Ted Harrison

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Ted Harrison

1926 - 2015

A miner's son from Wingate in northeast England, Ted Harrison trained at the West Hartlepool College of Art, and became an art teacher in England, with stints in New Zealand and Malaysia. In 1957, he immigrated to Canada, and began to teach in a small community in Alberta. He traveled north to the Yukon in 1968 to take a teaching post in the town of Carcross, where his students included the children from the Tagish First Nation. This decision proved to be a pivotal point in his life. Harrison was struck by the beauty of the landscape there, and intrigued by the life of the town, which once had been a stopover for the prospectors coming over the Chilkoot Pass going to the Yukon goldfields. The wilderness around the town abounded with wildlife, and caribou passed through the area on their annual migrations. The people of Carcross were hardy, savvy survivalists and sometimes quite eccentric.

Once Harrison began painting in Carcross, he quickly evolved in response to his subject - he could sense the energy force of the land itself, and developed a heightened awareness of colour. He discarded his academic training and began to paint with flat, brilliant colour, using flowing lines, simplified forms with strong outlines in colour or black, depicting both landscape and town scenes. He became a renowned chronicler of everyday life in the Yukon - his scenes of Carcross include such piquant details as historic buildings, the ubiquitous clever ravens, children playing in the snow with their pets or being pulled on sleds, canoes, and over all, skies filled with layers of brilliant colour. Harrison's enthusiasm for his new home was not dampened by winter - he appreciated the sparkling ice crystals, the skies full of brilliant stars, and the drama of the northern lights. Thrilled by his first sight of them one night, he stated, "Streams of yellow, rose, and green danced about as if they were searchlights from heaven. If angels had started flying down I wouldn't have been surprised." Although some of his paintings are of pure landscape, they most often depicted the activities of people in their vast setting, such as fishing, hunting, hiking or traversing the snowy expanses by dogsled. In all these images, Harrison's passion for the Yukon and his delight in the life and landscape he found there is clearly evident.

Harrison was also involved in publications - he wrote children's books and illustrated two books by Robert Service - The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew, both tales of the Yukon.

Harrison designed the visuals for the Yukon Pavilion at Expo 86. For his contributions to Canadian culture, Harrison was awarded the Order of Canada in 1987 and the Order of British Columbia in 2008. He was also awarded an honourary doctorate from the University of Athabasca and from Malaspina College, as well as a distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Alberta.

In 1993 he moved to Victoria, and in 1996 the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria held a retrospective of his work. In 1998 he received an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Victoria, and his large mural Vast Yukon is in its collection. Harrison died in Victoria in 2015.