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 Frederick Joseph (Fred) Ross  (1927 - 2014)

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Lived/Active: New Brunswick / Canada      Known for: figure painting, murals, printmaking, drawing, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
DANCERS IN THE STUDIO ( A TRIPTYCH )
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Frederick J. Ross C.M., O.N.B., LL.D., R.C.A. (1927)

A prominent Canadian painter, muralist, printmaker, draftsman and educator, Frederick Joseph Ross (aka: Fred Ross) was born in Saint John, New Brunswick and has lived there all his life. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including one of Canada’s highest honors the Order of Canada* (CM) and his province’s highest honor the Order of New Brunswick (ONB). His works have been featured in group exhibitions with Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* and at the National Gallery of Canada, and they are in the permanent collections of several Canadian museums including the National Gallery of Canada.

His mediums include oil, acrylic, tempera*, watercolor, fresco*, pastel, ink, graphite, Conte Crayon*, chalk, charcoal, wax crayon, ink wash, and lithograph*. His subjects are portraits, figures, dancers, nudes, eroticism, landscapes, shorelines, genre*, still life, interiors, city scenes, social commentary and history. His styles include Realism* and Social Realism*. The AskART images are good illustrations of his work.

Ross’s art education includes studies at the Saint John Vocational School (c.1944 – 1946) under Violet Gillett (1898 – 1996) and Ted Campbell (1904); the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (c.1948); and two summers in Mexico (1949 and 1950), where he studied in Mexico City, Taxco and San Miguel d’Allende. This included one month, in 1949, under Pablo O’Higgins. In 1950 Ross met Diego Rivera who is among Ross’s important influences. He was also influenced by personal associations with St. John artists, and Canadian art icons, Miller Brittain and Jack Humphrey; as well as by the work of Renaissance artist Cosimo Tura (1430 – 1495) and 20th century French artist Balthasar Balthus. Ross’s depictions of adolescent girls in works such as Untitled (Young Girl at Rest), Young Girl Resting, Girl Resting and The Red Skirt are evocative of Balthus’s most controversial paintings. (1)(2)

Early in his artistic development, he visited Washington, D.C. and New York City (c.1947), and traveled in Europe on four annual trips in the early 1950s.

Ross taught at Rothesay Collegiate School [now Rothesay Netherwood School], (near) St. John (c.1951) and at the Saint John Vocational School (1953 – 1970).

He has exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (1957, 1958, 1961 and 1970) and with the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour* (1978).

His works were featured in the “Annual Exhibition”, National Gallery of Canada (1953 and 1959); “Biennial of  Canadian Painting”, National Gallery of Canada (1955, 1961 and 1963); “Winter Exhibition”, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario (1962 – 1972); “Stratford Festival”, Stratford, Ontario (1964); “Spring Exhibition”, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1965); “Prints and Drawings Exhibition”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1966); “Expo 67”, Atlantic Pavilion, Montreal (1967); “Survey Exhibition”, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1968); "Fifty Canadian Drawings", Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, N.B. (1977); “1st Canadian Biennale of Prints and Drawings”, Alberta College of Art and Design Gallery, Calgary, Alberta (1978); “Annual Exhibition”, Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario (1979 and 1982); “New Brunswick Collects”, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, N.B. (2005); “Intimate Isolation”, St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre, St. Thomas, Ontario (2006); and “A Personal Choice: The Roy L. Heenan Collection”, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, N.B.  (2007).

From the beginning of his professional career, Ross has been the subject of public venue solo exhibitions, the locations include Mount Allison University, Sackville, N.B. (1949 and 1970); New Brunswick Museum, Saint John (1950 and 1971); Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland (1956); Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, N.B. (1975); and the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton (1977).

A major retrospective titled “The Art of Fred Ross: A Timeless Humanism”, accompanied by a monograph of the same name, was mounted by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in 1993. It was exhibited at several east coast venues including the Canadian Embassy in Washington. D.C.

