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RETA COWLEY. Klassen Pasture and Farmstead, 1978. Edmonton Art Gallery

RETA SUMMERS COWLEY, b. 1910, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Reta Cowley is one of the supreme watercolourists in Canada, fully the equal of Phillips and Leighton and arguably of David Milne. She studied art under major teachers in the west from several generations: Kenderdine at Emma Lake in the late '30s, Walter Phillips at the Banff School in the war years, Eli Bornstein at the University of Saskatchewan in the early '50s, and subsequently at Emma Lake Artists Workshops in the '60s and again in the '80s. From each she gained something. By the '70s, her work had combined elements of British naturalism with American modernism -- the latter probably derived from John Marin via Eli Bornstein. But her mature work transcend influence. Unlike many painters in the tradition, her watercolours betray no under drawing in pencil -- no doubt because she could draw from the landscape with such assurance. Delicate washes -- almost detached one from the other, float across the surface and knit together a coherent a satisfying illusion.