Written and Illustrated by Bob Monks
The Windsor Star
September 13, 1974
Windsor’s hometown artist, Bert Weir, is moving to Parry sound, but before he goes I think everyone should hear his story ’cause he’s the closest thing to a real artist that we’ll probably ever see.
He was born in Windsor, lived in about a dozen different places around town, spent two years at Lowe Tech, two years in the Navy, and four years at the art college in Toronto before the day in 1050 when he took an axe, his wife Elena, and forty dollars into the bush to begin his career.
They bought an island in the middle of a lake and built a log cabin on it out of trees Bert cut down. It was an enormous building, a work of art in mostly roof, (like the Glenwood United Church on Grand Marais), featuring a sunken living room full of books, and a great view out the west window.
They lived there for six years painting pictures and having kids, three girls – Sky, Wave, and Reed, named after the stuff they were painting at the time. They supported themselves by selling paintings along the roadside teaching school, hauling logs, cutting firewood, and building cottages.
When the oldest kid was six and had to go to school, they moved back to Windsor. Bert got a job teaching art at W.D. Lowe Technical School and stayed for 14 years until the day he was called into the hall and told that the Board of Education was “phasing out the art program at Lowe Tech,” but don’t worry “there’ll be a job for you somewhere in the system. What else can you teach?”
I know because I was standing next to him. I went to another school, but Bert was so mad he resigned a short time later.
However, I can partly understand the board’s position because he was an unorthodox teacher. To say that his room was messy is to miss the point entirely. It was an indoor junkyard with hollowed out places for people to work and Bert was the school junkman.
Lowe Tech at that time (1956-1970) had about 20 different shops – welding, carpentry, sheet metal, etc., and about 1,000 students. Every day there was an amazing amount of material consumed and thrown out. Bert was always on the spot to grab a juicy item before it landed in the garbage truck.
In his room he had piles of metal castings, auto parts, lumber, wire, plastic, glass, Styrofoam, bags of plaster, cement blocks, bricks, cardboard, paper and paint and a thousand other things.
At the end of the day, after about 50 kids had worked in there it was pretty messy and every day it got messier until the end of the year there’d be a gigantic weeklong clean-up, but Bert wasn’t bothered because he knew within two or three feet where things were. The kids, naturally loved it , but the art inspectors hated it.
Our “inspectors” were not artists. They were “educators” dressed in double knit suits, clutching attache cases and they’d sit in the back of the room writing in a little black book.
They didn’t know red from green, but they knew a messy floor when they saw one so Bert always got a lecture on cleanliness.
(I was once given a bad rating for 1. Not wearing a tie; 2. Not having my hair combed; 3. Shirt tail our 4. Wearing green corduroy pants.)
Out of Bert Weir’s art room junkyard came almost all of Windsor’s young artists. They’d go off to art college, then come back, rent some place and start painting. When they had a problem Bert would help them out, but he could never remember their names. He’d say “oh hello there…eh…Mr. uh…uh…”
Another thing he could never do was flatter people. When you asked his opinion of a painting, you got a straight answer no matter what.
For example, one time a woman in my art class brought in a painting she bought at an art sale somewhere. You’ve seen them – genuine hand painted European – $200 marked down to $139.95. This one had alps, a woodcutter’s cottage, a sparkling mountain stream and an eye-splitting sunset. I took one look at it and began lying: “Wow! Hey! How about that! Look at those mountains, boy oh boy!” etc. Bert got red in the face and walked away, but the woman called him back and insisted on hearing his opinion. So he told her. The woman stormed out and never came back. Bert felt terrible but what could he do. He can’t lie.
Now he is leaving Windsor. He and his wife have bought a rambling old building on the main street in Parry Sound. The front will be an art gallery run by Elena and the back will include living quarters, a ceramic studio, a painting studio, and a gigantic two-story sculpture studio.
He’s hoping to support himself with two shows a year in Toronto – a painting show and a sculpture show – plus what they can sell at the front.
Artistic freedom, what every artist is after and few achieve. I hope they make it.
Good luck, Bert.
You too, Elena.