Remembering Jack

The news came down a couple of days late, as tends to happen when Gulf Islands are involved. Last weekend when we had heard that our neighbor had died, it had already been a couple of days.

It didn’t come as a surprise, but that makes it no less sad. Jack’s health had been in decline for a number of years. Emphysema had sapped him of much of his energy, and the oxygen tank was always present the last few years. When we saw him last fall, he was using a scooter to get around and had pretty low energy. But it seemed for a few years that every winter was tough and he would perk up during the summer. 83 is a good number of years, but I guess we all hope for one more good summer…

All images are photos of Jack Campbell originals and prints from our home.

I met Jack Campbell a little more than a decade ago. He was a resident of Saturna Island, where my in-laws also reside. It is a small community, and it doesn’t take too many weekends to get to know most everyone. Jack stood out at first because of the bright sign at the top of the Missing Link directing people to his gallery. It was a vibrant watercolour of a forested stream, grey rocks and blue water and green trees cross-cut with sharp blades of light. “Pieces of Light” was a phrase he used to describe the style he employed commonly while painting natural areas of Saturna Island and the built environment of New Westminster. It was just a coincidence that the three places Jack spent most of his life, New Westminster, the West Kootenay, and Saturna Island, are three places I called home at different stages of my life, and another coincidence when we bought a lot on Saturna, Jack was our neighbour.

The boldness of his watercolours appealed to me immediately, starting with the Gallery sign. I always preferred his New Westminster scenes, mostly pained back when he had a gallery on Columbia Ave during the Bingo-Parlour-and-After-Hours-Club era of Downtown New West, and the River was more of a working place of log booms and beehive burners and fishing vessels.There is one great original piece in his galley (“that one is not for sale” he would say in his gentle, gentlemanly way) that was a drawing of the Queensborough Bridge being built, with the mills of Queensborough smoking behind, and his green Volkswagen in the foreground. It belongs in a museum.

MsNWimby preferred his later work, where he found organic forms in the shorelines and arbutus trees of the Gulf Islands. We always tried to support his small gallery, although most of the time our finances didn’t really allow us to support him the way we wished to!

Jack was raised in New Westminster, and had strong connections in this community. He painted posters for the old Fraser Fest events, and there are various places around town where his paintings still pop up (including one of my favourite works of his in a dentist office up at Royal City Centre). He was a generous man with his talent, often painting posters and postcards for free to be used for events like Fraser Fest or to be auctioned for good causes, and teaching a generation of artists though 14 years of teaching at Emily Carr and 8 more at the Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson. When he “retired” to Saturna 15+ years ago, he created a new legacy on the island. His work is well represented in a wall mural in the old community centre, and even as the artwork on the back of your library card at the Saturna Island Library.

Although is work is in collections around the world, it never made him rich; People tell stories of him sometimes paying rent in the form of paintings. However, he created a lot of beauty in this world, and made a lot of our lives richer for having done so. I’ll miss running into him out walking around our pond with Carole and Warbie (their rambunctious little pup named after Warburton Pike), and his welcoming hello whenever we dropped by his gallery.

I feel very lucky to have met him, and to have shared a planet with him, if just for a little while.

One comment on “Remembering Jack

  1. Patrick
    What a lovely, heartfelt tribute to a wonderful artist and, obviously, a generous gentleman. You should copy this piece and send it to a B.C. art magazine or to the arts section of the Sun/Province. Mom

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