________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 7 . . . . November 29, 2002


Breaking Free: The Story of William Kurelek.

May Ebbitt Cutler. Art by William Kurelek.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2002.
32 pp., cloth, $21.99.
ISBN 0-88776-617-X.

Subject Headings:
Kurelek, William, 1927-1977.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Lorraine Douglas.

**** /4


The village in the Ukraine where his father grew up was a place of misery. Armies fought back and forth over it in World War l, destroying the farms and killing the people. Those who survived faced starvation. His father was forced to leave school in grade three, when the building was taken over by Russian soldiers. He was nineteen when he left the Ukraine and came to Canada to work on a farm in Alberta, owned by another Ukrainian.

His father worked so hard that, when a romance developed between him and the daughter of the house, her father gave them a three-day wedding.

Then, as Bill would later write, “They loaded up their gifts in a wagon and drove off to their quarter of land. There, in a shacky little house, they spent their first night and were at work the next day on the land. I was born in that shack nearly two years later.”

So began William Kurelek’s unhappy childhood. The story of his life is how he broke free of it to become one of Canada’s great artists.

May Ebbitt Cutler has created a beautiful tribute to the life and art of William Kurelek (1927 - 1977). The author was his publisher at Tundra Books and his long-time friend. This is the first book for children about Kurelek, one of Canada’s outstanding visual artists.

     The story of his arduous childhood as the son of Ukrainian immigrants is told sparely and succinctly. His paintings from his award-winning books like A Prairie Boy’s Winter (Tundra, 1973) reveal the details of his childhood in Alberta and Manitoba. Later William struggled with depression. He entered a hospital in London, England, that treated patients by encouraging them to draw and paint their fears. Several black and white drawings from this period are reproduced in this section. After returning to Canada, he met Jean Andrews, and they married and settled in Toronto. Kurelek painted many “message” pictures in which religious experiences are depicted. His most ambitious project was the Passion of Christ. He also had a special empathy for depicting the lives of immigrants and Canada’s minorities. A number of these paintings are reproduced in the book. Kurelek achieved success internationally and by the publication of numerous thematic art books of his illustrative works for children and adults. A chronology of Kurelek’s life and a bibliography of his books are also included. Cutler also cites gallery collections and sources of further information on the artist.

     This handsome and elegant biography gives readers insight into the life of a man who struggled to “break free” and achieve his own personal vision of art and life. This powerful story will be of interest to anyone interested in Canadian art and is highly recommended for school and public library collections.

Highly Recommended.

Lorraine Douglas is the Youth Services Coordinator for the Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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