'A legend in the Canadian art world': hundreds flock to celebration of artist Joe Fafard's life

When he saw hundreds of people come to a Celebration of Life for his father, Joël Fafard knew he was not alone in grieving or knowing just how remarkable a man had been lost.

Joe Fafard drew people in with 'his warmth and his humour, his humility,' says son

Joël Fafard stands with a sculpture of his father, a 2017 work dubbed Selfie. A celebration for the renowned artist was held at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina on Sunday. (CBC News)

When Joël Fafard saw hundreds of people come to a celebration of life for his father, he knew he was not alone in knowing just how remarkable his life had been. 

"It's sort of a theme in his life. He loved to help people start their dreams," Fafard said of his father, legendary Canadian artist Joe Fafard.

"I knew that about him, but it turns out it's more than I ever imagined and I love hearing those stories."

As many as 500 people came to a celebration of life held at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, with several sharing funny and touching stories about a man that was not only an artist, but also a beloved family man and friend, a lover of poetry, philosophy and music.

Joe Fafard died at his home in Lumsden, Sask., in March, but not before igniting many people's artistic passions and imaginations, according to his son.  

"People came to Joe. He drew them in with his warmth and his humour, his humility. Since I was a child, people would knock on our door to come meet him," he recalled of a childhood growing up in Pense, Sask.

A picture of Joe Fafard and a guest book greeted visitors to his Celebration of Life on Sunday. (Heidi Atter/CBC News)

In turn, his father would encourage their creative dreams, and his son's own creative dreams.

"If I'd have come home one day and said I'd like to be a doctor, I don't know if he would have been supportive. Maybe he would have been," Joel said with a smile.

"But it was great to tell him I wanted to be a musician. He was all over that."

Anthony Kiendl, executive director of the MacKenzie Art Gallery,  noted that Fafard was a long-time supporter of the gallery, but also a leader in his community.

"Joe's a legend in the Canadian art world. I think he's one of the most important artists of the 20th century in Canada."

Hundreds gathered for an afternoon celebrating Joe Fafard's life with music, poetry and of course, art at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina. (Heidi Atter/CBC News)

Long-lasting impact

Kiendl noted that a retrospective exhibit of Fafard's work in 2006 and 2007 remains the highest-attended exhibit in the gallery's history, which drew about 45,000 visitors.

As Canadian musician Connie Kaldor took the stage to sing for a departed friend, she gestured to Fafard's statue at the centre of the stage.

The 2017 work — dubbed Selfie, with Fafard's characteristic humour — was lit up with "Saskatchewan sunshine," as Kaldor described it.

For a few moments, Fafard's sculpted face shone like a flame, almost as if lit from within.

The brightness of Fafard's work, too, lives on, according to Kiendl.

"His sense of humour, his vision, his philosophy that art was for everyone and not for the elite — he had that philosophy you can see in his work.

"I think all of those things together make him a remarkable human being, and a remarkable artist."


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