The Murals of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Murals
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364 Smith Street    Location Map

This 1972 Mural still adorns part of the North wall of the Burton Cummings Theatre today; and is a good example of the strong graphic designs of Manitoba artist Winston Leathers.

Location: SW corner Smith & Notre Dame; North Face (high)

Occupant: Burton Cummings Theatre

District: City Centre

Neighbourhood: Central Park

Artist(s): Winston Leathers (unsigned)

Year: 1972


Winston Leathers (1932-2004).

An artist whose career spanned half a century, Leathers was known as a painter, printmaker, poet and art educator. Ever the innovator, Leathers employed various techniques and media in his artmaking.

This Mural on the former Walker Theatre (now known as the Burton Cummings Theatre) is itself a landmark on a Winnipeg landmark; and is one of Winnipeg's oldest Murals still existing today. It was rendered at approximately the same time as his important Cosmic Variations series of the early 1970s; and a quick comparison will show that it is essentially a part of that series, though on a much larger physical scale. The Mural was part of the "Artwalls" public art project at the time. It was largely due to the success of the Cosmic Variations series that this Mural happened.

In 1957, Leathers went to Mexico, where he worked with the Mexican Archaeological Society under Dr. Carmen Cook de Leonard. It was here that Leathers developed an interest in Zen Philosophy; and later was influenced by The American painter Mark Tobey (who studied Zen in Japan) and Alan Watts (a leader of the Zen movement in the U.S. in the 1960s), a source of influence to his artwork all of his life. In 1958 Leathers re-enrolled at the University of Manitoba, graduating from the Manitoba Teachers' College as an art educator in 1960. He would go on to pursue a forty-year-long career, teaching basic design and printmaking first at the Industrial Design Department of the Winnipeg Technical Vocational High School (1958-68) and then in the Environmental Studies Department in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba, where he taught from 1969 until his retirement as full Professor in 1993.

Throughout his career, Leathers constantly experimented in his work with different techniques, media and technologies. In the 1960s Leathers and fellow University of Manitoba School of Art graduate John Kenneth Esler pioneered the collograph printmaking technique in Canada. From various found materials affixed to a printing plate, Leathers produced embossed abstract prints that possess a deep emotional intensity and textural richness.

Others have decribed Leathers as a gifted, dedicated, generous and influential teacher. A Senior Canada Council Fellowship during 1967-68 took him to England, where he became fascinated with Chinese and Japanese calligraphic art on display in the British Museum. Leathers became fascinated with the ancient art of calligraphy; both by the high status it is accorded in Japanese culture, and by its practice as a form of meditation. A number of his works incorporate calligraphic markings. They reflect Leathers' abiding interest in the teachings of Zen philosophy, with its emphasis on being fully present in the moment and discovering one's own inner nature.

The natural environment was a driving force in Leathers' abstraction. His exploration of the abstract forms found in nature continued with The Hidden Landscape series. In the late 1980s Leathers collaborated with his former student, photographer Wayne Foster, who used macrophotography techniques to create Cibachrome prints from mineral elements and liquids fused between glass plates. Leathers' fascination with light, colour and form and his quest toward pure abstraction in his art are evident in The Hidden Landscape series.

In addition to his intensive teaching activities, throughout his career, Leathers maintained a professional artistic practice. Thus, in addition to more than 30 solo shows, he has shown in about 140 group exhibitions throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, Japan and the Caribbean. His work is found in over 50 public and corporate collections in Canada and elsewhere, including most of the major Canadian collecting institutions.

Source: University of Manitoba Gallery One One One (various articles)
With Thanks to Ken Segal
About the Walker Theatre:

The 2000-seat Walker opened in 1907 and was named for its owner, Corliss Powers Walker, who brought in live theater, vaudeville, concerts, and silent films. The theater switched to a movies-only format in 1945 and remained in operation until 1990. In 1991, it reopened as a performing arts center and is an official Manitoba Provincial Heritage Site.

Originally the Walker was to be part of a much larger hotel, retail and office complex, a plan that was never realized. For many years the Walker was operated by Odeon/Morton theaters as a movies only house and the name on the theater was changed to Odeon. Morton had offices in the building. Odeon/Morton's renovations included extending and altering the layout of the box office area, remodelling the front facade and adding a new marquee. A concession stand was added just inside the foyer. Other alterations included lowering the auditorium ceiling to install air conditioning and the removal of the 2nd balcony, the outline of where it had been still faintly visible in the plasterwork of the side walls. The logo and artwork that Odeon had painted on the exterior brickwork, as well as the neon lettering "Always the best" is still there, minus the Odeon name now.

After years of struggling, Burton Cummings, the lead singer of the rock group Guess Who, has become the theater's new benefactor. Cummings will begin donating a portion of the proceeds of his concerts at the Walker in order to pay down the theater's $1.8 million debt and fund future renovations.

In exchange for his aid, the theater was renamed the Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts after the singer who attended the former movie house as a child. The board hopes Cummings' name will help bring in additional grants and donations.