A Tribute to Artist Joe Fafard
Creative on the Prairies
Top featured photo courtesy Gary Robins, Available Light Photographics and Design. Saskatchewan sculptor Joe Fafard gains a new perspective on his own artwork from young aspiring artist Atreyu Zevallos at the Slate Fine Art Gallery, Culture Days 2015.
Acclaimed artist and sculptor Joe Fafard was born to a French Canadian family in a Saskatchewan agricultural hamlet. He went on to earn his BFA from the University of Manitoba and his MFA from Pennsylvania State University. From the 2000s onwards, Joe lived on an acreage near Lumsden, Saskatchewan with his second wife Alyce Hamon and their children Solenne and Julien, as well as various animals. Joe passed away on March 16, 2019. He is also survived by his first wife Susan Weibe, and their children Joël, Misha and Gina. Joe’s oldest son Joël is an accomplished musician (blues, roots and instrumental) and spoke to Refined about his father. Joël describes a Prairie small town as where his father “was most comfortable. He was a humble man and living in Saskatchewan was ingrained in him.”
In 1973, the CBC broadcast the television show WEST. The first episode was called “I Don’t Have to Work That Big” and focused on Joe and his work sculpting his human neighbours and cows. “There were basically two television channels back then. So, the WEST episode was a big deal and after it aired, people began pilgrimages to learn from Joe. As his child, that’s when I realized he was beginning to become famous,” says Joël.
According to the National Film Board, “What makes it so unique is that it focuses not only on Fafard and his unusual sculptures but on the small town of Pense, Saskatchewan, where he makes his home. It is a beautiful study of a typical Canadian small town complete with all its unique characters, some of which are the inspirations for Fafard’s work.” The WEST episode is still available on YouTube and is fascinating to watch.
Torontonians are familiar with “The Pasture” – seven life-sized metal cows relaxing in the grass in the TD Centre courtyard right in the middle of the downtown financial district and the delicious humor of the setting. According to the National Gallery of Canada, “Throughout his career, Joe Fafard has represented everyday aspects of Prairie life, experimenting with materials and techniques to explore sculptural concerns such as form, perspective and presence. He is renowned for his sculptures of cows, bulls and horses, which are often imbued with a sense of personality.” Outside the National Gallery is Ottawa Joe’s herd of 11 powder-coated aluminum “Running Horses” seem to gallop along Sussex Drive, also oblivious to their setting.
Slate Fine Art Gallery in Regina is co-owned by Joël’s sister Gina Fafard and also features Joe’s work. Lifetime and posthumous works will be made available for sale on both the website and the Regina gallery. Joe was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981 and received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2002 for his outstanding achievements.
Besides his music, Joël runs the online site JVGallery.ca — specializing in Joe’s artwork — and is the father of three sons. “In 1996, which was early on, my father heard that Paris and New York galleries were starting to use this thing called the Internet and asked me to do a little research into a platform that was quite unknown to both of us. I happened to have a friend who was pretty familiar with this new platform and was able to teach me how to create a website for my father. The reaction to the website we built (joefafard.com) was immediate and we soon became interested in selling his work that way. JVGallery ended up being one of the very first Canadian art gallery online sites and it’s still going strong 23 years later.”
“As an artist, Joe guided me and taught me to ignore my inner critic; not to stop myself from creating music,” Joël adds. “His personality was giving, he didn’t withhold. People are reaching out to share with me how he inspired them to do what they are doing now — whether that’s art, a small business or any dream they had. My father provided others with confidence that they will thrive. That’s his legacy.”