AG Smith Artist/Illustrator
The first time I met Bert was probably in 1973. I was teaching printmaking and drawing at the University of Windsor as a sessional instructor. Bert’s wife Elena was taking my intaglio printmaking class. Elena was a “mature student”, and I was a young teacher. Elena brought a lot to the class in her skills as an artist and her life experience. I am sure I learned much more from her than she did from me. Through Elena, I met Bert. They were both very welcoming, and soon Bert had arranged for me to have my first show in Canada – in the social hall of the Temple Beth El Synagogue. Bert was an artist who believed in, not just promoting his own work, but the work of others as well. He did this throughout his life.
Soon after I met Bert and Elena, they packed up and moved to Parry Sound to pursue their lives and work there. Several years later while camping in the area, my wife and I stopped in to visit them. As always, they were open and generous, and Bert gave us a tour of Parry Sound, including “the island” in McKellar. I was smitten! Over the next few years as I continued my work, Bert, Elena, and Parry Sound, were always in the back of my mind.
In 1985, my wife, Susan, and I moved permanently to Windsor. We visited Bert and Elena in Parry Sound and renewed our friendship. In 1986 we rented a cabin for the summer, and at the end of the summer we bought a piece of bush with a cabin in nearby Carling Township. Bert introduced us to the artists’ community, and we began participating in community art shows in schools and gymnasiums, and other venues that Bert had arranged. As we settled into our work, we got to know more about Bert’s life and work. Every few weeks or so I would stop in (at) Loon Studios for tea and see what Bert was working on. Of course, there were the large paintings in the cavernous studio, but he might have been making a special table, wooden candlesticks – all carved and decorated – line drawings of animals for a colouring book, or woodblocks for greeting cards. There was always something new and something being planned.
As I got to know Bert better the more I came to see that his life and work were intrinsically a whole. Bert was an “artist” in the broadest sense and he was a “Romantic”. Above all, he was a “maker”. Hiking, snow shoeing, canoeing, and sailing, in an age of ATVs, snowmobiles, jet skis, are the pursuits of a Romantic. Oil painting, water colour painting, and woodblock printing in a world of online digital media are romantic approaches to making art. This said, Bert was not unaware of trends and fashions that came and went throughout his time as a working artist, he understood that each artist must choose his own way.
Artists reflect the world around them. The world that Bert chose to immerse himself in was the world of nature. He wanted his work to reflect the light and colour and vibrancy of the bush, the sky, the gentle streams, and the big water of the lakes. He worked outside as much as he possibly could. Even in his last years he rigged up an easel on a wheelbarrow which Joy or a friend would push down the path to the meadow behind the house so that he could paint outside. These last small painting are among Bert’s finest work.
Bert was one of the luckiest people I have ever met. Although there were times of hardship and pain, he felt himself a lucky man. He had two wonderful life partners in Elena and Joy and three wonderful daughters and a life of doing the work he loved.