March 3, 1927|
near Whitford, Alberta in Canada
|Died||November 3, 1977
|Alma mater||University of Manitoba|
|Notable work||The Maze, Passion of Christ series|
|Religion||Roman Catholic |
William Kurelek, CM (March 3, 1927 — November 3, 1977) was a Canadian artist and writer. His work was influenced by his childhood on the prairies, his Ukrainian-Canadian roots, his struggles with mental illness, and his conversion to Roman Catholicism.
His father, Dymtro Kurelek, was born in Boriwtsi, Bukovina. Mary Huculak, his mother, was born in Canada, and received her elementary education in a local rural school. Her family had come with the first wave of Ukrainian immigration to Canada and was also from Boriwtsi. Dymtro and Mary were cousins. Dmytro arrived to work on the Huculak farm early in 1923. The couple married in the summer of 1925, his mother not quite nineteen at the time. 
William Kurelek was born near Whitford, Alberta in 1927, the oldest of seven children in a Ukrainian immigrant family: Bill, John, Winn, Nancy, Sandy, Paul, Iris. His family lost their grain farm during the Great Depression and moved to a six hundred acre former dairy farm near Stonewall, Manitoba, around 1933. A cousin let the family off from his wagon at the gate of their new farm in pitch darkness.   The back of their farm bordered on the bog, today Oak Hammock Marsh. Some of his paintings in the books A prairie boy's summer, and A prairie boy's winter, depict Kurelek and other children in the setting of the bogland. Treelines along the horizon recorded by him in these paintings are still recognizable in the area.
“Victoria School could be seen from our milkhouse a mile away.”   It was the one-room schoolhouse that Kurelek and his brother, John, attended. When about to enter high school, their father announced that they would do so in Winnipeg, where he purchased a house on Burrows Ave., seeing this as the economically wiser course than throwing money away on rent. Weekends, food was brought in by their parents from the farm to help offset the cost of living in the city. Eventually, their sister Winnie joined her brothers.  They attended Isaac Newton High School a few blocks away.  Kurelek was at the top of his class in German, and did well in all the other subjects. Just around the corner from the house was St. Mary The Protectoress Ukrainian Orthodox church where he attended Ukrainian school, and found a very positive father figure in Rev. P. Majewsky.  
Kurelek graduated from high school in 1946, and enrolled in the fall of that year in the Arts General Course at the University of Manitoba, graduating with his degree in May 1949.  By this time the family farm had been sold and his father had moved the family to Vinemount, Ontario near Hamilton.  Kurelek had developed an early interest in art, which was not encouraged by his hard-working parents. Despite this, he enrolled at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. His explanation to his father was that there was money to be made in commercial art. In fact, he had no intention of going into commercial art. During this time, he worked at odd jobs to support himself, such as at a carwash on University Ave. At the OCA, he found himself to be the only student with a university degree. Here, he studied the great contemporary Mexican artists: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco. His innate appeal and love of murals may have originated in his boyhood, when in his absence his father ventured one day upstairs and into his son’s room to discover, much to his horror, the walls covered in unseemly illustrations.  Kurelek’s friends at the OCA told him about a School of Fine Arts in San Miguel, Mexico, which might grant him a scholarship if he produced something worthwhile.  Fired by the thought of studying with one of the great Mexican mural painters, he painted his first self-portrait.  Though he studied at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto and at the Instituto Allende in Mexico, he was primarily self-taught from books.
By his mid-twenties he had moved to England. In 1952, suffering from clinical depression and emotional problems, he admitted himself into the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital in London. There he was treated for schizophrenia. In hospital he painted, producing The Maze, a dark depiction of his tortured youth. His experience in the hospital was documented in the LIFE Science Library book The Mind, published in 1965.
He was transferred from the Maudsley Hospital to the Netherne Hospital, where he stayed from November 1953 to January 1955, to work with Edward Adamson (1911–1996), a pioneer of art therapy. At Netherne he produced three masterpieces - Where Am I? Who Am I? Why Am I? (donated to the American Visionary Arts Museum by Adamson at its inauguration in 1995), I Spit On Life, and A Ball of Twine and Other Nonsense. In 1984, when the Adamson Collection was exhibited as Selections from the Edward Adamson Collection, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Adamson donated to the Ontario Psychiatric Association a large pencil drawing by Kurelek of one of the interiors of Netherne Hospital, showing a group of patients at leisure.
Originally Ukrainian Orthodox, and briefly a professed atheist, Kurelek converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1957. He painted a series of 160 works on the Passion of Christ, and a series of 20 depicting the Nativity as if Christ had been born in various Canadian settings: an igloo, a trapper's cabin, a boxcar, a motel. He maintained a cottage near Combermere, Ontario, where he got his inspiration for a book of paintings entitled The Polish Canadians, and was a friend of the nearby Madonna House Apostolate.
In 1959 he moved to Toronto, where he wrote and illustrated a series of children's books, several of which have become modern classics. In 1974 he illustrated a new edition of W. O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind. He won the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award for A Prairie Boy's Winter in 1974 and A Prairie Boy's Summer in 1976. He was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 1976, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. He visited Ukraine in 1970 and again in 1977, posthumously publishing To My Father's Village. He died of cancer in Toronto in 1977. His archives, and a substantial body of his work, including the Passion series mentioned above, are held at Niagara Falls Art Gallery and Archives Canada.
- O Toronto (1973) Toronto : New Press.
- Someone With Me: An Autobiography (1973) Ithaca, New York: Centre for Improvement of Undergraduate Education, Cornell University.
