The painter Ted Harrison depicted a Yukon of vibrant colour – pink lakes, purple mountains, rolling hills as orange as tangerine skin. The frozen land was often depicted in shades of blue, often peopled by faceless but dynamic figures hunting, fishing and playing sports.
His style – rendered in bold and simple forms, seeming almost childlike – was immediately recognizable whether in a painting or an illustration. His images appeared in several books, most notably in illustrated volumes of the Robert Service poems The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew. Elementary school art teachers might eschew non-traditional colours in landscapes, but children saw in Mr. Harrison one of their own.
The artist, who has died in Victoria at 88, developed his style in part because the native pupils he taught were uninspired by the urban life depicted in their readers. He sought to bring to them an image of their own lives.
"The North is a special sort of symphony," he once said. "Its landscape is a dance, the wind is an orchestra, and the cry of the birds are high notes in the background."
Many Canadians and foreign visitors were introduced to his vision at Expo '86, where Mr. Harrison designed a dramatic three-dimensional backdrop depicting the northern sky above an open-air theatre at the entrance to the Yukon Pavilion.
His style proved immensely popular, a Harrison image appeared on Christmas cards for Unicef, while Canada Post released a 45-cent commemorative postage stamp in 1996 depicting gifts being delivered by sled in a scene the artist titled Northern Christmas.
Though brash in colour, many of his works express a sense of tranquility, solitude, even loneliness. The effect can be mesmerizing, whether spotted on a three-panel piece at the entrance to the Yukon Legislature (The Departure of Persephone), in the foyer of the Department of Education Building in the same city (My Yukon) or on the ground floor of the David Turpin Building on the University of Victoria campus (Vast Yukon). His magnificent stained-glass windows grace Christ Church Cathedral in Whitehorse and tiny St. Margaret's Church in Te Kauwhata, New Zealand.
His work can be found in private collections around the world. Ronald Reagan sent the artist a handwritten note of appreciation.
While grateful for the income, the artist preferred his work to be on public display.
"Art has to be shared to be useful," he said in 2009. "I don't believe in billionaire collectors who stuff them down in the basement."
His death renewed calls for the National Art Gallery in Ottawa to acquire Harrison paintings for its collection, correcting an absence which the artist's fans and supporters regard as a disgrace.
A compact man who wore a trim, military mustache, Mr. Harrison enjoyed meeting the public and was an amiable personality who readily opened his home studio to journalists. He could often be found at a storefront gallery a few blocks from his Victoria home.
Though his style is now readily identified with Canada's North, the artist was influenced by his time as a globetrotter, when he admired the tropical colours of the Malay Peninsula and the curvilinear folds of Maori art. The great artistic interpreter of the Yukon, who "brought the North to the South through his paintings," according to his biographer, Katherine Gibson, did not reach the territory until he was 41 years old.
On Aug. 28, 1926, twins were born to Martha (née Thirlaway) and Charles Harrison, a striking coal miner in Wingate, a colliery village in County Durham in the northeast of England. The girl was named Algar, the boy Edward Hardy. The additions to the family could not have come at a more distressing time. The mine owners had demanded a reduction in wages and police squads protected blackleg miners replacing those on strike.
Mr. Harrison showed a precocious talent, sparked in part by his mother's interest in photography and fashion design. Even at a young age, as his Wellfield Grammar School teachers praised his artistic endeavours, the boy realized he would have to leave the mining village if he was to become a person of accomplishment. He maintained a deep respect, however, for the people he left behind.
"The coal is black," he told H.J. Kirchhoff of the Globe in 1989, "but the people are gold."
In later years, he would recognize among the native peoples of Asia and the Canadian North the sharing and co-operation that he associated with life among the workers of a pit village.
In 1943, he enrolled at Hartlepool College of Art in nearby Middlesbrough. The war effort claimed the supply of canvas, so students painted on stretched sugar sacks.
The artist's studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the army in 1945. Though he expected to fight the Japanese, the war ended before he saw combat. Mr. Harrison spent three years in the British Army's Intelligence Corps serving in Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland and India, where he contracted malaria. After three years of military service, during which he learned Urdu and Swahili, the demobilized sergeant returned to England and the classroom, where he completed his art studies before spending a year at King's College at Durham University, gaining a teaching certificate in 1951.
