1927 - 1977
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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 2,000 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.
This Prairie artist dedicated his career to documenting his personal vision of Canada. His illustrated books testify to a passionate love of the land, and of its people’s historical, cultural and religious heritage. In words and pictures, Kurelek celebrates the lives of Canada’s ethnic groups, referring often to his own childhood and Ukrainian ancestry.