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"Leadership is taking people beyond the constraints of their own lives and self-interests. Culture, art and the environment are the roots of all of us. They play an important role in who we are, how we live, and how we can live better."
The art of Jim Marshall, including drawings, ceramics, sculptures and murals, offers an eloquent description of life in Alberta. His artistic endeavours and his work in historic preservation also stand as testaments to the importance of safeguarding our valuable community landmarks and the intrinsic value of art to the quality of life we all enjoy.
James Arthur Marshall was born in Medicine Hat on April 19, 1939 to Val and Mary Marshall. His family home on the outskirts of the city afforded Jim and his friends ample opportunities to explore the area’s iconic cliffs, coulees and rolling grassland. Jim was active in sports and community clubs but he also spent time drawing, an early skill encouraged by his mother and a passion that would shape his life’s work. Art also led Jim to his future wife and partner in all things, Lorine Dederer, who he met in an eighth grade art class.
After high school, Jim went to Toronto to learn about lithography and graphic design and then returned home to a job with his father’s business, Val Marshall Printing. During the 12 years he spent there as a graphic artist and lithographer, Jim further honed the powerful work ethic that his father encouraged in him from an early age. He developed his technical skills on the job while continuing to draw, paint and expand into areas such as ceramics and pottery. Jim also began a new life with Lorine, whom he married in 1959. The couple’s family grew to include a daughter, Cori, and sons Mike and Steve.
In his early 20s, Jim began cultivating an interest in historic buildings. This was prompted, in part, by the demolition of Medicine Hat’s old post office to make way for new development. Jim understood that a beautiful piece of heritage was lost. He began petitioning to save other buildings and joined in forming a heritage preservation committee. Although the group lost some of its fights, Jim never lost his drive to protect what he knew to be valuable chapters in Alberta’s story. In addition to working at the community level to save heritage architecture, Jim began his own work to preserve history by sketching and photographing places he discovered in his travels.
In 1968, Jim took a new job with I-XL Industries Ltd., a manufacturer that was part of Medicine Hat’s longstanding brick and clay products traditions. He took on marketing services and public relations duties and travelled to promote the firm’s products to builders and architects. Being surrounded by clay encouraged Jim to hone his pottery and ceramics skills, which he did with the encouragement of co-workers, friends and well-known ceramicists Luke and Gail Lindoe. Jim also began formulating ideas about sculpting brick, something that he initially did at trade shows to draw attention to the I-XL booth. He worked on new processes using rejected materials from the plant and took the first steps in a journey that would result in an innovative approach to brick and clay materials and allow Jim to bring new life to the ancient art of brick carving.
A new horizon opened for Jim in 1977 when Calgary’s Glenbow Museum mounted a successful one-man exhibition of his pen and ink drawings inspired by studies of heritage buildings. With another sold-out show in Medicine Hat, Jim and Lorine made the decision to pursue art full-time and opened Grassroots Studio in 1978. An early project for the studio was a commission from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation to capture designated historic resources across the province through Jim’s drawings. Jim subsequently worked on his own to capture other endangered sites and resources and also sketched the characters he met along the way. This ongoing drive to document Alberta’s heritage through art has resulted in a remarkable and prolific visual archive of the province, its people and places.
In 1983, a commission gave Jim the chance to use the processes that began to take shape during his time at I-XL. He worked with his old firm to source clay and created a large-scale mural at city hall depicting the legend of how Medicine Hat was named. That first project led to many more murals and other clay, glazed brick and sculpted brick installations for civic buildings, schools, parks, churches, businesses and private homes. Jim’s landmark murals and monuments, more than 200 in total, can be found in Medicine Hat, throughout Alberta and Canada and overseas. Among his many noteworthy pieces is a massive mural in Standoff, Alberta that offers a sensitive yet powerful celebration of the history and culture of First Nations people. Another labour of love was the remarkable 17-panel installation showing the Stations of the Cross which Jim created for the Garden Park at St. Joseph’s Home in Medicine Hat. Jim spent eight years creating a work that is cherished by locals and attracts visitors from around the world. Jim has also created many smaller-scale pottery and ceramic works, sought-after pieces that reflect his love of the natural world along with his warmth, creativity and humanity.
Jim’s leadership in the art community includes service as a founding member and past president of the Alberta Potters Association and as a founding member of the Alberta Craft Council and the Friends of Medalta Society. Jim was an early advocate for restoration of the Medalta Potteries site and helped develop the significant piece of Alberta history into the very successful Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District. Jim and Lorine have also served as members of the Alberta Archeological Society, south-eastern region and have joined in digs to preserve the earliest chapters of Alberta and southwestern U.S. history.
Jim’s contributions have been recognized with the Alberta Historic Resources Foundation Heritage Service Award, the Medicine Hat Civic Recognition Award for Culture, the AGT March of Champions Award for Outstanding Contributions to Art and Culture and the Alberta Craft Council Award of Honour.
Jim Marshall has created a lasting legacy for the benefit of all Albertans. As one of his fans states, “He is deeply imprinted on our community, and our community on him. His work is everywhere and he reflects us through his precise and evocative art.” Jim Marshall also serves as a mentor and inspiration for young artists who have much to learn from his hard-working, innovative approach to art and from the remarkable heritage legacy that he has painstakingly and lovingly created over the years.