When the Calgary Stampede revealed its poster for the 2017 stampede to the public on Wednesday, Nov. 2, the proud horses practically stormed off the photo in Western tradition.
The mastermind behind the poster, artist Shannon Lawlor, has ties to Endiang, a community she has resided in early on.
Lawlor, who admits freely to being a “prairie girl,” spent several years during the 1990s living in the rural community, before eventually settling down in Nanton, near Calgary.
Each year the Stampede chooses an artist to create the poster for the coming year, and the same artist is never used twice.
“It’s a huge privilege and honour,” Lawlor said.
The poster, designed to look like a vintage Western theatre performance poster, evokes a sense of Alberta’s western roots and pride. The centre focus of the poster is a team of heavy horses, which not only allowed Lawlor to visualize her passion for equines, but also paid homage to the cowboys’ and farmers’ most important tool – the working farm horse and the ranch horse.
Along the edge of the poster are a series of brands, forming a border around the vision created by Lawlor.
Those brands belong to people, ranches and businesses who have made an impact on the Stampede, from prominent members and past organizers, to award-winners and supplying ranches.
Lawlor said she felt awkward when people would ask her how long it would take her to do a piece, like the poster.
“My whole life,” she said, “I don’t keep track of time.”
She explained that the process doesn’t start with the initial conceptualization, but instead from the first time she picked up a pencil.
“It took me my whole life to develop these skills,” she said. “Without them, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
While most of her artwork involves horses and other rural prairie scenes, Lawlor said she has, especially earlier in her career, captured many different scenes, from people to landscapes and children to inanimate objects.
However, she deviated toward horses early on, drawn to the powerful equines not just artistically, but personally. As those skills developed, so did her name in the equine and western art circles, allowing her to focus on that one area of her ability.
For the past 11 years, Lawlor has been fortunate enough to work full-time as an artist, but she said it wasn’t an easy life.
“It’s not as easy as it seems,” she said. “It’s a lot fluffier than it looks. It definitely has its ups and downs.”
As an artist, there’s no guaranteed pay cheque, no steady income. It comes in spurts as pieces she has created sell, or she earns commissions, like the poster for the Stampede.
“I have people tell me all the time that they can’t imagine not having a regular pay cheque,” she said. “That’s a luxury an artist doesn’t have.”
Despite that uncertainty, Lawlor said she wouldn’t change anything. Her studio and gallery in Nanton, plus the time she can devote to her artwork – mostly in acrylic but with the odd graphite piece – makes her happy.