- A Prairie Boy's Winter (1973) ISBN 0-88776-102-X
- Lumberjack (1974) ISBN 0-88776-378-2
- A Prairie Boy's Summer (1975) ISBN 0-88776-116-X
- The Passion of Christ (1975) Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls Art Gallery & Museum.
- Kurelek's Canada (1975) Toronto: Pagurian Press Limited.
- The Last of the Arctic (1976) Toronto: Pagurian Press Limited.
- A Northern Nativity (1976) ISBN 978-0-88776-099-0
- Fields (1976) Montreal: Tundra Books.
- Someone With Me: An Autobiography (1980) (revised condensed reprint) Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
- The Ukrainian Pioneer (1980) Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls Art Gallery. Based on the 1971 mural of the same title.
- The Polish Canadians (1981) Montreal: Tundra Books.
- Someone With Me (reprint) (1988) Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls Art Gallery.
- To My Father's Village (1988) Montreal: Tundra Books. ISBN 978-0-88776-220-8
- They Sought A New World (1985) Montreal: Tundra Books. Text by Margaret Engelhart, with snippets of the artist's commentary and paintings illustrating Engelhart's text.
- With historian Abraham Arnold. Jewish Life In Canada (1976). Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers.
- Kurelek Country (1999) Toronto: Key Porter Books. Preface by his dealer, Av Isaacs; biographical essay by historian Ramsay Cook.
- With Joan Murray (1983). Kurelek's Vision of Canada. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers. Exhibition catalogue.
Works illustrated by him
- Kupchenko-Frolick, G. (1989). The Chicken Man. Stratford, Ontario: Williams-Wallace Publishers.
- Ivan Franko. (1978). Fox Mykyta. Montreal: Tundra Books. (72 illustrations.)
- Mitchell, W.O. (1976). Who Has Seen The Wind. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
- De Marco, D. (1974). Abortion In Perspective. Cincinnati: Hiltz & Hayes Publishing. (Section head illustrations.)
Film and video
- Artist's Studio, a film by Halya Kuchmij.
- William Kurelek's The Maze (1969 & 2011). Directed by Robert M. Young and David Grubin, produced and reimagined by Nick Young and Zack Young. 65 minutes. MachinEyes.
- Kurelek (1967). Directed by William Pettigrew. 10 minutes, 7 seconds, color. National Film Board of Canada.
- Pacem in Terris (circa 1970). Directed by John Giffin, written by Murray Abraham. 14 minutes, 23 seconds, color. Film Arts.
- The Ukrainian Pioneers (1975). Directed by John Giffin, written by Juliette Mannock. 13 minutes, 51 seconds, color. Film Arts.
- Kurelek: The Messenger. Touring Winnipeg, Victoria, and Hamilton 2011-2012.
- Kurelek from the Community: An autobiography through his art and writings, Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, 2012
- Vanishing Point: A Rural Perspective. Alberta Government House, 2010-2012.
- "William Kurelek Biography". William Kurelek: The Messenger. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
- Morley, Patricia. Kurelek, A Biography, Macmillan of Canada, 1986, page 13.
- Ewanchuk, Michael. William Kurelek: The Suffering Genius, Michael Ewanchuk Publishing , 1996, page 9.
- "Arriving on the Manitoba Farm, 1963".
- Kurelek, William. Someone With Me, An Autobiography, McClelland and Stewart, 1980, page 45.
- Kurelek, William. Someone With Me, An Autobiography, McClelland and Stewart, 1980, page 48.
- "Victoria School".
- "Studying in Winnipeg".
- "Isaac Newton School".
- "St. Mary The Protectress Sobor".
- "Audio: "I felt completely countryish" 2:00 minutes".
- Ewanchuk, Michael. William Kurelek: The Suffering Genius, Michael Ewanchuk Publishing , 1996, page 38.
- Morley, Patricia. Kurelek, A Biography, Macmillan of Canada, 1986, page 62.
- "Farm Boy's Dreams".
- Kurelek, William. Someone With Me, An Autobiography, McClelland and Stewart, 1980, page 115.
- "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man".
- "Schizophrenia, Aging and Art". Courses.cit.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
-  Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- "The Canadian Encyclopedia". Canadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
-  Archived February 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Members since 1880". Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
- "William Kurelek | Art Gallery of Greater Victoria". Aggv.ca. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
- "Art of William Kurelek and dance extravaganza kick off season at Ukrainian Village". Alberta.ca. 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
- "Spend an afternoon exploring local history and art". Canada.com. 2010-08-20. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
- Ewanchuk, Michael. William Kurelek: The Suffering Genius. Steinbach, Manitoba: Perksen Printers and Michael Ewanchuk Publishing, 1996.
- P. Morley. Kurelek. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1986.
- Friesen, I. Earth Hell & Heaven In the Art of William Kurelek. Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press, 1997.
- Orford, Emily-Jane Hills. "The Creative Spirit: Stories of 20th Century Artists". Ottawa: Baico Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-897449-18-9.
- Pomedli, M. William Kurelek's Huronia Mission Paintings. Lampeter, Dyfed, Wales: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.
- Cutler, May. Breaking Free: The Story of William Kurelek. Tundra Books, 2002.
- Dedora, Brian. With WK in the Workshop: A Memoir of William Kurelek. Aya Press / The Mercury Press, 1989.
- Official website with interactive gallery
- Kurelek (English Version), 1967 film at National Film Board of Canada (nfb.ca)
- Heroes of Lore and Yore: Canadian Heroes in Fact and Fiction, National Library of Canada, digitization of a NLC exhibition (website archived 1998; website archived 2001)
- William Kurelek at Library of Congress Authorities, with 27 catalogue records (under 'Kurelek, William, 1927–' without '1977', previous page of browse report)