|ARTIST BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH: ||Ella May Walker was truly an original woman. A painter in numerous media, she was also a sculptor, teacher, novelist, musician, journalist, and an urban preservationist who was an early leader in protecting Edmonton’s cultural and architectural heritage.
Born Ella Jacoby in Minnesota, USA, Ella May and her family moved to Dundurn, Saskatchewan in 1902, but she returned briefly to her home country in 1911 to train at the Chicago Institute of Art and at the Northwestern University School of Music. Back in Canada at the University of Saskatchewan in 1913, she met and married Osman Walker; the two transferred to McGill University in Montreal where Ella May earned her Diploma of Licentiate in Music. After relocating to Edmonton, Walker quickly integrated herself into the city’s visual arts, theatre, and music scenes. In addition to serving as vice-president of the Edmonton Art Club, she was president of the Edmonton Chapter of the Alberta Society of Artists.
After meeting Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer in the 1930s, Walker expanded her versatility as an artist. She taught piano lessons from home, played the organ for silent movies at the Allen theatre (demolished but re-created as a smaller version at Fort Edmonton Park), and helped stage plays. She taught painting and sculpture at the Faculty of Extension of the University of Alberta, and used watercolour, gouache, tempera, pastel, charcoal, and oil to depict a range of subjects, particularly, the Edmonton of her day and the one that had already faded into history. Developing a career as a writer, she wrote newspaper articles on her adopted city’s history from the days of Fort Edmonton to the construction of the Municipal Airport, and under the name Ella Jacoby Walker, published the historical novel Fortress North (1947) which she illustrated. Recognising her work as an Edmonton preservationist and promoter, the City Council appointed her to the newly-created Archives and Landmark Committee (1947 - 1953).
On April 7, 1960, Ella May Walker died from cancer.
Walker’s work has appeared in two posthumous exhibitions at the McMullen Gallery in Edmonton: Ella May Walker: An Alberta Modernist which explored her modernist depiction of Alberta through the 1940s and 1950s; and Ella May Walker: Fortress North – An Illustrated History, featuring watercolours and inks published in her novel, and others created for it which did not appear in that edition.
Thanks to a donation by Walker’s son Wilfrid, selections of Walker’s art and records abide in the archives of the City of Edmonton. Her memory and impact endure in the Ella May Walker Memorial Award for students in the Residential Interiors Certificate Program at the Faculty of Extension of the University of Alberta. For her ground-breaking work as an Edmonton preservationist, the Edmonton Historical Board granted her a posthumous Recognition Award in 1975.|