Artwork by William Kurelek,  Hauling Hay

William Kurelek
Hauling Hay

mixed media on board
signed with monogram and dated 1967 lower right
10.5 x 20 ins ( 26.7 x 50.8 cms )

Sold for $94,400.00
Sale date: May 29th 2018

Acquired directly from the artist
By decent to the present Private Collection
Janice Tywhitt, “William Kurelek: The Power of Obsession,” Saturday Night, May 26, 1962, pages 30-31
Avrom Isaacs and William Kurelek, William Kurelek: A Retrospective, The Edmonton Art Gallery, 1970, unpaginated
Sinclair Ross, As for Me and My House, Toronto, 1972, page 59
Eli Mandel, Another Time, Toronto, 1972, pages 50-52
William Kurelek, A Prairie Boy’s Winter, Montreal, 1973, unpaginated
William Kurelek, A Prairie Boy’s Summer, Toronto, 1975, unpaginated
William Kurelek, Kurelek’s Canada, Toronto, 1978, pages 91 and 101-103
William Kurelek and Joan Murray, Kurelek’s Vision of Canada, Edmonton, 1983, pages 75-76
Patricia Morley, Kurelek: A Biography, Toronto, 1986, pages 156-57, 190, and 211-13
Avrom Isaacs and Ramsay Cook, Kurelek Country: The Art of William Kurelek, Toronto, 1999, pages 9-11
Growing up on dairy and wheat farms in Manitoba and Alberta, respectively, William Kurelek learned to work the land with his family. The experience of farming in Depression-era Canada fundamentally shaped Kurelek and his feelings towards the vast prairie landscape. A mixture of pure awe and sheer terror were imbued in the artist and transferred onto his coveted prairie landscape artworks. For the artist, the absolute importance of expressing the expanse of the flattened prairies was integral to his work. He likened the prairie fields as the echo to the vast oceans at the nation’s coasts, both with high far-reaching horizon lines only visible when the eye’s perspective can reach no further. The sky and the land meet in a near symmetrical geometry of blue and ochre, typified by sharp perspective lines delineating fence lines and field parameters. A chronicler of Ukrainian-Canadian pioneer life in Canada, William Kurelek was a master of Canadian landscape art, narrating the story of immigrant contributions to the development of a nation.

“Hauling Hay” showcases the critical seasonal ritual of threshing wheat for sale. For Alberta farmers, wheat was not only a key resource to contribute to Canada’s economy, but was integral to the sustainability and livelihoods of families and communities throughout the vast rural prairie landscape. For the Kurelek family, wheat farming was a long-standing tradition. When the family patriarch, Dmytro, had to forego this custom in the wake of the Great Depression, as well as poor weather which contributed to crop failures, the family was forced to move from Alberta to Manitoba to seek more prosperous opportunities in dairy farming. Though necessary for the livelihood of the family, Dmytro was resentful of the change and always sought to continue wheat farming in any capacity while the rest of the family assisted and tended to the dairy farming duties. For William, assisting his father was a key memory continuingly re-examined in both his writings and artworks.

The striking composition presents a charming but fleeting autumn landscape, signaling the urgency to harvest grains before the long prairie winter befalls. The organically formed rows of black crows in the distance signal this changing of seasons as the last days of fall slide toward the approaching cold days of winter. The importance of manual labour and man’s existence in the landscape is integral to the artist, more than machinery and contemporary technologies. The central dramatic perspective lines, receding to a high horizon line, built through rows of stooks, signal the tedious manual labour needed to create these mounds in preparation of collection and eventual threshing. In the 1975 book “A Prairie Boy’s Summer”, Kurelek recalls:

“If the grain was too wet to cut, the family could still stook for a while. William’s mother was a good stoker and taught him how to do it properly. You picked up two sheaves, held them either by the binder twine or under your arm and then brought them down firmly to the ground with their tops together, leaning against each other. Another two pairs of sheaves brought down in the same way on either side of the first two, completed the stook. A stook was shaped like a teepee so the rain would run off it, and it had a whole in the middle so the wind could dry it inside.”

In 1965, nearing Canada’s centennial, William Kurelek was approached by the Toronto branch of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada (UWAC), which requested the artist to create representations which would depict the role of Ukrainian pioneer women in the development of Western Canada. Grateful for the opportunity, Kurelek produced twenty artworks for the committee’s selection, which were shown in 1967 by the UWAC and then at the Isaacs Gallery in early 1968. The project was a great success and the final works were given to the association’s museum in Saskatoon. For Kurelek, the production of these prairie landscapes was not merely a self-serving practice for the “tortured artist” trope. Rather, the painter sought to use his abilities to give back to his community in an expression of gratitude and kindness for the members who had supported and championed him in his development. This painting was gifted by William Kurelek to a member of the UWAC following the successful project.

Share this item with your friends

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 briefly studied art at school but preferred to teach himself through books. While traveling in England he was hospitalized for over a year and enrolled in the hospital's art therapy program. 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. 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.