WOLFVILLE - Alex Colville was a world-renowned as a Canadian artist, but he was also a prominent and respected Wolfville resident.
Neighbours, friends and admirers took time to celebrate Colville in recent years. Three years ago this August, every seat was full when a documentary film about Colville was screened in the town’s Al Whittle Theatre. The audience sang happy birthday to mark the artist’s 90th birthday. A few years before that, an evening fundraiser for the Valley Hospice toasted Colville and his legacy.
Dr. Jim Perkin, who was Acadia University president when Colville served as chancellor, has described him as a national treasure.
Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson has called Colville the greatest artist Canada has ever produced. Two of Colville works hang in the front hall of Rideau Hall.
Kings Hants MP Scott Brison said Colville’s incisive and thought provoking political conversations meant a great deal to him. Colville had the rarest of creative power, Brison said at an event lauding Colville, which is married to discipline.
Former student and now a renowned painter herself, Mary Pratt once jibed Colville about his perfect Savile Row suits, which he covered with a lab coat while painting. She has praised him for teaching her about the simple grandeur of ordinary lives.
Colville was born in Toronto and moved to Amherst as a child before attending Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. He started painting at 18.
A Canadian war artist during the Second World War, Colville documented the horror of the Bergen-Belsen death camp. After experiencing war first hand, he once said, “you were grateful at the end of the day to have sheets.”
Later, he taught at Mount A. Colville said he finished his first good painting in 1950 and in 1963 decided to stop teaching to paint full time. Ten years later Colville moved with his wife and muse Rhoda to her hometown. Rhoda died late in 2012.
His work was exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1962 and he was commissioned to design commemorative coins for the centennial of Confederation in 1967.
Colville’s work is included in major art collections at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.
He was a member of the Order of Canada. In 2003, Colville was awarded the Governor General’s Visual Arts Award for lifetime achievement.
Admirers of Colville shared their memories and favourite pieces of his art on Twitter and Facebook as news of his death spread.
The premier weighed in as well.
"Alex Colville's contributions as an artist cannot be underestimated," Premier Darrell Dexter said July 17 . "From capturing the landing on Juno Beach during World War Two to his painstaking portraits of everyday life he became a Canadian cultural icon whose paintings were sought after.
"He defined what it was to be an artist and his legacy will continue to be celebrated and interpreted by new generations of Canadian artists and art lovers. My condolences to his family and friends on this very difficult day."
Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, offered condolences on behalf of the federal government.
“Thanks to his captivating yet serene creations, we will remember this exceptionally distinguished artist for his unparalleled contribution to the arts,” she said.
Colville is also being remembered by the Acadia University community, where he was chancellor and served as an honourary member of the board of governors. The Acadia Art Gallery houses 35 pieces of his work.
“Our entire community is feeling a sense of loss,” university president Ray Ivany said.. “While Alex Colville was connected directly to Acadia through his term as Chancellor, he and Rhoda were part of the fabric of Wolfville and it will be hard for many of us to think of our community without them.
“The legacy left by Alex through his art and his many achievements will serve as reminders to all of us of the importance of place and the people around us in our everyday lives,” he added.
“I met the Colvilles shortly after they moved to Wolfville in 1973 and ended up forming a lifelong friendship with these two remarkable people,” said Dr. James Perkin, a past university president and author of 1995 book on Colville - Ordinary Magic. “Alex was very generous with his time while Chancellor and often met with students who sought him out for his wisdom and guidance. He was a very straightforward speaker with an ability to say very little, but to cut directly to the heart of any matter.
“Alex believed profoundly that life is comprised mainly of ordinary things and, so, thought it was important to recognize and to celebrate it in his work,” Perkin said.
Colville’s funeral will be held July 24 at 10:30 a.m. in Acadia’s Manning Memorial Chapel.