WOLFVILLE, N.S. – Alex Colville was remembered for his unflinching artwork that reflected both the tenderness of love and ravage of war at a memorial service Wednesday in Nova Scotia.
Family, friends and admirers of Colville paid their respects at the Manning Memorial Chapel at Acadia University in Wolfville, where he once served as chancellor.
A casket draped in the Canadian flag led a procession of mourners into the service, where longtime friend James Perkin recalled how Colville’s experiences as an official war artist during the Second World War occasionally haunted him decades later.
“A man of profound resilience, he never took an easy, optimistic view of human affairs, having seen the depth of cruelty to which humanity can sink,” Perkin told the packed chapel.
Perkin said while the pain of Colville’s death last week was particularly felt by his relatives, it was also shared to some degree by people from across Canada and around the world.
“He has left behind a grieving family, a saddened circle of friends, a town that has lost a beloved citizen. But what a legacy he has left,” Perkin said.
“Works of art that will last forever, paintings that reveal the tenderness of human love, the faithfulness of animals, the nobility of everyday work, all co-existing with the folly and destruction of wars and the uncertainty of life itself.”
Rev. Timothy McFarland, Acadia University’s chaplain, said Colville will be remembered for his honesty, passion and compassion.
“We remember a man who had an instinct for keen observation and a gift to communicate in his art and in his life that which he observed,” McFarland said.
“Let it be that we will feel our loss, but so too will we continue to be inspired to follow his example of adding, co-creating in this world and all of creation in ways that will leave it a little better than we found it.”
Colville died July 16 at his home in Wolfville from a heart condition. He was 92.
His work reached millions, extending well beyond Canada through art galleries, magazines, book covers, posters, television, coins and even the cover of Bruce Cockburn’s 1973 album “Night Vision.”
A renowned painter, sketch artist, muralist and engraver, Colville was known for capturing the simple, tranquil moments of everyday life on canvas.
He was born in Toronto on Aug. 24, 1920. He moved to Amherst, N.S., as a boy with his family and studied fine arts at Mount Allison University in nearby Sackville, N.B., where he later created some of his most significant works, including “Nude and Dummy” and “Horse and Train.”
It was also there that Colville met his wife and muse, Rhoda. The couple married in 1942 in Wolfville, a quaint university town in the Annapolis Valley that became their home.
When Rhoda died last December, it left a gaping hole in Colville’s life, Perkin said.
“Conversation began to lose its sparkle and soon, only his unfailing courtesies were left,” he said.
“You got the sense that Alex was marking time.”
Though Colville’s alma mater remained close to his heart, his ties to Acadia University also ran deep.
The university awarded Colville an honorary degree in 1975 and named him chancellor six years later. Colville held the post until 1991 and later served as an honorary member of Acadia’s board of governors.
Colville is survived by daughter Ann and his two sons, Graham and Charles.