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A Christmas Village creator from Didsbury helps restore it

Didsbury artist touches up replicas of historic Olds buildings and homes
MVT Ruth Jepson Christmas village-1
Didsbury resident Ruth Jepson, one of the original creators of the Christmas village in Olds, reminisces about its history. Doug Collie/MVP Staff

OLDS — The Christmas Village has been getting a makeover.

The village, a collection of painted replicas of historic Olds buildings and homes, is erected by members of the Kiwanis Club of Olds in Centennial Park every year close to Christmas, as part of Olds Fashioned Christmas celebrations.

However, some of the replicas have been looking a little “shabby” lately according to Ruth Jepson, one of about three people who helped create the first ones back in the early 1990s. 

Jepson has been advising members of the Olds Art Club as they’ve set about sprucing them up this summer on the Olds Regional Exhibition grounds.

Jepson has had a varied career in the arts since moving to Didsbury with her husband from Manchester, England in the 1950s. Ironically, she was born in Didsbury, England, then a suburb of Manchester.

Jepson was a portrait painter for about 35 years, working out of a studio she and her husband have in their home.

She also worked on theatre design with Didsbury Showcase Musical Theatre.

Jepson was flattered when the Olds Art Club reached out to her for advice on refurbishing the replicas.

But she felt she had to do more than just offer advice.

“I mean, I couldn’t just watch them and tell them what to do. I had to have a brush.”

Jepson vowed to keep coming and helping out when she could.

“The bug has bitten me,” she said with a smile. “I have to come and see how things are going.”

Caroline Bodmer of the art club says great progress has been made. Just last week, the final touch-ups to the saddlery replica were completed.

While in Manchester, Jepson had studied art. She was asked to help create the village by a colleague at Olds College.

“I was teaching fashion illustration, colour coordination and colour and design on a short-term contract),” she recalled.

“I must have done something there and she said, ‘I think we should do something Christmassy.’ Put reindeer on the roof of the college and stuff like that.”

That idea evolved into the Christmas Village.

Volunteers helped in a variety of ways, including obtaining funding.

Jepson says the Bank of Commerce replica was the first one she worked on.

“We tried to do one a year, because it was finding a place to store them and finding a place to do them. And we did them at the college in their work room,” she said. 

Jepson said the replicas really needed a facelift.

“The weather plays havoc,” she said. “The glare of the snow and all that tends to alter the colour over the years. It fades.”

Jepson has some first-hand knowledge about that, having painted, then repainted the water tower in Didsbury.

She painted it for the first time in 1999 when the town hosted the Alberta Seniors Games, then repainted it seven or eight years ago because the mural on it was looking pretty weathered.

She remembers asking art suppliers what paints they thought would stand up best to weather conditions. They didn’t really know. Finally, a local paint shop recommended some products for painting houses and buildings.

Jepson was asked if anyone has approached her to paint the Olds water reservoir. At least one councillor has suggested having it painted so it looks more appealing.

“I would. I’d like to, but out of the question now,” she said. “Totally out of the question. This is the first time I have picked up a brush for a long time (three or four years).”


Doug Collie

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