British Columbia

Painter Ted Harrison celebrated in children's book

'In the Yukon we would say, ‘Look, it’s a Harrison sky!' says veteran children's book author Margriet Ruurs.

A Brush Full of Colour is nominated for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Awards, held Nov. 18

"Whales of Monterrey" by Ted Harrison.

Ted Harrison grew up in a drab mining town in northeast England, but years later became beloved in Canada and around the world for his iconic, brightly coloured paintings of the Yukon.

When veteran children's book writer Margriet Ruurs saw one of the late artist's paintings in the many schools she visited during author's tours, she decided that she would write a book about the late painter.

Sharing Harrison's legacy with kids

"I really wanted kids to know about Ted Harrison," Ruurs told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

The back cover of A Brush Full of Colour. (Margriet Ruurs)

"I would purposely say to the kids, 'Do you know which artist painted this beautiful, bright, happy picture?' And the kids would look at the art and they were very familiar with it, but sometimes they couldn't quite remember his name."

"And I thought, 'Why isn't there a book that tells these kids about this interesting man?"

There's enough terrible things in the world...people want happy things on their walls.- Ted Harrison, a painter known for his use of vibrant colour.

So Ruurs teamed up with fellow B.C. author Katherine Gibson to write A Brush Full of Colour, which traces the life of Harrison, and is filled with examples of his vivid art.

Before spending many years in the Yukon, Harrison lived in northern Alberta — where he first emigrated to after seeing an advertisement looking for people to teach there.

Ted Harrison in 1981, during the prime of his painting career. (Toronto Star via Getty Images)

"I also focus on the fact that Ted was a teacher...a very fun teacher, and the fact that he was an immigrant, that he chose to live in another country, and that really resonates with children in other countries," said Ruurs, who recently returned to her home on Salt Spring Island after touring international school in Europe to talk about Harrison.

"Ted travelled, he lived in Egypt, and he lived in New Zealand, and so they really recognize that part of his life too."

A personal connection

Ruurs said she knew Harrison from the time that she also lived in the Yukon. 

"In the Yukon we would say, 'Look, it's a Harrison sky!'" she said.

"[Harrison] told me once, 'There's enough terrible things in the world...people want happy things on their walls', and they do."

Before Harrison died in his sleep on Jan. 16, 2015, at 88 years old, Ruurs was able to show him the book.

A Brush Full of Colour has already made the short lists for a number of literary awards, and is nominated for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards — the winner of which will be announced on Nov. 18.

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Author Margriet Ruurs discusses her book about iconic painter Ted Harrison

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