The year 1967 was [the] centennial year in Canada. As a personal celebration I did a series of paintings based on those things in my home county of Halton in Ontario which had been there for at least 100 years. I had my very first show in 1967. I had returned to Canada from Africa in 1965, and decided that I would like to do a series of paintings honouring our natural and human heritage as my own personal Centennial project.
I was teaching in Burlington, Ontario, which is where we lived. I wanted to do these paintings, but thought it would be kind of fun to exhibit them, and see them on a wall somewhere, maybe sell them – I didn’t expect they would sell but at least fellow teachers, friends and relatives, would come in and see them.
So I went to the best, most classy little gallery in Burlington, the “Alice Peck Gallery”, introduced myself to Alice, and said I would like to continue with the Centennial project, explaining what it was. She said, “Well, I don’t know about that. We just don’t take people who walk in off the street you know”. I assured her I knew that. She went on, “We have a very high standard here with a good stable of artists, and so it’s quite an achievement to get a show; you have to prove yourself.” I said I also realized that but I thought I would just try and she said, “Where do you work, anyway?”.
I told her I was the art teacher at Nelson High School. She said, “You know, I think I might have heard of you. Well, okay, I’ll take a chance and give you a show.”
And so the rest is history in a sense. She had never had a sell-out before, and the show was sold out on the first night. That show was the start of my career.
Probably two-thirds of the show was human heritage, the rest natural heritage. This was an expression of an important part of my psyche, indeed my life. I try to observe, appreciate and depict our world of natural and human heritage. Unfortunately, this is being wiped out at an alarming rate. It is being replaced with a kind of “instant pudding” world…slick, smooth, sweet, quick, convenient and boring.
The really sad thing is that almost all the human heritage things I painted for that show, buildings that had lasted 100 years and were still there, were bulldozed within the next ten years. I began to think that if I picked a subject, it was the kiss of death.