Founder and first President of the Alberta Society of Artists, A.C.
Leighton was one of the most influential artists and art educators
Born in Hastings, England, he was educated at the Brassey
Institute, Hastings Municipal School of Art and the Royal College
of Art, London. He worked as a teacher and designer of toys and
architectural models. A model of the Port of Liverpool convinced
the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to hire him as Chief
Commercial Artist and a painter of Canadian scenes. Exhibitions of
his artwork received accolades across Canada. In Winnipeg, noted
artist W.J. Phillips wrote, "Of the many artists who have rested
here on their way back and forth across the continent, none has
shown more distinguished work than Ma. A. C. Leighton." The Calgary
Albertan reported, "The fine drawing and coloring are the two
outstanding features of his mountain scenes. No loose splashing of
color is seen in any of the pictures but rather a fine etching
quality which raised the pictures above the average artist's
In 1929, A. C. moved to Canada to become the Director of Art at
the Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary, where he taught
until 1935. He also established a summer art school in 1933, first
at the Kananaskis Dude Ranch at Seebe, then in Banff. The program
became part of the Banff School of Fine Arts.
Leighton was elected a full member of the Royal Society of
British Arts in 1929 and a member of the Canadian Society of
Painters in Water Colour in 1930. He was an associate of the Royal
Canadian Academy and was awarded a Life Fellow of the International
Institute of Arts and Letters.
In Alberta, A. C. Leighton was the driving force behind the
Alberta Society of Artists. He was President from 1931 to 1947 and
finally was designated "Honorary President for Life." Under his
guidance, a constitution was written and a charter granted in 1931
by the Alberta government. From among artists invited to submit
work, he chose five charter members: James Dichmont, Roland
Gissing, Reg Harvey, Wes Irwin and Gordon Sinclair.
Trained in the British tradition of technical excellence,
Leighton set high standards for himself in his own artwork. He
always painted on location and held inspections of his own work
once a year; artwork that did not pass was discarded. He applied
these same standards to the Alberta Society of Artists. In 1934, he
felt that not enough high quality work was being done and he
resigned briefly until the members agreed to a strict regime of
work requirements, completing a series of exercises and assignments
for his personal assessment!
A. C. Leighton was an extremely competent draftsman in pencil,
pastel and oils but he is known primarily for his outstanding
watercolours, distinguished for their gentle gradations of tone and
delicate yet strong statement of form. He exhibited in a number of
national and international shows, including the Royal Academy and
the Paris Salon. His work is represented in the collections of the
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Alberta Foundation for the
Arts, Edmonton; the Glenbow-Alberta Institute, Calgary; the
Edmonton Art Gallery; the Vancouver Art Gallery; the Winnipeg Art
Gallery; the New York Central Reference Library; as well as
numerous corporate and private collections.
After his death in 1965, his wife Barbara incorporated his
unsold paintings into the Leighton Foundation. Their home south of
Calgary has become the Leighton Centre, which includes a gallery
and weaving and pottery studio, offering art and craft classes to
adults and school children.