A new Banff museum art exhibit documents an incredible journey taken 50 years ago from Jasper to Lake Louise on skis — a trip which the acclaimed Canadian artist behind the exhibit calls "an unbelievable story."

"It covered a really interesting piece of geography and there were some principal characters who I could make portraits of, who were still alive and were willing to let me sketch them," John Hartman told Daybreak Alberta.

Across the Great Divide: Paintings by John Hartman

Across the Great Divide: Paintings by John Hartman runs at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff until June 11. (David Hartman/Vimeo)

In 1967, Don Gardner, Neil Liske, Charlie Locke and Chic Scott succeeded in completing the 320-kilometre Great Divide Traverse in just 21 days.

Three previous attempts by other groups had failed.

Hartman says the journey inspired him, in part because he was similar in age to the four young skiers.

Freshfield Lake and Mt. Freshfield by John Hartman

This piece, Freshfield Lake and Mt. Freshfield, is part of the Across the Great Divide: Paintings by John Hartman exhibit on display at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff until June 11. (Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto)

"They did it in 1967. In 1967 they were about 20, I was about 17," he explained.

"I could imagine who they were at that time. I could imagine what their ski equipment looked like at that time because I used something similar. It was a remarkable achievement when you began to think that they did this across the ice fields, that they were sleeping in tents, that they were subject to the kind of storms you get in the Rockies. It just all was, for me, a very unbelievable story."

Hartman says he sees a connection between what those young men did and the artistic process.

"They took what the mountaineers had done before them and said, 'We'd like to build on that, we'd like to be as good as them but we'd like to do something different, something which is our own,'" he said.

"That's sort of the same way that artists make art. You look at the artists who have come before you, you locate yourself in that tradition, and then you say, 'But, I see the world just slightly differently than that painter did, and how do I make art that reflects how I see the world'"

John Hartman: Across the Great Divide from David Hartman on Vimeo.

The exhibit, Across the Great Divide: Paintings by John Hartman, runs at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff until June 11.


With files from Daybreak Alberta