An Island endeavour that honours a former Oak Bay artist is shortlisted among the best in the nation.
A Brush Full of Colour: The World of Ted Harrison, by bestselling B.C. authors Margriet Ruurs, of Salt Spring Island, and Katherine Gibson, of the Comox Vally, is shortlisted for the 2015 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award.
Cowichan Bay’s Ann Featherstone acted as editor, working closely with the two authors.
“It’s very much an Island collaboration that makes it pretty special given that the other finalists are from central Canada … so we’re breaking the mould here,” said Gibson, who spent four years working alongside the late artist Harrison.
“[Featherstone]’s quite an accomplished editor and has several award-winning books. She was the catalyst between Margriet and I getting this book to where it is today.”
The picture book biography includes a forward by Harrison himself and since its publication last year, has been nominated for a number of awards, including the Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, the Rocky Mountain Book Award, the Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award, and the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Award.
The book details how Harrison’s passion for learning saved him from a life in England’s coal mines and set him on a road of worldwide travel that led him to the Yukon.
“I didn’t have any expectations about anything, I just enjoyed writing the book. It’s wonderful to see that other people see the value in it and the value in Ted’s story,” Gibson said, adding his remarkable story stands out as one of three reasons people are drawn to the book.
“The fact that his images are throughout the book is really special, some of those pictures are in private collections so they aren’t seen otherwise,” she said.
“I think the third thing that draws people is the exceptional layout. The detailing in the design is exquisite. It really is a stunning book.”
Harrison, who graced Oak Bay Avenue with his working gallery prior to his death earlier this year, was one of Canada’s most celebrated artists.
His distinctive and colourful paintings of the Arctic and the West Coast are recognized around the world.
“This was a story that needed to be told and needed to be accessible to youngsters as well,” Gibson said.
“Certainly children know his art, particularly in Victoria because he lived there and visited the schools, Monterey [middle school] being one of his main schools. It’s fitting that children know his art, but it’s also important to know the story behind the man who painted, of who he was and why he did what he did.”
Harrison’s honours included the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour.
Several generations of schoolchildren have grown up familiar with his work through picture books like A Northern Alphabet, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and The Cremation of Sam McGee.
“His work shows us what fun it is to be Canadian. He also shows us what fun it is to be a northern Canadian and he brings that fun to the south for those who have not lived in the north. He brings us together as a country,” Gibson said.
“He captured the beauty of this land and brought it to our walls and that was his goal with painting. He said there’s enough sadness in the world without putting it on our walls. Early on he decided he would only paint happy pictures.”
The TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award is awarded to the most distinguished children’s book of each year.
The winner will be announced at the awards gala in Toronto on Nov. 18.
“The fact that we are one of five finalists in this very prestigious award … I really feel we’ve already been greatly honoured,” Gibson said.
“I think we’ve already won in terms of bringing some attention back to Ted Harrison.”
A Brush Full of Colour is available in book stores including Ivy’s Books on Oak Bay Avenue.