also offers the following great programs and events:

  • Workshops and Talks
  • Summer camps
  • Art to Go! programs for school groups
  • Art and nature programs for school groups
  • Community group programs
  • Kids’ birthday parties

Read what Travel Alberta had to say about Leighton Art Centre here.

Some significant stats

Just so you can locate yourself, the Centre is no small operation.  Here are some significant 2018 stats about the Leighton Art Centre and a few great reasons why supporting local (#supportlocalyyc) art, craft and business is a gracious thing to do!

  • Hours Open to the Public: 1,668 Hours Annually 
  • Total Visitors: 18,235
  • Number of Members: 358
  • Volunteer Hours Worked: 185 Volunteers worked 2,561 Hours
  • Artists Exhibited: Over 280
  • Number of Exhibitions: 10
  • Paid Out to Local Artists & Instructors: $124,395

So, when do you plan to make your debut visit to the Centre?

Winter at he Leighton Art Centre.
As charming inside as is the winter wonderland outside.

All photos by Amanda MacKay and supplied courtesy of Leighton Art Centre.

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