Velvety kitsch at its finest on display at Glenbow

The Amazing Velvet Experience exhibition and party will be an evening like no other the museum has seen.

We’ve all seen them and we have all, at some point, admired them. Velvet paintings have become sought-after pieces of art which have taken on a bit of a cultural status – like it or not. Glenbow has recently acquired quite the collection of these iconic pieces, and want the public to see them, enjoy them, and, even better, take them home from their upcoming May 5 event, The Amazing Velvet Experience.

Sarah Todd is Glenbow’s events programmer, and also has the distinction of curating these velvet artworks. Together with Glenbow’s fundraising team, they are putting on what could be one of the most fun and interesting parties ever held at Glenbow.

It must be said that this event wouldn’t be possible if not for the generous donation of over 200 velvet paintings from collector and former manager of Heritage Park, Rick Smith. When deciding what do do with his grand collection, he turned to Glenbow.

“We were really thrilled to accept them,” says Todd. “They weren’t something that we could absorb into our collection. Just the way that our collection is built it’s just very specific and we have very specific priorities about what we can take on, but we were super happy to have them and to do an event with them.

“And in the past, Rick would do events with his velvet painting collection – he would do these one-night extravaganzas where he would hang the whole collection and have a big party, so we kind of took that as inspiration for this. The collection is pretty incredible. I think there’s about 204 or something (paintings) that we’ve chosen, but the whole collection is probably like 300 or 400. It’s massive. ”

The paintings themselves range in themes anywhere from sad clowns to the Pink Panther to landscapes, but most of them have a distinctly Americana flair. Asked why this is, Todd explains that, “(the velvet painting) was kind of a folk art industry that developed from as far back as the ’40s or ’50s, it was kind of a tourist craft …

“So most of (the paintings) are from Mexico, a lot of them are from Tijuana specifically. I guess that’s where the velvet painting Renaissance happened,” she says and laughs. “I think these were paintings for Americans primarily, so there are a lot of American themes.”

She continues. “We have two amazing Elvises: We have one old Elvis, a fat Elvis, he’s wearing a white jumpsuit, he’s singing and he has a single tear. It’s amazing. And we have a few lesser Elvises as well. There’s all manner of subject matter, a lot of portraits, a lot of figurative things, a lot of really amazing psychedelic landscapes, like tons of kooky tropical landscapes, so there’s a little bit of everything.”

Glenbow will be bringing in Caren Anderson, owner and curator of The Velveteria in Palm Springs, which would probably be considered to be, in Todd’s opinion, “the premier velvet painting museum in North America, if not the world.”

Unknown Object
Black Velvet Desert Sunset

“The Velveteria is a pretty incredible place and we’re pretty happy to have (Anderson) come out. Donna Livingstone, the CEO of Glenbow, is going to be in conversation with Karen, there will be an audience Q&A, and Caren will go through some of the highlights of her own collection, which I think will be super interesting.”

The fun of the evening happens as soon as you walk through the door, however. Every ticket holder will receive a number upon arrival that will correspond with one of the velvet masterpieces hung salon-style in the gallery. Patrons are able to take their corresponding painting home with them – trading is encouraged! A wrapping station will be available in order to preserve the velvety treasures for the trip home. The evening will also feature a “make your own velvet painting” and craft area in Glenbow’s Discovery Room, entertainment by local rockers Eve Hell and the Razors, as well as DJ Myke Atkinson spinning tunes throughout the night.

A silent auction will round out the evening, which will showcase some of the collection’s best pieces.

“We have a top 5 paintings which are sort of above and beyond all others,” Todd says. “And those will be available for silent auction, which come with a Glenbow membership for a year, a Made in Calgary book … these ones are clearly another level. The collection of them is pretty incredible – it will be pretty fun.”

Tickets are selling very quickly for The Velvet Experience next Friday, and are available through Eventbrite. Oh, and in case you were on the fence about attending, there will be churros.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through her website, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at