Jack Shadbolt’s Oak Bay

Jack Leonard Shadbolt (1909-1990)

After studying his craft at the Vancouver School of Art and in London, Paris, and New York, he became an accomplished teacher and writer. During the Second World War, he served overseas as a war artist; service which drastically changed his style of painting. At war’s end, Shadbolt returned to teach at the Vancouver School of Art. In 1988, Shadbolt and his wife, Doris Meisel, created the Vancouver Institute for the Visual Arts, an endeavour which brought painters, curators and architects together to express the beauty of their region.*

* Canada Post Corporation. Canada’s Stamp Details, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2001, p. 16-17. http://data4.collectionscanada.gc.ca.

The Space Between Columns #21 (Italian) by Jack Shadbolt, 1965. Oil and lucite (or acrylic?) on canvas, 122 cm x 155 cm. Vancouver Art Gallery

“The Space Between Columns #21 (Italian)” is one of the most important paintings in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.*

* Canada’s Stamp Details, op. cit.

Born February 4, 1909, Shoeburyness, Essex.

Arrived Victoria 1914.*

* Jack Shadbolt by Scott Watson. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1990, p. 3.

Setting the Compass [written circa 1986]

British Columbia, for me, is a complex of so many factors that are necessary to my way of life that l could never totally unravel the skein of my attachments. However many lengths of reasoned argument I pulled out, there would always be, eventually, at the core of the ball, my youth in Victoria, of which I have such idyllic memories.

My parents brought me here when I was three. My mother was the leading spirit in this courageous move from England, fired by her determination to escape the binds of a large, dominating family and a lower-working-class life. She and my father came over third class on a cattle boat and perhaps even had some dream of promise in a new land. My mother had pride—we were poor, but she imbued us with the spirit to “make good,” to not complain, to initiate our own activities, to be optimistic, and to “be as good as the next man”—and no matter how hard the going, my sister and I (my three brothers came later) were to grow up to be a lady and a gentleman—the bourgeois dream.

Mother was a skilled dressmaker; my father, a paperhanger, sign painter, and house painter. He was a modest, quiet-humoured, and much-liked man who did amateur watercolour copies of romantic calendar pictures sent out by relatives in England. My mother and sister made our clothes and we all made our own amusements, dolls, and birthday and Christmas gifts. That’s probably where my career in art began to be shaped.

Yet it was the very earliest memories of our Suburban Oak Bay locale itself that formed my lodestar image and set my compass toward the romantic elements that have become a persistent ingredient of my painting. We lived out near the end of Oak Bay in a little stucco cottage on Hazel Street and Island Road. Fields of tawny grass extended endlessly from our door to the right. In front of us, facing south, they climbed to the edge of the dark fir woods that rose to an enchanted rocky world above and beyond. Here were oak groves, masses of golden broom, and open areas of foot-deep moss studded with wildflowers. Like Hansel and Gretel, my sister and I wound our way up the wooded road to this higher playground, where we spent our days romping, bird watching, and gazing out over the blue waters to the Olympic Mountains beyond; and we returned home with armfuls of arum, chocolate and tiger lilies, bluebells, camass, peacocks, wild orchids, Indian paintbrush, buttercups, and white dog daisies. …*

* Setting the Compass by Jack Shadbolt in British Columbia: Visions of the Promised Land. Vancouver: Flight Press, 1986, p. 39.

My favourite and most recurrent dream fantasy is that l live by the edge of the sea with a large window facing down over the grassy rim of the white, sandy, driftwood-strewn shore. A dream of wonder, influenced no doubt by my earliest happy memories of picnics on the beach at Metchosin or happy summers in the Gulf Islands—and in particular by childhood memories of sailing out in rafts with the Billingsby boys on Dallas Road beach …. This is no ordinary shore. lt is the shore where the edge of history washes up to my door but extends for a thousand miles in each direction. It is a mysterious, luminous sea.*

* Quoted from a loose page, undated, in the Shadbolt Archives by Watson, p. 3.

1915 directory Shadbolt Edmund decorator h 2458 Hazel St.

1917 directory Edmund Shadbolt painter Mellor Bros h 549 Vancouver St.

1920 directory Edmund Shadbolt painter 549 Vancouver St.

1925 directory Edmund Shadbolt painter 1415 Stanley. Ditto 1930.

Jack Shadbolt and Edythe Hembroff, circa 1932. BC Archives Call No. F-09345. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

One thought on “Jack Shadbolt’s Oak Bay”

  1. Enjoyed the read. Like the stamp. New to my eye. I never could square Shadbolt’s “use” of NwC images in his painting.

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