He has also been grouped with other prominent Canadian artists on the marquee in museum exhibitions such as “Five New Brunswick Artists: Miller Brittain, Alex Colville, Lawren P. Harris, Jack Humphrey, Fred Ross”, Art Gallery of Toronto [now Art Gallery of Ontario], Ontario (1955); “Four Canadians: Bruno Bobak, Molly Bobak, Edward J. Hughes, Fred Ross”, Art Gallery of Toronto, Ontario (1959); and “Six East Coast Painters: Brittain, Colville, Harris, Humphrey, Ross, Wainwright”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1961).

Ross’s works have been included in solo and group exhibitions at prominent commercial galleries such as Greenwich Gallery, Toronto; Galerie Dresdnere, Toronto; Dorothy Cameron Gallery, Toronto; Roberts Gallery, Toronto; Wallack Galleries, Ottawa; Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Montreal; Cassel Gallery, Fredericton; Zwicker's Gallery, Halifax; Gallery 78 Fine Art, Fredericton; and Ring Gallery, Saint John.

His works are in numerous private, corporate, and public collections. According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, examples of his paintings, drawings and prints are in the permanent collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario),  Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, New Brunswick), Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), Dalhousie Art Gallery (Halifax, Nova Scotia), Joliette Art Museum (Quebec), Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, N.B.), Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa, Ontario), Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).

The original locations of his murals include the Saint John Vocational School (1946, 1950 and 1954); Fredericton High School (1948); Hotel de la Borda, Taxco, Mexico (1949); St. John Tourist Offices (1957); Montgomery Hall, Prince of Wales College, Charlottetown, P.E.I. (1961); and the Centennial Building [provincial capital offices], Fredericton, N.B. (1967). (3)

Among Ross’s numerous awards and honors are the O’Keefe Art Award* (1950); two Canada Council* grants (1973 and 1976); an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick (1986); election to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (1990); Freeman of the City of St. John (1999); the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002); the Order of Canada* (CM) (2004); the Order of New Brunswick (2008); and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012). (4)

Footnotes:

(1) Please note: All artists mentioned in this biography and its footnotes, except those with life-dates after their name, have their own record in AskART.

(2) Who's Who in American Art 15th Edition notes that Ross studied under Ben Kamihira at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; if that is so then Ross would have had to attend the PAFA after 1953 when Kamihira began teaching there. Kamihira was, however, a student at the PAFA from 1948 to 1952 and may have known or tutored Ross. Additional source: Kamihira obituary, The Inquirer, February 29, 2004.

(3) Please note: These are the original mural locations and creation dates; for more information and their location as of 2002 please see John Leroux’s thesis The Murals of Fred Ross: A Quest for Relevance, it can be read online at the Concordia University website link – http://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/1713/1/MQ68501.pdf.

(4) The O’Keefe Art Award was created by the O’Keefe Brewing Co. Ltd. of Toronto in 1950 and available to artists between the ages of 18 and 30. There were four prize levels – $1,000.00, $750.00, $500.00 and $200.00. The first prize that year went to Kenneth Lochhead, second prize to Joseph Purcell, and third prize to Ghitta Caisserman. Ross was in a group of 15 who were each awarded $200.00. The group included John Bennett, Pierre de ligny Boudreau, Roy Kiyooka and Ronald Spickett. All 18 winners were featured in an exhibition that year at the Art Gallery of Toronto [now Art Gallery of Ontario]. Sources: Google News Archives, and The Shawinigan Standard, Shawinigan Falls, Quebec, July 5, 1950.
  