Mr. Harrison taught at a boys' technical school in Middlesbrough for seven years before wanderlust took him to the Slim School (named after Field Marshal Viscount Sir William Slim) in the Cameron Highlands of Pahang province, Malaya (now Malaysia). He taught at the school for children of British military staff at a time of tumult, as banditry and a rebel insurgency made day-to-day life perilous. (A 15-year-old student at the school survived an ambush that killed his father and other military members in 1958, the year Mr. Harrison arrived in the newly independent nation.)
While at the school, he met and, in 1960, wed Robina McNicol, known as Nicky, a Women's Royal Army Corps staff sergeant tasked with closing the school at which he was teaching.
A memorable duty involved preparing and decorating a bungalow for Bhumibol Adulyadej, the American-born King of Thailand, who was visiting the Highlands. At a grand banquet, Mr. Harrison was invited to dance with the King's consort, Queen Sirikit.
In 1963, the Harrisons moved to New Zealand, where a son, Charles Edward, named after his paternal grandfather, was born. Mr. Harrison taught at a high school for two years before returning to his hometown for a year at a junior school.
In 1967, Mr. Harrison responded to an advertisement looking for a teacher to respond to "the call of the moose" at an isolated hamlet in northern Alberta. The family spent a year in Wabasca, where the painter eagerly learned about the life of the residents while teaching elementary students.
A year later, the family moved even farther north to the Yukon, settling in Carcross. Mr. Harrison taught art at the elementary school. He also served the community as fire chief. Meanwhile, his wife taught what was one of the territory's first kindergarten classes and played a leading role in incorporating the kindergarten program into the public school system.
The family moved to Whitehorse in 1971, with Mr. Harrison teaching at the Yukon Vocation and Training Centre (now Yukon College) and, later, F.H. Collins Secondary School. He also produced regular editorial cartoons for The Whitehorse Star.
His British love for a pint in the pub led him to witness more than one saloon melee in the former Gold Rush territory, including a time when he saw a drunk knocked out when smashed over the head with a guitar.
His early days in the North convinced him to abandon the classic style of landscape painting he had been taught for one of rolling waves of bold colour. Long shadows cast by a low sun gave undulating shades to the hills, while the northern lights flashed on the underside of clouds, producing what is now in the Yukon vocabulary known as a "Harrison sky." The first public showing of his new work, at the public library in Whitehorse in 1969, failed to sell a single piece.
With the foundation of formal training and a vision capable of imagining a moose coloured blue, as well as a craftsman's dedication to production (at his peak, he produced more than one painting per week), Mr. Harrison developed a growing audience for his works.
The bold lines he used to surround a figure led some to describe his work as cloisonnist, in the style of Gauguin. The artist himself jokingly preferred the description Canadian neo-cloisonnist because it was vague yet sounded profound.
His wife's declining health led the couple to move to Victoria in 1993 in search of a more hospitable climate. The artist turned his attention to his new surroundings, receiving further acclaim for paintings depicting the abundant sea life of the Pacific coast.
As well as illustrating the famous Service poems, Mr. Harrison produced other volumes, for children, including O Canada and A Northern Alphabet. He wrote an autobiography, The Last Horizon, in 1980, while more recently he was the subject of a detailed biography by Ms. Gibson, Ted Harrison: Painting Paradise, which entailed four years of research.
In 1987, he was invested as a member of the Order of Canada and, in 2008, he was named to the Order of British Columbia, which recognized his generous contributions to charity through donated art works.
Three years ago, a middle school opened in the northeast Calgary neighbourhood of Taradale bearing his name. The school's motivational motto: "Inspire, create, evolve."
Mr. Harrison died on Jan. 16 in Oak Bay, a leafy municipality adjacent to Victoria. He leaves a son, Charles, of Toronto. He was predeceased by his wife, who died in 2000, at 79. He was also predeceased by his twin sister, who died in 2008.
A few months after his wife's death, Mr. Harrison donated their old cabin in Carcross on Yukon's Crag Lake, along with $50,000, for the establishment of a painter's retreat.
His own advancing age convinced Mr. Harrison to sell his house before moving into a nearby retirement home a few years ago. The pending sale presented a problem for art lovers – he had painted two murals on the walls of the home.
The move to Vancouver Island had left him homesick for his beloved Yukon, so he painted a landscape on the walls of the alcove of his basement den. With his son's assistance, he covered the walls in gesso before applying what he called "great gobs of juicy paint." The result was Vast Yukon, now displayed at the University of Victoria.
A second mural, titled View of British Columbia, was painted on plywood at the home's entrance, featuring a red whale, a blue orca and yellow trawlers. It, too, is now displayed on campus.
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