Carolyn Campbell has three degrees in art, is getting her PhD on Board Governance of Major Art Museums “on the side” at Oxford University in London, has a studio at Harcourt House and shares her work in local exhibitions “every year or two.” This is all on top of her day job as president and CEO of Norquest College.
The kind of stamina needed for such a productive life comes in part from Campbell’s grandmother, Mae Brown Webb. She was part of the most successful sports team — of any kind, anywhere — of all time, and was the catalyst for Campbell’s new creative work commemorating that historic team.
From 1915 through 1940, the Edmonton Grads won 502 basketball games, including 147 straight, picking up 19 national basketball titles, 17 Underwood North American championships and seven of nine games against men’s teams along the way. The inventor of basketball James Naismith called the Grads — who only lost 20 games in 25 years — the “finest basketball team” ever.
Campbell always knew her grandmother was on a great team, but she didn’t realize the scope. “I can’t tell you any stats based on her stories, but I can tell you about how hot and itchy the wool suits were,” she says. Grandma Mae didn’t talk about specific victories, but it wasn’t because there were too many to count. It’s because for her, “it was all about being friends. She would talk a lot about how close they were, how they would continue to get together until they died as long as they were alive. It’s funny, I thought there was must have been 100 of them when you think about how long they played, but there were only 38.”
Campbell has captured all 38 members in 10 canvas paintings for Grads: The Exhibition, at YWCA Edmonton. The inspiration came “serendipitously” one day, when Campbell was looking for her next subject matter, and “auntie Jane came over with this big, beautiful brown photo album full of pictures from [the team’s] trip to the Olympics” in Amsterdam as an exhibition sport. “My whole family went out hiking one day and I just stayed back and pored over them, picture by picture.”
There were no stars on the team, Campbell says, which was key to their long-term success, on and off the court. But through her granddaughter’s work, grandma Mae is starting to stand out. “There’s one painting of her that seems to be a lot of people’s favourite,” Campbell says. “It’s called ‘Amsterdam,’ with her hair kind of whipping around when she was on the boat on the way to Amsterdam. It’s about her, but I think even in that picture, you can sort of see it in her face that she was never about her, she was all about the team. It’s really about hope and opportunity and what’s out there. And I’m grateful for this experience and grateful for Edmontonians’ response. There seems to be a connection for people with this team, and its history in the city.”
Experience Edmonton sports (and art) history at the YWCA open house February 10, and until March 31 by appointment.