Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess (DFA '04), a community leader, internationally recognized art historian an lecturer, businesswoman, rancher and philanthropist, was born in Calgary on May 3, 1916. She attended high school in Calgary and began her post-secondary education at the University of Alberta in 1934. Hess completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto in 1938 and post-graduate studies at the University of Iowa in 1947. During her time in Toronto, she met several members of the Group of Seven and they encouraged her love of art.
During the Second World War, she returned to Alberta to teach art history at what are now the Alberta College of Art and Design and the Banff Centre. When she lived in Banff, she hosted parties attended by the likes of A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris.
In 1970, Hess opened Calgary Galleries Ltd., which was one of the first galleries in Canada to showcase Indigenous art. Recognized as a world authority on Inuit and First Nations art, she willingly shared her knowledge with students and scholars.
Hess was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1993 for her research, writing, exhibitions and lectures on Canadian Indigenous art. She also received many other awards, including the Alberta Order of Excellence and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal. In 2004, uLethbridge awarded Hess with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts one of several honorary degrees she received from various universities.
Hess passed away September 2, 2016, only months after her 100th birthday.
In 2017, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery received an exceptional bequest from Marmie's estate, a gift that included an unparalleled collection of more than 1,000 works valued at $4 to $5 million, including pieces by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, as well as more than 400 works by Indigenous artists, primarily Inuit and Northwest Coast First Nations. Collectively, the works tell the story of Canadian art in the 20th century from both settler and Indigenous perspectives.
“This is the largest gift of art and cultural properties to the University in its 51-year history,” says Dr. Mike Mahon, uLethbridge president and vice-chancellor. “We are honoured to become the home for these iconic works of art. Marmie was truly a renaissance woman; she was highly educated and committed to the arts, education and the community.”
To recognize Dr. Hess's impressive legacy of contributions to both Alberta's and Canada's cultural heritage, uLethbridge renamed its main gallery the Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess Gallery. This diverse collection is a hidden treasure, most of the works have never been seen in public, including Cliffs Near Petawawa by Tom Thomson, a contemporary of the Group of Seven. It alone is valued at more than $1 million.
“Marmie had a really good eye and she was ahead of her time with her strong interest in learning from Indigenous people and their art,” says Dr. Josephine Mills, uLethbridge Art Gallery director and curator and Fine Arts professor. “This collection is an amazing addition for us.”
The Gallery is committed to making this collection accessible to audiences on and off campus, inviting students faculty, staff and the community to engage with the University's vast collection through exhibitions, educational programs and initiatives.
“It was important to Marmie that her collection be open and accessible to the broadest audiences possible and also be used to support education, teaching and research. Given these wishes, we find it so satisfying that the Hess collection has found a new home at uLethbridge,” say Dale Boniface and Richard Haskayne, co-executors of the Hess estate. “Recognized nationally for the quality of its art collection and the standard of care and stewardship it provides to the collection, we take great comfort in knowing that Marmie would be absolutely thrilled with the new home and plans for her collection.”
Students can visit the Gallery to view exhibitions and participate in events, gain professional experience by volunteering, through internships with the Art History/Museum Studies program, and exhibits pairing student work with the collection.
Moreover, the Art Gallery attracts members of the public to campus, providing access to contemporary and historical exhibitions, to professional visual arts programming and to on-campus research about the works and the artists.
“The uLethbridge Art Gallery is the perfect home for this gift because of our emphasis on creating in-depth engagement for students, scholars and the public,” says Mills.
In addition to exhibitions, collecting and research support, the Gallery also partners with art galleries and cultural organizations throughout Alberta and across Canada. The Gallery loans more than 50 works a year to galleries in Canada and internationally, and supports research by students, curators and scholars. Graduates from the internship program go on to work in organizations across Canada.
Learn more about the remarkable and feisty Marmie Hess
Learn more about the implications this gift has for student learning, research and public access to Canadian history
"Operation Coffee Cake" was the Art Gallery team's code for the project they had in processing Marmie's request. From September 2017, the team had to work in secret to get the art appraised and curated for our public announcement in June 2018. Go behind the scenes as they tell their side of the story