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William Kurelek

Books by William Kurelek
To My Father's Village
A prairie boy's winter
A prairie boy's summer
Lumberjack
A Northern Nativity

William Kurelek

[ More about William Kurelek ]

Many people believe no one has been able to paint what the prairies look like better than William Kurelek. Others think he was best able to capture the Canadian landscape with his brush. But few can argue that William Kurelek knew how to paint the world around him.

William discovered his artistic ability very early. When he was growing up on the prairies in the 1930s, William attended a one-room schoolhouse. Outside one day, he and another boy got into an argument about who was a better student. Finally, William declared that he could draw a better train, and he did. He realized that his ability to draw earned him attention and respect from his fellow students.

William was the oldest of seven children, born into a family that had immigrated from Ukraine. His paintings feature many Ukrainian themes, and he created a series of paintings on the difficult life for new immigrants.

Best known for his landscapes, Kurelek studied the geography around him while growing up on the family farm. He was very skilled at showing the sky on a clear sunny day, at twilight, or in the middle of a storm. He also painted night scenes, including one of children catching fireflies, and another of a family trying to finish haying as the lightning from a coming storm lights up the sky.

His last book was titled, To My Father's Village, and describes one of the last trips William took to the place where his father grew up, in 1977 when Ukraine was still part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He went, he said, to discover if he was "more Ukrainian than Canadian." There, he painted the farms of his father's childhood, the village, and all of its inhabitants, both people and things. After a short month's stay, he returned home very ill, but with six completed paintings and many more sketches. William Kurelek died November 3, 1977 at age 50.


More about William Kurelek

How he worked:
William's writing was always tied to his art. He wrote in longhand, which was quite difficult to read and he often wrote on scraps of paper. He rarely rewrote anything, and wasn't concerned about literary style. His painting style was also unusual. To make a new painting, William would apply acrylic or oil paint on a board, and then outline his images in ballpoint pen. He would use colored pencils to create texture, and then scratch, scrub or brush the surface for detail. He finished by adding further details in pen. Whether he was writing or painting, William worked long days, 10 hours or more. If he was on a painting trip, he would usually work all day and into the evening, sleeping only for short periods of times, and eating nothing but oranges.

Where he worked:
His favorite place to create, William worked in his basement, in a studio that was filled with images from Ukrainian culture.

His first published work:
William was well-known for this painting, long before he became an author. His books were created to remember what his life was like, growing up on a farm during the 1930s. The first, A prairie boy's winter told about the difficult chores - and the fun - the farm children experienced on cold wintry days. The second book, A prairie boy's summer, described life in the farming community during the warmer months.

Where his ideas came from:
His paintings are very autobiographical. The landscapes he painted were remembrances of his childhood homes. Like other artists he took photographs of areas he wanted to paint and worked from them. William felt a need to record the changes: his book Lumberjack shows life in the logging camps that were an important part of Canada's economy. He was also greatly inspired by his religion, and titled many of his paintings with quotes from Biblical scriptures.
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