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Artist Gerald Squires in his studio.

When Saturday Night magazine published "The Newfoundland Renaissance" in April, 1976, bringing the province's phenomenal blossoming of theatre, literature and visual art to national attention, the singular work of Gerald Squires was cited as a case in point.

Mr. Squires, a painter, sculptor, lithographer and stained glass artist, was then living in a lighthouse in Ferryland with his wife, Gail, and two daughters. He was part of a group of artists known as "The Gang Down the Southern Shore," which included Frank Lapointe, Stewart Montgomerie, Don Wright and Heidi Oberheide.

Sandra Gwyn, the article's author, called the shaggy and intense Mr. Squires "the kind of character who, even if he didn't live on the top of a cliff in an abandoned lighthouse with casements that really do look out on perilous seas and faery lands forlorn, is proof that there are still artists around who look and act as artists should."

Newfoundland often figured prominently in Mr. Squires's work, as in his painting No Longer May Seagulls Cry at the Ears, which Ms. Gwyn described as "a big, sombre canvas densely packed with imagery suggesting storms at sea and death by drowning, in which Squires, his ancestors, and his wife and daughter appear as central characters. It strikes me as being the Newfoundland ethic of endurance made visible, with overtones of William Blake and Hieronymus Bosch."

The physical landscape was a source of inspiration for him, as was the social landscape, which underwent a major shock the year Newfoundland joined Confederation. "You see, in 1949, Newfoundlanders were made to feel the most inferior people in North America," he told Ms. Gwyn, "as if there were some great monster out there telling us we were 200 years behind the times. But now we're starting to get our identity back. And our dignity."

Mr. Squires's work was very much a part of restoring that dignity. One of the province's most important painters, he was perhaps best known for his depictions of natural scenes, but his style and approach evolved over the years. Always absolutely recognizable, his art became more representational. The more realistically he painted landscapes, the more the work came to represent Newfoundland itself.

Mr. Squires died on Oct. 3 at the age of 77. He had cancer.

Among the works he will be remembered for are Last Supper, and Crucifixion and Resurrection, which were commissioned for Mary Queen of the World church, in Mount Pearl (the process filmed by Arnold Bennett in his documentary The Newfoundland Passion.) The paintings are tremendously compelling.

"I don't know why they moved me so much, but something about his work really struck me deeply," musician Lennie Gallant wrote in St. John's-based The Telegram after learning Mr. Squires had died. Mr. Gallant, who lives in PEI, had read about the Squires canvases in the church and when a music festival took him to St. John's, he went to see them.

"He has chosen to depict the Romans, Apostles, and others involved in the brutal story as Newfoundland fishermen and fisherwomen, and used the island landscape in the paintings instead of the traditional Middle Eastern one. The work was powerful, and at its heart said something profound about spirituality and the relationship fishermen and fisherwomen have with the sea, life and death."

Mr. Gallant later wrote his song Peter's Dream, about the fisheries crisis, and credits Mr. Squires's imagery for inspiring him. As a result, the lyrics seemed "to spill onto the page," he said.

"Just as Gerald Squires claimed to paint himself into his landscapes and portraits, so he has been painted into the cultural soul of this province," said Emma Butler, who knew Mr. Squires for 40 years, and represented him at her gallery for 25 years. "He was the most beloved of visual artists and has left behind a profound and immense body of work depicting the rugged beauty of both Newfoundland's landscape and the human spirit."

Gerald Leopold Squires was born Nov. 17, 1937, in the Change Islands, a remote outport community off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. His father, Samuel, who was from Bonavista, had entered the Salvation Army College for Officer Training, in St. John's, in 1923 and served for 17 years with the organization throughout Newfoundland.

Samuel Squires met and married Salvation Army Captain Mabel Payne, who had recently returned from serving seven years as a missionary in India and China. They had three boys, David, Fraser and Gerald.

In 1940, Samuel joined the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit, serving in Scotland until 1945. Mabel raised the boys on her own during the war, while serving as a Salvation Army officer in various communities throughout the region. In 1951, she accepted an appointment to serve as Home League secretary to the East Toronto Corps, so she moved to Toronto with her sons and the Squires divorced.

Recalling his childhood, Mr. Squires once said he had been educated about religion but not art. But it was art that became his calling. He studied at Toronto's Danforth Technical School and the Ontario College of Art, and apprenticed as a stained glass artist. One of his early jobs was working as an editorial artist for The Toronto Telegram. He put together his first solo exhibition in Toronto in the 1960s.

He married fellow artist Gail Tooker on Dec. 17, 1960, at St. George the Martyr Anglican Church, on John Street, which was across from his third-floor studio and just behind the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The couple had two daughters: Meranda, born in 1963, in Toronto, and Esther, born in 1964, when they were living in an old farmhouse in Gormley, Ont. Their third child, a son, Doman, died in infancy.

The family moved back to Newfoundland temporarily in 1965, and permanently in 1969. In the early 1970s, the two artists taught ceramics on the west coast of the island.

They wanted to live in a lighthouse, however, so they sought the help of Don Jamieson, who was then federal transportation minister, to locate the one where they ended up settling in Ferryland. Ms. Squires continued to concentrate on ceramics while Mr. Squires refocused on painting, working in acrylic and oil. In 1983, they moved to Holyrood, about 30 minutes from St. John's.

His notable painting series include The Boatman, The Wanderer and Ferryland Downs, however he worked in a range of media, including the design of theatre sets and posters and covers for albums and books. Mr. Squires's significant ecclesiastical commissions include a sculpture of Bishop Patrick Lambert, installed at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in St. John's. His major public sculpture projects include a six-foot statue of Shawnadithit, the last-known survivor of the Beothuks, at the Boyd's Cove Interpretation Centre.

An artist in residence at Memorial University, Mr. Squires received an honorary degree in 1998. The following year, he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy and named a member of the Order of Canada, in acknowledgment of his consistent and very fine artistic output. In 2007 he was inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Hall of Honour.

"No matter the hour, no matter the weather, Gerry was always ready at the door to go painting," said his friend and fellow artist Jean Claude Roy. "His favourite subject was the barrens, but he could, and did, paint anywhere. The three of us – Gerry, George Horan and I – painted together for the past 40 years: We were as silent as the barrens while we worked, and rarely talked about each other's paintings, but after a few drinks and a good meal, conversation often turned to our bêtes noires in the arts community. Gerry didn't pull his punches, but he was also a committed, thoughtful and generous member of this community, and he always had time for beginning artists. He continued to create art, through his final illness, right to the end of his life. He was a great artist."

Mr. Squires's death was headline news in the province. Premier Paul Davis expressed his condolences and Kevin Tobin, the Telegram editorial cartoonist, drew Mr. Squires's portrait in elegy.

A major retrospective of his work will open at The Rooms next year. Mr. Squires is also the subject of an forthcoming film; Kenneth Harvey's I Heard the Birch Tree Whisper in the Night will be released in 2017.