Monday, 19 January 2015

Canada is a country which has said "Goodbye" to an old serigaph artist called Ted Harrison, but not yet "Hello" to his work in its National Gallery

Ted, who was born and bred in the 1930's in County Durham, England, emigrated to Canada when he was forty-one and became one of its most popular artists, whose love of the land and the people of the Yukon brought him international acclaim, has died at the age of 88. One of the influences on Ted was the work of the Lancashire-born artist, L.S.Lowry, who has twenty-six of his paintings of working class life in Manchester hanging in the Tate Britain in London. Ted, on the other hand, despite accolades and recognition in his lifetime, has not a single serigraph hanging in the National Gallery of Canada.

With his passing, Yukon Premier, Darrell Pasloski, has petitioned the Gallery to consider placing some of his work alongside the 2,000 works by the Canadian artists who are represented :

What you possibly didn't know about Ted, that he :

*  was born, Edward Hardy Harrison in 1926 with a twin sister Algar, in the village of Wingate, County Durham, England, where his father, a coal miner would have known these 1920's Wingate Colliery pitmen, who like him, were dressed in cap, waistcoat, jacket, scarf and trousers and carried a miner's lamp and as a boy would have known the Colliery with its heaps of waste, loaded coal waggons and buildings with winding gear and six chimneys.

* at the age of eleven, attended the new A.J.Dawson Grammar School, opened in 1930 for children from his and surrounding villages, with Mr Ingram as Headmaster and would have been seated on the ground as a 'first year' in the 1937 school photo.

* at school had his interest in art and design, already encouraged by his parents, particularly his mother who was keen on fashion design and photography, stimulated and had a fond memory of illustrating a book of MG motor cars when he was twelve and in the sixth form was encouraged to apply for a place at Art College.

*  in 1943, at the age of seventeen, enrolled in the West Hartlepool College of Art for study of classical art and design, but restricted by the Second World War, with canvas hard to come by, painted with oils on stretched sugar sacks.

* also had "a tough art teacher who hardly taught art. He told you what you had to do, and left it at that. There was no leaving it to you, no freedom. But anyway, that didn’t affect me" and had his studies interrupted when he was called up to serve in the Amy at the age of nineteen in 1945 and said later : “I thought I’d be going to the Far East to fight Japan. But the war suddenly ended the day I joined.”

* was first posted to India and struck down with dysentery : “There are more germs there per square inch than anywhere else in the world, and I happened to pick them up. It nearly killed me” , followed by East Africa and Egypt but recorded later in life, that his post-war experience had affected him deeply : " I had some awful experiences when I was in the Army, you know, death and destruction and God knows what not. 'When I get out of this', I thought, 'I'll try to be positive and look on the positive side of life."

* demobbed from the Army in 1948, returned to College and in 1950, received a 'Diploma in Design' but was uninspired to continue his painting because, as he later said : "I'd been trained so academically, it just took all the joy out of painting" and decided to go into teaching and the following year gained a certificate from the University of Durham and began his twenty-eight year career in education.

*  got a job in Malaya, teaching art, social studies, British history and religion and recalled : “I taught my art students processes. If it was line or blocking printing, I taught them how to do that and then I let them loose. I said, "You can do any subject you like, in any media, but it has to be your choice and you’ve got to work at it and improve it," and that’s what they did. It should be their feelings, not the teacher’s feelings. Once you let them loose and they realize their creative ability, there’s no trouble.”

* at the age of forty-one in 1967, after teaching in schools in England and New Zealand, where he came under the spell of  the curvilinear shapes of Maori art, travelled, with his wife and son, to Northern Alberta in Canada.

*moved to the Yukon the following year, as he said :  "received a job to teach in the land of the mighty Moose - where weaklings need not apply" and settled in the small town of Carcross just outside of Whitehorse and found that, in his painting :

      "I opened up, that Canada opened me up."

* refined his technique : "I was painting at first realistically and I suddenly realised, if I painted the mountains, it would look like B.C. or somewhere else, so I kind of fell into a very simple style. I simplified everything down and then I saw the rhythms in the land and the sky and portrayed those rhythms. They're always there. If you ever get bored, all you need to do is look up at the sky and the varied moods" and in 1969, had his first art showing at the Public Library in Whitehorse and began his illustrative journey as a working artist in Canada

 * pushed colour to the forefront and "realized I could do anything any colour I wished, so I just played with colour and then I grew really interested in colour. It’s not necessarily the colour you see, but you can feel it.”

* was influenced by the work of L.S.Lowry and his matchstick men figures in the city of Manchester and the work of his friend and fellow County Durham-born painter, ex-coal miner, Norman Cornish ,who inspired him to paint people as well as places, reflected in his statement that : "Elements of loneliness also come into my painting to reflect alienation of the native people in particular. They're in lonely little villages, or they're lonely with great skies above them, or you'll find women with children but no man in the picture. The mother is solely looking after them."

* also admired the work of Austrian painter Hundert Wasser, Japanese print maker Katsushika Hokusai and the American painter Winslow Homer, but acknowledged the strongest influence on his life and art was living in the land of the Yukon where he found his 'Shangri-La'.

* became a Canadian citizen at the age of forty-seven in 1973, published his first book for 8-14 year old children, 'Children of the Yukon', concentrating on life throughout the year in its settlements in 1977 and two years later gave up teaching to become a full-time artist and illustrator.

* saw parallels between his own life and that of Lancashire-born poet Robert Service and said : "We both came to the Yukon almost by accident and found it liberating in many ways. He became a poet, and I became an artist, reflecting what I call the magic of this place. I often wonder if I'd gone to live in another part of Canada whether I would have painted the same—I don't think so."

* in 1986 produced, with illustrations Senior's 1907 poem 'The Cremation of Sam McGee', which was subsequently widely read in elementary schools : , followed in 1988 with his illustrated 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew'.

* undertook his largest commission with the 'Yukon Pavilion' for Vancouver's 'Expo 86' Exhibition, where he drew cartoons for the visitors : and in the following year was made a member of the 'Order of Canada' for his 'contributions to Canadian culture'.

* in 1992 published the first illustrated edition of the Nation's anthem, 'O Canada', in which he translated its beauty into his serigraphs on his ocean-to-ocean, east to west journey and the following year, in 1993 at the age of sixty-seven, moved to Victoria, British Columbia and three years later created the design of a Canada Post Christmas stamp.

* in 2001 at the age of seventy-five was interviewed on Canada AM Television and in 2005, was inducted into the Royal Conservatory of the Arts and four years later donated his 'Vast Yukon' mural to the University of Victoria and had his biography, 'Ted Harrison : Painting in Paradise' by Katherine Gibson published.

* was paid affectionate and appreciative tribute, 'Ted Harrison and his joyful paintings', in a 'Times Colonist' obituary by Robert Amos, in which he noted that : 'our National Gallery doesn't own any of his work ... yet.'

* on his passing, his website recorded :.

'He lived a full life and brightened countless lives. His art will continue to make the world a better place.'

What better epitaph might an old lad from County Durham and adopted son of Canada have ? How many more lives might he brighten with his work on the walls of the National Gallery ?


  1. Beautiful capture of Ted's history, life and contributions John.

    Grateful for it.


  2. Lovely account of a lovely man. Met him in Hay River NWT in the 80's. A gift to Canada. Thanks for this.