A Cochrane native who boasts a history of leaving her mark and legacy alongside her family members has been recognized with a Platinum Jubilee Medal from the province for her contributions in the field of art.
Karen Begg is a third-generation worker in her family’s business, Studio West, which is responsible for creating the bronze monuments around Cochrane. She has worked on a number of pieces in Cochrane including “The Kids” at the Cochrane Library, the bronze work on the Cenotaph at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 15, the commemorative work dubbed “Jack” located near North Star Ford, and the famous Legacy Statue better known as the “Chicken Lady” on 1st St.
Although she is a Cochranite at heart and has continued to work out of Cochrane for 30 years, Begg currently lives in Calgary.
“I try to do all my business out here in Cochrane, because they have the best of both worlds,” Begg said. “I live in the city and I love where I live, and I love what I do for a living.”
On Nov. 15, she received an email from the office of Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir informing her she was nominated to receive the Platinum Jubilee Medal on Nov. 21 at a ceremony in downtown Calgary.
“To be honest, I was rather surprised,” Begg said before the presentation. “It was a wonderful email to get."
In the email sent to Begg, it said she has “demonstrated exceptional qualities and outstanding service to our province and field of art.”
She believes her support for new and emerging artists is what led to her nomination.
“I’ve been a good liaison between the artist themselves and the bronze foundry to help artists go from their studio practice into public art,” Begg said. “As well as I’ve done quite a number of projects myself.”
Begg is proud of the various community-based work she has done, but the project she is most proud of is part of Canada’s international history.
“A number of years ago I went to Vimy Ridge in France and repatriated some First World War carvings,” Begg said. “That opportunity really changed, not only my life, but my perspective on the world and I learned so much from the opportunity that it left a huge impact on me.
“And I wanted to do more to work within my community.”
This led to Begg spearheading various art projects in the Greater Forest Lawn communities of southeast Calgary, where she resides. One project she completed during the COVID-19 pandemic involved assisting seniors in the community.
“I felt so bad that so many seniors were isolated, that I designed a painting kit … that I could individually package and give to senior centres,” Begg said. “…The seniors were able to paint them, keep the canvasses, but they returned the wooden cut out to me and then I publicly installed them in our community.”
Seniors from Cochrane, the Dover Bethany Care Centre, and Calgary’s Vietnamese Women’s Association all contributed to the project.
Another notable project involved the painting of different amenities along 10 blocks of southeast Calgary’s West Dover community. Although the project was originally planned for only three blocks, a contribution from her neighbour through a street sweeper allowed them to expand the project. She also worked with the Dover Community Association to figure out which paths were to be painted.
“I got them to come out and help me,” Begg said. “I didn’t take a wage, and I tried to pay a fair wage to the artist that helped me.”
Begg said she enjoys collaborating with other artists.
“I’ve always wanted to be in public art and I’m very fortunate to be in a position to have worked on so much through Studio West,” Begg said. “I’ve had my hand in [monuments] like Wayne Gretzky, the Mayerthorpe Fallen Four, a number of pieces that have gone right from Sechelt B.C. to Gagetown N.B.
“I’ve worked all across Canada and it’s exciting.”
Not the first recipient of a Jubilee medal in her family, she said she's proud to be able to follow in the footsteps of her mother, who also received the award in the past.
“I come from a long line of strong, independent, and smart women,” Begg said. “And to follow in my mother’s footsteps, she was a huge role model, so was my great grandmother.”
“…So, I feel very grounded because of the influence of those strong ladies. I’m four generations of one girl.”