Thomas and Lena Gushul
Thomas Gushul immigrated to Canada in 1906 from the Ukraine, gradually developed into one of Alberta’s most prolific photographers, and eventually became very well known in the Crowsnest Pass. The Studio was built in 1902 and moved in 1918 by Gushul from the abandoned town of Lille to Blairmore to be used as a photographic studio. Although Thomas and his wife Lena opened their first photography studio east of Coleman in 1921, by 1928 all of their work was out of the studio in Blairmore. Gushul’s photographs document the area and its people, the mining industry and the spectacular natural surroundings. He won numerous awards for his photographs, and many of his photos have been published in newspapers, brochures, and books.
By 1945 the Gushuls were using the Studio as their home and after Thomas’ death in 1962 Lena continued to work in the Studio. Lena passed away in 1981, at which time the Gushul collection was distributed to heritage sites around Alberta. The largest collection resides in the Crowsnest Museum and Archives constituting close to 60,000 Gushul images, negatives and artifacts. Approximately 18,000 negatives and prints are also housed at the Glenbow Museum.
Gushul Studio Restoration
In 1985 the Gushul Studio was restored and renovated by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation at a cost of $160,000 and in 1986 was registered as a historical resource. Materials used in this restoration were the same kinds as the original materials. The Studio’s architectural significance is that it is a residue of the original structures. The floor is the same wood. The clerestory windows, though new, occupy the same space. The floor plan remains the same as the original except for a few modifications such as the upstairs loft, which was added during restoration. The “Photo Studio” sign on the roof is the original sign installed by Thomas Gushul.
Gushul Residency Inception
In 1988 Allen Wilcke, of the Chinook Educational Consortium, informed the University of Lethbridge that the Historical Resources Foundation was seeking a program for the Gushul Studio. Hence, a proposal for an artist residency was prepared, providing an overview of how the Gushul Studio might function as a cultural resource for the Crowsnest Pass and the University of Lethbridge. The Department of Art at the University of Lethbridge took the leading role in developing the residency program and an Advisory Committee was formed with representation from the University, the Chinook Educational Consortium, the Crowsnest Pass Ecomuseum Trust and the Crowsnest Pass Allied Arts Council. A formal three-year lease agreement was established and Sculpture Magazine advertised the residency program, which produced a flood of inquiries from all over North America. In 1991 negotiations were initiated between the University and the Alberta Historical Resources foundation on the gifting of the property and buildings to the University.
Clifford Papke, Professor of Art at McGill University was the first artist-in-residence at the Gushul Studio and since September 1988 the Studio and Cottage have been actively used by artists, scholars and other professionals on a regular basis—some of whom return year after year. Many artists-in-residence have returned to their homes to exhibit work created during their residencies to the benefit of those communities. Some artists come in to Lethbridge during their residency to lecture at the University as part of the Art NOW series. As well, while in Blairmore, some artists engage the interest of the community. For example, in the summer of 2003, the Lost Creek Fire forced residents of the Studio to evacuate on two occasions. When the fires finally settled down, one of the artists went to work on a project of clay tiles. He obtained thumbprints from as many people that he could who had worked on the relief effort and built an artwork, which was displayed in the Town of Blairmore. A Calgary radio station interviewed them, and in the last few days of the residency, they held a sale of works produced during their stay and donated the money toward the relief effort. Residents of the studios have come from far and wide - from the Yukon to New Mexico, British Columbia, Switzerland and Japan.