Meet the Halifax Public Gardens artists who set up shop in 1968 — and are back today

Fifty years on, artists Judy Matthews and Roger Hupman return to the Halifax Public Gardens to sell their work once again.

Artists say they met resistance at first, but now art sales along the fence are a long-standing tradition

Judy Matthews and Roger Hupman hold up the poster for their farewell tour. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

In some ways, nothing has changed in the 50 years since Judy Matthews and Roger Hupman first started selling their art along Spring Garden Road in front of the Halifax Public Gardens. In other ways, everything has.

On day one in 1968, Matthews remembers "a lot of hippies, a lot of crunchy granola" and "a lot of dope smoking."

Now, 50 years later, the artists are back selling their paintings, drawings and prints at the iconic wrought-iron fence near South Park Street on days when the sun shines. They're calling it a farewell tour of sorts and hope to be on location until mid-August.

Early days at the Gardens

In the beginning, the two art students from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design had to fight to get permission from city council to sell their wares along the "sacred fence" in front of the gardens, Hupman remembers.

He said they argued their case for about a half-hour before councillors gave in on one condition. "If the little old ladies of Halifax complain, you have to go," Hupman remembered them saying.

Roger Hupman, Julie Walker (centre) and Judy Matthews on their first day selling art in front of the Halifax Public Gardens in 1968. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

"We just set up and hoped for the best — and the best happened," Hupman said.

Art sales in that location between May and October became their main source of employment for about 12 years.

"It was profitable and it paid our bills and we had a lot of fun," Matthews said.

Artists selling their wares outside the Public Gardens has since become a long-standing tradition and today's artists follow in the footsteps of Matthews, Hupman and Julie Walker, a third artist who worked with them for about a year.

Where did the idea come from?

Matthews credits a watercolour teacher at the art college for giving them the idea to do it, mimicking the artists who set up along the Seine in Paris.

Their first day on site, the artists dressed up in colourful costumes, including a Beatles-inspired Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band outfit Hupman borrowed from the crew at Neptune Theatre.

The work day was "very festive a lot of the time," Matthews recalled.

Hupman and Matthews say they spent a half-hour convincing city councillors to grant them a pedlar’s licence back in 1968. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Matthews remembers entering a float in the 1979 Natal Day parade. The artists built a miniature model of the Halifax Public Gardens and put it on the back of a 1946 Chevy half-ton truck that Hupman said he bought from local actor John Dunsworth, the future Trailer Park Boys star.

They made a Styrofoam fence and a gazebo, painted a bunch of rhododendrons, put duck masks over their faces and "quacked the whole way through," Hupman remembered. The float won first prize, he added.

Last hurrah

As for their decision to celebrate the 50th anniversary, Matthews said it was a simple one.

"Anyone who makes a 50th of anything should celebrate," she said.

Both 71, they've managed to maintain careers in the arts. Matthews splits her time between Texas and Shelburne, N.S., while Hupman divides his time between Toronto and Shelburne.

Roger Hupman features Halifax buildings, as well as other iconic Nova Scotian landmarks, in his artwork. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Both artists plan to sell versions of their bestsellers for their last hurrah, including paintings of the Halifax Town Clock, the Peggys Cove lighthouse, the Bluenose and the gazebo in the Public Gardens.

Hupman said he hopes the images trigger memories for people passing by.

"I expect that some of the customers will come by and say 'Oh, my mother or my grandmother has one of those,'" he said.

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About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning