- Review of 'Mavericks:An Incorrigible History of Alberta,' Glenbow Museum, Calgary, AB
Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803–70) was the eldest son of a prosperous and well-connected merchant family in Charleston, SC. After attending Yale and studying law in Virginia, he embarked on a number of adventures that brought him to Texas in 1835, just in time for the Texas War of Independence, in which he briefly fought against Mexico. He was present at the Alamo, but was absent as a delegate to the constitutional convention of the Republic of Texas at the time it fell. He fought against the Comanches and rose to become a major political figure and landholder in Texas. At his death he owned more than 300,000 acres of land, mostly in the county named for him and his family. In the 1840s he had left a herd of cattle with slave caretakers on the Matagorda Peninsula, but, unlike other ranchers in the area, he refused to have his animals branded. His neighbours, perhaps ironically, began to refer to unbranded animals as 'Maverick's.' Perhaps he augmented the herd's natural increase by this method, laying claim to all unbranded cattle, perhaps he thought branding was cruel, but in any event the term maverick entered English to mean an unbranded cow and with a connotation of independence and aversion to herd mentalities.
The Glenbow exhibition 'Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta,' based on novelist, critic, and professor of English at the University of Calgary Aritha van Herk's book of the same title,1 refers to this latter meaning of maverick. The exhibition, which opened in March 2007, replaces the earlier generic Alberta history gallery with a permanent show based largely on the artifacts of a number of colourful Alberta figures, focusing on the period of roughly 1850–1990. It shares the third floor of the Glenbow with the 'Nitsitapiisinni' galleries, devoted to Alberta's Blackfoot peoples, and with 'Native Cultures from the Four Directions.' 'Mavericks' includes many hands-on exhibits, and [End Page 137] visitors can borrow an audio device that provides extended commentary on many of the displays. In addition, a virtual gallery of 'Mavericks,' intended mostly for schoolchildren, is available worldwide on the Glenbow's website. The exhibition shares the same titles as van Herk's book, but the book is more nuanced and inclusive, while the exhibition includes stunningly rich displays of artifacts such as the Crowsnest Pass photographs made by Thomas and Lena Gushul and the café James Mah Poy and Liang Shi operated in Ponoka.
As van Herk says in the video introduction to the exhibition, a maverick is 'inspired, unique, creative, eager for change,' someone who made a mark on the province of Alberta. Curator Michale Lang adds, 'These mavericks are unique characters, inspired and determined risk takers who significantly altered Alberta.' According to both Lang and lead curator Gayle Thrift,2 the forty-eight mavericks were picked for their engaging personal qualities, their significance to the province at a particular moment in its history, and the availability of artifacts that would encourage viewers to immerse themselves in each maverick's life. The exhibition included, in addition to the professional curators, members of the community, interested volunteers, and members of the families of the mavericks. The curators carefully engaged viewers in asking what people wanted to see in an exhibition, and focusing on the sense of personal connection to subjects. This careful attention to community and potential audience builds on the Glenbow's successful work with the African and Blackfoot communities of southern Alberta and does represent a 'Maverick' approach to exhibit development, as Lang would retitle her paper when it was published.3
But the proper noun Maverick also fits as a description of the exhibition. Like most of the historical figures highlighted in the exhibition, Sam Maverick was a member of the economic, social, and political elite who ruled the Republic and the state of Texas before the Civil War. He helped bring slavery to Texas (against the laws of Mexico), he fought against Native people and Tejanos to advance his own fortunes (though his descendants claim he opposed discrimination against Tejanos...