Calgary artist celebrated for prairie images

Awards and acclaim | Adeline Halvorson’s 
work regularly features heavy horses

Adeline Halvorson’s home is like walking into a gallery of fine western art with her work displayed in every room.

An internationally recognized artist, Halvorson has come a long way from the Kuroki, Sask., farm where she grew up with five siblings, most of whom are still farming in the area.

Her most recent success came last year when she was commissioned to paint the 2014 Calgary Stampede poster and sold the original work of a Belgian draft horse named Lady for $125,000 to Calgary businessman Gary Bartlett.

During that show, she also won the Calgary Stampede Western Art Auction Outstanding Artistic Achievement Award.

Working out of her studio in suburban Calgary, most of Halvorson’s work focuses on horses and dogs, but she has sold portraits, still lifes, wildlife and landscapes in oil or acrylic on canvas. She also works in pastels.

Halvorson sold her first pencil drawing of a team of draft horses for $10, a considerable sum for a 15-year-old who earned 25 cents an hour babysitting and received a $10 per month allowance.

She enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan, intending to study art or math, but soon decided the academic life was not for her.

She had been painting for about a year and instead of continuing in school, she joined a group of travelling artists who displayed their work in malls across the west.

“I risked everything I had in order to do this show with this group,” she said.

There were times she had to choose between gas for her van or a meal. It was an independent life, but she was able to hone her craft and learned how to market her work.

“Because I was 20 years old and had never been anywhere, it was an adventure,” she said.

“I have been able to make a living for 37 years doing this.”

These days, she devotes four to six hours per day to painting. Her husband, Steve Allan, is also a full-time painter.

The paintings start as drawings, and she builds up the colours in layers for depth, texture and light. It takes time and patient attention to detail, but the effect is stunning. Many of her works feature heavy horses, often in harness.

“I like doing the draft horses. I like the compositional lines you can get with harness, and the horses have a gentleness about them that I appreciate,” she said.

Halvorson has painted from life, but many of her works are based on photos she has captured around the countryside.

“I tend to like horses just hanging out, just being themselves,” she said.

“I try to paint pictures that are not necessarily for horse people. They could be anybody’s horse.”

She first started exhibiting at the Stampede in 1994, and most of her work is marketed during that two week period.

“It takes me all year to get ready for the Stampede show. That is where I sell my originals,” she said.

She has about 25 pieces at this year’s show.

The show is invitational and all work is juried, and even though she did the 2014 poster, it does not mean she is invited back every year.

The show is a high-end event with about 50 artists who premiere their work during a special opening night gala. The work is serious and interesting.

“The artists have evolved, and so has the show,” she said.

“They always try to bring in new artists to keep it fresh.”

Besides her work with the Stampede, Halvorson has won numerous awards and accepted high profile commissions.

She did the official Olympic poster for the equestrian events in Los Angeles in 1984.

Her painting Digging In illustrated the front cover of Grant MacEwan’s book, Heavy Horses — Highlights of their History, and 13 of her works illustrated Ian Tyson’s book, La Primera — the Story of the Wild Mustang.

The Royal Canadian Mint commissioned her in 1998 to do a drawing of a Mountie and a horse that would appear on the silver dollar commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

She also designs for a company in New York, creating lifelike images of bunnies, cats and dogs that are silk screened and transferred into soft sculpture, pillows, bags or mugs and then sold in stores and online.

She said it has been an interesting career choice for a Saskatchewan farm girl who never knew a professional artist when she was growing up.

She credits her rural roots and a supportive family for her success.

“I didn’t know you could make a living as an artist,” she said.

“It wasn’t until I sold my first painting, I decided to see if I could do it. Because my family are farmers and entrepreneurial, they are used to that kind of risk.”

Her work can be viewed at www.adelinehalvorson.com.