Article on Lewis Parker from The Beaver, Canada's Historical Magazine
By A.J.B. Johnston
Page 1 of 5
WHY THE PAST?
Why specialize in historical paintings? Lewis Parker looks up. His brush, its tip the colour of the gold trim on the
soldiers' hats that he's working on, hovers a few inches from the canvas. Puzzled, seeming to think the answer
obvious, the artist shrugs, 'It's my country'.
Lewis Parker is today one of Canada's foremost painters of historical scenes. His work, though not always his name,
is known across the country. His paintings hang in the National Museum of Man, Fortress of Louisbourg,
Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons, Fort Beaus‚jour, and many other museums and historic parks. Now at the peak of his
abilities Parker is embarking on a four-year, twelve painting history of Cape Breton, a commission from Sydney's
University College of Cape Breton.
It is of course not surprising that Parker mentions the late C.W. Jefferys (1869-1951), the renowned Englishborn painter
and illustrator of Canada\'s early days. He is often called Jefferys' successor and it is a comparison that pleases him;
Jefferys was a hero during his youth. But there are differences between the two men\'s approaches. Jefferys did
hundreds of detailed drawings of objects from the past; Parker prefers to work such details into larger scenes that tell
a story. Jefferys' paintings often depicted dramatic moments in history; Parker focuses more on the quiet dramas and
routine activities of everyday life in bygone times. It makes for peaceful rather than heroic paintings-but ones which
tell complex and interconnected stories.
Those stories are rendered visually, depicting past cultures: Indian, Inuit, British or French, alive and inaction. Parker
was born in Toronto in 1926 and enrolled in a standard art course at the Central Technical School in Toronto at age
13. Three years later, eager to develop his skills he went to work as a junior apprentice for a Toronto art house,
Rabjohn Illustrators. The pay was three dollars a week but the job gave young Parker a chance to watch, listen to,
and sometimes talk to such artists as Jack Bush, Ron Wilson, and Adrian Dingle. Of all the people Parker met at
Rabjohn's the one who most influenced him was Bert Grassick, a staff illustrator who also did political cartoons for
Maclean's and the Toronto Telegram.