Jeffrey Spalding, a prominent member of the Calgary arts scene and former president of the Glenbow Museum, has died at the age of 67.
According to Galleries West magazine, where Spalding was a consulting editor and which first reported his death, his family said he “suffered a massive stroke on Monday en route to Toronto from Fredericton.”
“We’ve lost a true genius,” said Tom Tait, founding publisher of Galleries West. “He had his certain eccentricities, but he was a wonderful human being.”
Spalding was president of the Glenbow Museum from 2007 to 2009 and an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary. He was also artistic director and chief curator of Contemporary Calgary and its predecessor, the Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary, from 2011 to 2014.
“He was one of Canada’s really gifted artists,” said Whyte Museum CEO Donna Livingstone, who was also a president and CEO of the Glenbow. “He was an amazing artist. He was also one of the most brilliant curators of contemporary art that I know. He was infectious in his enthusiasm and encyclopedic in his knowledge.”
Spalding was born Nov. 5, 1951, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and came to Canada as a child. He graduated from the University of Guelph in 1973 with a BA in fine art and then went on to receive his masters in art education from Ohio State University and a master’s in fine art from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design.
“He was an absolute marvel to watch,” said Jarvis Hall, director of Jarvis Hall Gallery, which displayed Spalding’s art over the past decade. “By that I mean, when Jeffrey got it in his mind to do something or that something was important enough to be done, he really, really went after it. He was a massive supporter of artists, a massive supporter of this region of Canada. When he put his mind to things, he could move mountains, literally.”
He was a longtime resident of Calgary and southern Alberta. His first connection with the Glenbow came when he was hired as a curator in 1978 by former museum director Duncan Cameron.
“He was a bundle of unstoppable energy that is a great loss to the art community,” said art curator and critic Nancy Tousley, who was married to Cameron when he hired Spalding. “He was a very creative curator with lots of ideas, a very good writer who did some books on important artists, and a very generous spirit.”
Spalding was named to the Order of Canada in 2007. His work is in many collections across the country and internationally, including the National Gallery of Canada, Glenbow Museum, Banff Centre, Whyte Museum, Art Gallery of Alberta and the Canadian embassies in Sydney, Australia and Washington, D.C.
“The same glint in the eye, the same bit of mischievous energy that Jeffrey had in promoting art, he also had in the studio,” said Hall.
Spalding wanted the Glenbow to put a renewed focus on visual art when he took over the museum in 2007, something that has continued in the museum’s mandate since. His naming as the CEO was an immediate boost to the museum’s collection; 200 works of art worth more than $1 million were donated to the museum in the month after he took over the position.
“I am from a working-class background, but my dad took good care of me and my family, good intellectual care of us as well,” he told Postmedia when he took over the Glenbow in 2007.
“He was not a big art guy, but he allowed for it. He gave me permission to discover it. And I kept on remembering that I come from there. I don’t come from a privileged family where that’s the thing you do. My love of art came about because my dad encouraged me, because he saw I was somewhat interested in it. So I know it is highly possible for people who are from any number of backgrounds to experience this kind of thing. They just need a chance.”