By Cristina Paolozzi, December 16 2020—
Since the Calgary Stampede was officially cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — for the first time in its over 100-year existence — Calgarians have been patiently waiting for the return of their beloved historical celebration. Part of this historical celebration is the creation of an annual Stampede poster. Originally intended as a way to advertise for the event, as well as to showcase the best of Western art, the Stampede poster has become central to the theme of the Stampede and a way to promote the excitement around a worldwide event.
To prepare for the reopening of the Stampede grounds in July, for many a signal to the return of “life as normal,” the Calgary Stampede has officially unveiled the winner of the Calgary Stampede Youth Poster Competition as 22-year-old artist Lexi Hilderman. Her poster will be distributed around the world and will serve as a way to showcase youth talent as well as the spirit that the Calgary Stampede brings to locals and tourists alike. In an interview with the Gauntlet, Hilderman spoke about life as an artist during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as her inspirations for the poster and the process of creating such a bright and striking piece.
Originally from Calgary, Hilderman graduated last year with a Fine Arts Degree from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver and is currently enrolled at the University of Calgary pursuing a second degree in sociology. She states that she hopes to “pursue my art practice more by really building on it with a variety of different information. So that second degree in sociology, I really want to inform my work with it. A lot of my work is very socially-based.”
When speaking about her initial thoughts on creating an image for the Stampede poster, Hilderman reveals that she took some time to think about it.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for the Stampede poster,” she said. “They had given us a prompt to basically come up with something we thought Stampede meant to us. Living in Calgary all my life, obviously Stampede has been a major aspect of it […] but I was kind of looking at the heart of it and what it really meant.”
“I came across an image of Katari [Righthand], she’s the girl that is portrayed in the image, and I came across her photo in the Stampede Flickr page. [I was] just going through different images and seeing what popped out to me, and her [image] stood out to me so much. There was something about the essence that she had, and the power she had in her gaze and how she was captured in the moment while she was dancing on the Grandstand.
“I had to see what more there was [to] her story. I ended up contacting her and her family to set up a meeting — before all the COVID stuff happened — and actually started talking to them a little bit more about their involvement with Stampede and what Katari does. She dances every year. She’s been dancing since she was two years old, probably even earlier and they’ve been involved every year and they stay on the Stampede grounds for the full duration of the event. I was very taken by her — just her involvement in it and how she continues to use her creative expression of dance to continue performing to express herself and […] her culture. So I kind of pursued that more and ended up asking permission to use her photo as my inspiration.”
Hilderman stated that Katari Righthand’s name in Blackfoot translates to Rainbow Girl and that she dances with colourful ribbons in what is known as the Fancy Dance, “so she dances basically with the rainbow.”
“It all kind of just really came together,” said Hilderman. “I was thinking about the fact that we were in COVID times and the uprooting this has had, and with her name being Rainbow Girl, it just represented a lot of hope for me, and kind of a movement forward.”
Hilderman also revealed that Righthand was given her Blackfoot name after the 2013 Calgary floods, and the connection that the Stampede’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was similar to the response of the floods.
“That was also a time where the Calgary Stampede, and all of Calgary, faced a lot of turmoil — we didn’t really know what was going on, we kind of just had an emergency response to the event itself. And so her getting her name after that, it was a signifier of hope […] and kind of like a rebirth and stepping forward into the future. And it really held so true to me right now, in what [Righthand] represents in her dancing.”
Hilderman also speaks to what she hopes her poster will represent for people who aren’t from Calgary that come to witness or participate in this event.
“Every time I’ve talked to anybody, or heard them speak about [Stampede], I think they pull out a lot of different symbolisms,” she said. “A lot of it is in relation to that idea of really standing strong with everything behind you, and where you move to the future. That idea of movement forward, I think is really quite important even for the time we’re in. I think there’s a lot of upheaval in general and I think for other people, I would like that to be a symbol of that movement and what we can carry forward. Because each and every person, I believe, is carrying on their own legacy and they’re bringing forward everything that they came from, and ultimately it starts with right here, right now and how we step into the future.”
Hilderman also talked about her own personal art style and how it aims to call attention to societal agency and her personal expression.
“I think with my art, it’s very much about expression,” she said. “I fuel my art a lot with my own personal expressions. I think on a general scope I really like to emulate content that is applicable to where we are right now and what we as society can do or cause to empower the agency of what we can do. Really bringing attention to the things that are happening around us is really important to me and my art.”
With regard to COVID-19, Hilderman says it provoked her to think more about the type of content she was producing. She began working on the poster in January, completing most of the project during the bulk of the pandemic. Hilderman says that the poster helped her to work through the uncertainties of the pandemic.
“There is a lot more time spent just with yourself. I think it really got me thinking a lot more and really trying to sort through my own ideas. I spent a lot more time really looking at the stuff I was producing. I [also] produced a series of different works throughout this whole thing, it was very time based. With every phase, I feel like there was something that came out of each one creatively.”