Ralph Carson was raised on a farm near Swan River Valley, Saskatchewan. He showed an interest in art at an early age, rendering the wildlife he found around his home.
After the family moved to Kamsack, Saskatchewan Carson’s artistic ability was noted by the principal of his high school. His talents won him an introduction to a prominent visiting lecturer – the Assistant Director of the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History, Robert Nero. This chance meeting led to an offer of summer employment at the museum for the sixteen-year- old Carson. And his eventual hire of the museum preparator and illustrator (1959-1963).
While at the museum Carson was involved with a variety of projects in this position, ranging from taxidermy to display design. Carson worked closely with Nero on several ventures in the 1960s, assisting him two summers in a row while traveling to Lake Athabasca researching bird populations. He later contributed illustrations when Nero published his research in “Birds of the Lake Athabasca Region (1963), and “Birds of Northwestern Saskatchewan (1967). Ron Tillie (former manager of Exhibit Development for the Royal Saskatchewan Museum) has commented that Carson was an expert at mounting the complicated shore bird specimens.
Carson’s talents were sought by the National Museum of Canada (now the Canadian Museum of Civilization) in 1961 while he was still employed at the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History. He was given a two-month leave of absence from the museum to travel to Ottawa and complete the taxidermy of multiple bird specimens chosen for new exhibits. While on this project he had the opportunity to work closely with Clarence Tillenius. Carson officially left his position at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in 1963, but he later returned in 1995 to complete the murals for the Conglomerate Cliffs and Boreal Forest dioramas, currently on display in the Life Sciences Gallery.
A job offer at the Provincial Museum of Alberta (now the Royal Alberta Museum) brought Carson to Edmonton in 1965. Serving first as the Assistant Curator of Natural History, then promoted to Museologist in 1968, Carson was responsible for planning the interpretive displays and creating the three-dimensional habitats. He worked with other artists and preparators selecting existing sites in nature, documenting them, then painstakingly re-producing them in the museum’s galleries. The creation of these “habitat groups” or dioramas utilized his skills as a taxidermist, mural painter, as well as his sense of natural composition.
Carson participated in exhibitions showing his personal artwork in both solo and group shows, mostly in Alberta. In January 1978 he held a solo exhibition of his drawings and paintings titled “Nature and the Artist,” installed at the Provincial Museum of Alberta. In December 1982 he and Ludo Bogaert, a co-worker at the Provincial Museum, teamed up to present “Birds of Alberta,” a two-man show at the Red Deer and District Museum.
I met Ralph Carson, in the ‘60’s in Regina at the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History. He gave me a tour and showed all the animals that he created, for example, Lynx, timber wolves, coyotes, prairie chickens, pheasants, deer, and the moose mural that still is displayed in the museum. He died in Edmonton Alberta in 2007 at the age of 69. Ralph Carson left a great legacy for all new artists to follow and to fulfill his work.