Charlie and Olive: A story about the Beils
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
By Anne Ewen, Chief Curator
Image from the exhibition Unbridled showing etchings and a bronze by Charlie Beil
One of the great joys of working at a museum is the opportunity to research and learn about the fascinating and talented individuals who have contributed to our local, national and international histories.
[Charlie Beil], ca. 1930 – ca. 1955, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/2/PA-279)
Currently our research is focused on artist Charlie Beil, CM (1894 – 1976) and his wife Olive Luxton (19 –19..?), the daughter of Lou Luxton whose brother was the famed Banff businessman Norman Luxton. We know some things about Charlie and Olive, but we hope to learn more.
Both were well-respected community members whose down-to-earth charisma and natural charm was noted by different individuals from all social stations. We know Charlie was a cowboy before moving to Montana in 1920 where, under the tutelage of Charles Marion (C. M.) Russell (1864 – 1926, American), he became a bronze artist. The collection here at the Whyte Museum and at the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana is proof of Beils trained hand. His 1939 trip from Nevada led him to Banff where he was so captured by the beauty of the area, he decided to stay. Since he left his Black Forest German home at the age of eleven, Banff was to become the longest residence of his life. Settling with Olive on Cave Avenue, they had three children Charles, Lois and Carol.
Charlie’s family, artistic practice, long-term relationship with the Calgary Stampede and numerous friends held his attention. Because of his immense talent and quiet, unaffected cowboy persona, Charlie’s work was sought by many. According to Archival papers, he sold everything he made. A wonderful hostess to many, Olive’s genial manner and great sense of humour added to the couple’s esteem. Many visited and in return their presence was readily requested. Among many others, friends included internationally-acclaimed Canadian artist Leo Mol who visited them in 1968; pictures of Charlie Russell, Will Rogers and Guy Weddick adorned the studio wall. When neighbours Carl Rungius and his wife Elizabeth Fulda were in Philadelphia for the winter, Charlie watched over their Banff residence. Once, while Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were in Calgary, Charlie was invited to meet them and spent much time telling the Prince stories about the early West. Admittedly, some were slightly embellished.
Top Image: [Horses in snow], [ca. 1920 – ca. 1940], Charlie Beil, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, George Noble fonds (V469/I/NA-1663)
Bottom Image: Greetings of the Season, [ca. 1920 – ca. 1940), Charlie Beil, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, George Noble fonds (V469/I/NA-1677)
Many bronze sculptors hire out the final patina bronzing phase to technicians but Charlie took pride in completing the entire process from clay model to finished sculpture entirely on his own. His work, whether in bronze, watercolour, oil, pen and ink, or etching portray thematic western scenes with horses, cowboys, First Nations and settlers. Charlie also undertook various commissions. Large dioramas were installed in the Luxton Museum, the Palliser Hotel and the Calgary Court House; numerous awards were fashioned for winners at the Calgary Stampede; ice sculptures were carved for the Banff Winter Festival and one with figures of beavers and buffalo was created for the banquet table of King George VI.
Banff Winter Carnival, Charlie Beil and ice buffalo, , Byron Harmon/photographer (Banff, AB), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Byron Harmon fonds (V263/NA-3800)
At the Whyte Museum the Beil’s are fondly remembered in numerous ways. In one significant instance, Charlie reluctantly accepted Catharine’s invitation to be an honoured participant at the
June 1968 inaugural ceremony of the museum. Together with local character/personality Jimmy Simpson they cut the rawhide ribbon thus declaring the new Philippe Delesalle building open. In time, Olive set the standard for comfort at the Whyte where, in the downstairs gallery with the fire crackling, she hosted the weekly tea and cookie service (see below).
[Fireplace Room], Ron Duke/Photographer, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Whyte Foundation fonds (V692/A/PA-69)
There are numerous Canadian and American newspaper articles extolling the artistic career and gentlemanly merit of Charlie Beil but the majority revisit familiar copy. In We Live in A Postcard Banff Family Histories, Carrol (Beil) Moore wrote an informative A Collection of Memories about her family. The archives here at the Whyte holds many clues. However, if you, your family or friends are willing to share any correspondence or factual stories please contact the Whyte Museum at info [at] whyte.org. We would appreciate as much information as possible. Many thanks!