Ted Harrison, Canada’s most iconic painter of the Yukon, passed away in Victoria, British Columbia, on Friday, January 16, after a long illness.
The artist, who was 88 years old, is known for his highly imaginative and vibrantly coloured interpretations of the arctic landscape. He was also the beloved author and/or illustrator of many children’s books, including A Northern Alphabet and Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew.
Born in County Durham, England, Harrison dreamed about the arctic as a child reading the works of Robert Service and Jack London. In 1968, after years of travelling the world, he realized his dream and settled with his family in the Yukon. Challenged and inspired by the landscape there, he shed the techniques of his formal art training in order to capture the wild wonder of the north.
While audiences were at first taken aback by Harrison’s bright colours and stylized images, he has since become one of our country’s most beloved artists. In 1987 he was awarded Canada’s highest civilian honour, The Order of Canada. In 2004, he was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and presented with the Order of British Columbia in 2008. In 1993, Harrison and his wife moved to Victoria, where he continued to paint. He also taught art workshops in classrooms across the country, dedicating himself to the causes of art and education.
“Art must be part of every child’s education,” he said. “Painting is the last great freedom. You can paint what you like.”
Pajama Press was privileged in 2014 to publish the picture book biography A Brush Full of Colour: The World of Ted Harrison. This project gave us the opportunity to work with two authors with personal connections to Ted Harrison: Margriet Ruurs, who was his neighbour for many years, and biographer Katherine Gibson, who spent four years interviewing him for her groundbreaking adult book Painting Paradise.
We are richer as a country for the legacy of Ted Harrison. He will be sorely missed.