Artwork by William Kurelek,  Arrived Too Early

William Kurelek
Arrived Too Early

mixed media on board
signed and dated 1974 lower right; titled on the reverse
12.25 x 12.25 ins ( 31.1 x 31.1 cms )

Sold for $29,900.00
Sale date: November 23rd 2017

William Kurelek, A Prairie Boy's Winter, Montreal, 1973, unpaginated
For Kurelek, the traditions and local narratives of growing up on the prairies heavily influenced both his personal development and artistic expression. Writing and illustrating “A Prairie Boy's Winter”, Kurelek tells the story of his experience with his siblings growing up in the prairie winter. He devotes a section on the return of the first crow as the tell-tale sign of spring and writes:

“Melting snow and ice were proof that winter was over, but William really dated spring from an event that occurred a month earlier. It is said that the robin is the first sign of spring. But on the prairies many say it's the prairie horned lark, a small cousin of the meadow lark, that heralds spring. At the very first thaw, these larks can be seen, sometimes in twos and threes, standing beside puddles in the field. For William, however, there was something special about the crow—perhaps because of its very noisy, very noticeable departure at the beginning of winter—that made its return spell 'spring' for him. Maybe too it was because the crow is a large bird, and black, so it stood out against the snow... Crows came back singly, or in pairs, about the end of March. It was then that were sighted by the children on their way to or from school. The lucky first-sighters threw up their hands, and even their caps, in exultation, chanting, 'I saw it! I saw it! I saw the first crow! Spring's here!'”

Unfortunately, for this particular crow, he has arrived too early for spring and is caught in a snow storm, perched alone on the fence post, to brave the cold and wind of the unforgiving prairie winter.

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William Kurelek
(1927 - 1977) RCA

Kurelek was the son of Ukrainian immigrant farmers. He grew up during the Great Depression on a grain farm in Alberta and then a dairy farm in Manitoba. His hard-working father thought that his son was lazy and was not pleased when he decided to pursue his studies in art. His father's rejection was to haunt him all of his life. Kurelek studied art at the University of Manitoba where he graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in 1949. He worked in lumber camps to raise money for his art studies and did other odd jobs. He then studied six months at the Ontario College of Art but found he needed more freedom to develop at his own pace and interest, preferring to teach himself through books.

He sailed for England in 1952 where he found a happier environment, a more tolerant acceptance for what he wanted to paint. He also apprenticed himself to a picture framer, Frederick Pollock, from whom he learned this exacting craft. Stephen Franklin in ’Weekend Magazine’ described his years in England as follows, “In seven years Kurelek found both happiness and sadness in London. His painstaking fool-the-eye paintings of pound notes and other objects found their way into three Royal Academy summer shows, but he was increasingly bothered by eye trouble for which there was no physical cause. He plumbed the depth of emotional despair, contemplated suicide, and wound up in hospital for more than a year. It was here that he began his conversion – from boyhood membership in the Orthodox Church and subsequent atheism – to Catholicism which has deeply affected his life since.”

It was there that he drew many self-portraits and scenes of farm life from his youth. He also developed his unique style of outlining the drawing with a ballpoint pen, using coloured pencils for texture and adding details in pen. Careful examination of his drawings reveals images full of realism with minute details of things like cots, clothes and even insects. Under the pen of William Kurelek, prairie farm scenes and landscapes came to life.

He returned to Toronto in 1959, and visited Avrom Isaacs, looking for a job as picture framer. It was his paintings which caught the eye if Isaacs, who became his art dealer. In 1960, Kurelek held his first one man show at the Isaacs Gallery. By the time of his death in 1977, Kurelek had produced over 2000 paintings. Many of Kurelek's painting were produced to accompany books for children. For these he won several awards including the New York Times' Best Illustrated Children's Book Award for A Prairie Boy's Winter and Lumberjack, and the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians Illustrators Award for A Prairie Boy's Summer.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979