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Luthi, Ernest (1906–83)

Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon.
University of Saskatchewan Archives A-508

A very popular painter of agrarian Saskatchewan scenes, Ernest Luthi was born in Zeebach, Switzerland. His family immigrated to a homestead near Punnichy, Saskatchewan in 1914. After completing grade school in 1921, he worked on the railroad, later simultaneously taking correspondence classes in illustration from the Washington School of Art. Luthi then spent two years taking night classes at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, receiving his diploma in 1928. Returning to Saskatchewan, he worked as a sign painter, a house painter, and a carpenter to support his art practice; and in 1951 he began painting full-time because of ill health.

Employing the typical prairie landscape paradigm that he in part helped popularize, Luthi’s landscapes most often depict a vast uninterrupted expanse of land beneath an equally vast expanse of open sky. Rarely referring to a nature that is wild or distant, but rather one present, shaped and “shared” by mankind—from quaint homesteads tucked into the corner of an image behind a snowy clump of bush, to a line of monumental red and green grain elevators tracing the edge of the distant horizon just beyond freshly tilled fields, to a tiny church bathed in clear light and nestled in a valley—his work implies a calm sympathy between farmers and the bountiful nature they occupy. Depicting a peaceful rural world at various times of the year, Luthi links human processes to nature’s seasonal cycles, constructing thus an arcadian vision in which man and nature are in absolute harmony.

While Luthi’s subjects and simple compositions are often associated with nostalgic Folk Art, his formal art education precludes this categorization. Employing a sophisticated knowledge of light, perspective and colour, his watercolours and oil paintings are more rightly labeled naturalistic—representing the world as it is seen. Indeed, he utilized descriptive resource materials from which to make his paintings, including magazine images as well as his own photographs and pencil or pastel sketchbook drawings.

With neither cynicism nor disruptive worldly affairs disturbing the calm surface of his work, Luthi’s paintings have been broadly collected. His work is included in Saskatchewan’s major public and corporate collections as well as in numerous private collections. In recognition of his contribution to the visual arts in the province, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Regina in 1975.

Jack Anderson

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