Ted Harrison lives on in the halls of École Willows Elementary School.
Bright student artwork mimics the famed Canadian artist’s distinct style, created by classes of children from the youngest to eldest grades, to honour the man who spent many of his latter years living and working in Oak Bay.
The iconic artist died in Victoria Jan. 16 at the age of 88.
Each classroom made the task its own, some featuring whales or inukshuks but one class tackled a larger-scale co-operative artwork.
“I’ve wanted to do one of these collaborative artworks,” said teacher Cathie Makaroff. “When he passed I thought ‘this is the time’.”
The teacher took a donated Harrison poster and set about creating a larger scale model of it, then set about creating grids for her Grade 5 students to choose a segment of the artwork and create their own grid.
“They really took the initiative… They ran with it,” Makaroff said. “They were meticulous about checking with the ones around them that the lines matched.”
In Harrison’s most famous broad strokes style, many squares of the wall appeared simple work, with more detail in a boat and a tree-topped mountain.
“The kids really self-selected. They chose well for what they were up to,” Makaroff said.
The early work was a slow process, lining everything up, says young artist Miles Watson.
“The main painting part wasn’t that hard. The lining everything up was the most difficult part,” the Grade 5 student said. “It was fun to do an art project together and work as a team.”
“It was really fun. We got to make it our own,” agreed classmate Marian Fischer. “Mine was pretty easy, it was harder for some people.”
Both Fischer and Watson knew who Harrison was, as did most of the class.
“All of them knew the name and we talked about him,” Makaroff said.
The Grade 5 class is among the likely many classrooms to embark on a reading and discussion of The Shooting of Dan McGrew or The Cremation of Sam McGee. Harrison illustrated both Robert Service narrative poems for publication.
It’s in keeping with his roots, as Harrison was a schoolteacher before becoming an artist in the Yukon and returned to instruction after reaching acclaim with his artwork.
Youth were always a part of his repertoire. Harrison taught through the artists in schools program created by now Oak Bay arts laureate Barbara Adams at Monterey Middle School.
After his death, Harrison’s biographer Katherine Gibson said: “He used to say to kids ‘Use your imagination, there’s life in your imagination. Don’t worry about what other people are saying’.”