Evening, Pipestone Pass, 1949 watercolour on paper 19.8 x 27.9 cm Collection: The Leighton Foundation, Calgary

Alfred Crocker Leighton

The early years

Alfred Crocker Leighton was born in Hastings, Sussex, on October 27, 1901. At a young age A.C. Leighton showed an aptitude for drawing but he went on to study architecture, rather than art as his father wished, at the Bradssey Institute, Hasting’s Municipal School of Art.

In 1917 A.C. Leighton enlisted illegally in the Royal Flying Corps, where he was underage. In 1918 during a training flight, his airplane crashed after hitting some power lines and he sustained injuries that would plague him for the rest of his life.

In 1924 A.C. Leighton and a partner constructed a working scale model of the port of Liverpool. This model impressed the executives of the Canadian Pacific Company and they employed Leighton full time for its public relations ventures abroad -- not only in Canada, but to the Canadian Rockies.

The Leightons come to Canada
A.C.’s first visit to Canada as an employee of Canadian Pacific was made in 1924. Leighton boarded the train in Banff and sketched the scenery by often jumping off trains to sketch and then waiting at the exit of the spiral tunnel in Kicking Horse Pass near Cathedral Mountain for the next train to pick him up. The Canadian Pacific had first choice of any paintings and then A.C. could keep the remainder for himself. All of Leighton's paintings that the Canadian Pacific purchased during this period were destroyed during the Second World War in the London bombing raids.

Moraine Lake, 1931 oil on canvas 51.6 x 66.5 cm Collection: The Leighton Foundation, Calgary

Moraine Lake, 1931 oil on canvas 51.6 x 66.5 cm Collection: The Leighton Foundation, Calgary

Now a full member of the Royal Society of British Artists, A.C. Leighton’s next trip to Canada was made in 1927, where an exhibition of his work was shown at the Banff Springs Hotel and the Calgary Public Library. In 1929 Leighton returned to Canada to continue sketching in the Rockies. This time he was invited to hold an exhibition in the Eaton's stores in Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

In September 1929, A.C. Leighton was offered the position as Art Director of the Art Institute of Calgary to replace Lars Haukness, who had suddenly passed away.

In 1930 A.C. Leighton met Barbara Mary Harvey, who was a student in one of his classes. They were married in the early morning on Sunday, May 31, 1931 at St. Stephen's Church in Calgary and their honeymoon was spent packing into the Kananaskis area to paint.

Mount Skoki, 1935 oil on canvas 76.2 x 101.6 cm Collection: The Leighton Foundation, Calgary.

Mount Skoki, 1935 oil on canvas 76.2 x 101.6 cm Collection: The Leighton Foundation, Calgary.

In 1931 A.C. Leighton formed the Alberta Society of Artists and was the first president. This was also the year a joint exhibition of the works of A.C. Leighton and W.J. Phillips was held at the Edmonton Museum of Art.

Throughout the 1930s, A.C. Leighton spent his time between teaching and exhibitions. In 1932 he taught the Summer Art School at the University of Alberta (Edmonton) and, in 1933, he initiated a summer art school near Banff. By 1935 this led to the establishment of the now famous Banff School of Fine Arts. In 1935 A.C. Leighton’s work was exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery and, by the end of his term in 1936, A.C. was exhausted.  A.C. and Barbara decided to take a trip to England for a rest and, in 1938, A.C. resigned from his position at the Art Institute.

In 1941 the Leightons moved to a farm in Chilliwack, British Columbia and then built a house in Crescent Beach, near Vancouver.