Sources:

Canadian Who's Who 2012 – 2013 (2012), edited by Anderson Charters and Susan Charters (see AskART book references)

Biographical Index of Artists in Canada (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references)

The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references)

Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century (1999), by Joan Murray (see AskART book references)

Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see AskART book references)

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 7, Rakos to Sadowski (1990), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references)

Who's Who in American Art 15th Edition (1982), by Jaques Cattell Press (see AskART book references)

Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Exhibitions and Members, 1880 – 1979 (1981), by Evelyn de R. McMann (see AskART book references)

High Realism in Canada (1974), by Paul Duval (see AskART book references)

Four Decades: The Canadian Group of Painters and their contemporaries – 1930 - 1970 (1972), by Paul Duval (see AskART book references)

The Murals of Fred Ross: A Quest for Relevance (2002), by John Leroux (see AskART book references)

Canadian Heritage Information Network*

National Gallery of Canada

Art Gallery of Ontario

Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal

Gallery 78 Fine Art, Fredericton

The Governor General of Canada (Order of Canada and Jubilee Medal source)

Government of New Brunswick (Order of New Brunswick source)

  
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com. Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx.
  
Written and submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke.
  
 


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is an obituary of the artist from The Globe and Mail, New Brunswick, Maine, September 7, 2014 by Allison Lawlor.

Nurtured by the dynamic artistic community of postwar Saint John, figurative artist Fred Ross thrived and went on to become one of New Brunswick’s most important artists.

Encouraged by local painters Ted Campbell, Miller Brittain and Jack Humphrey to experience the larger world of art and ideas, Mr. Ross boarded a bus in 1950 and headed to Mexico, where he met Mexican painter Diego Rivera. While the prominent artist was working on a mural at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, Mr. Ross boldly approached him and asked permission to draw him. To his surprise, Mr. Ross was invited onto the scaffold where he sketched Mr. Rivera at work for nearly an hour. When he finished, Mr. Rivera asked to look at the drawings. Return home to Saint John, he advised Mr. Ross, to “use the rich, historical background of Canada as subject matter for future projects.”

“It was a seminal incident in my dad’s life and an affirmation of my dad’s art,” his son, Chris Ross, said.

Mr. Ross took Mr. Rivera’s advice and returned to New Brunswick, making Saint John his lifelong home. On Aug. 19, he died at the age of 87 at Saint John’s Turnbull Nursing Home, following a number of recent strokes.

“He found Saint John a really fascinating, unique place. He liked the people,” Chris Ross said.

People, not only his wife and three children, but ordinary New Brunswickers, served both as his models and his inspiration. While his art was firmly rooted in place, it was informed by the art he admired, the Mexican muralists, the Italian Renaissance and painters such as Edgar Degas. “He would find in [ordinary people] this timelessness,” said Tom Smart, a curator and author who put together the 1993 Beaverbrook Art Gallery retrospective "The Art of Fred Ross – A Timeless Humanism". Although Mr. Ross had exhibited widely since the 1950s, the retrospective secured his reputation nationally. “He was looking for humanity and humanism. What does it mean to be human? He was probing that in his art,” Mr. Smart said.

Born in 1927 in Saint John, Frederick Joseph Ross and his twin sister, Theresa, were the youngest of five children. His father, Ernest, was a labourer at the Lantic Sugar refinery, eventually becoming union president. In 1944, Mr. Ross began his art studies with Mr. Campbell at the Saint John Vocational School. A decade later, he started teaching at the school and rose to become head of the art department, but resigned in 1970 to devote himself to painting.

With Mr. Campbell’s encouragement, in 1946, Mr. Ross painted a large mural at the school depicting its annual picnic. Fundamentally a study in figure painting, the mural was applauded and resulted in a glowing feature story in the Montreal Standard that described him as “Freddie Ross, untrained 18-year-old.”

Later that year, Mr. Ross was commissioned by the Fredericton High School to paint a memorial mural in remembrance of the 63 high school graduates who died in the Second World War. He was paid $700. The work, called The Destruction of War and Rebuilding the World Through Education, was a set of two murals, each about six metres high and three metres wide. Intended to show the destruction of war and its reconstruction through education, the mural was unveiled in 1948 and secured his reputation as a talented Canadian muralist.

During renovations in the 1950s, the mural was placed in storage. Later, when the school’s library floor was being repaired, the mural was unknowingly used face down as under-flooring. The mural eventually disappeared and was presumed to have been thrown out.

Years later, on his 65th birthday, Mr. Ross visited the New Brunswick Museum with Mr. Smart. They were working on the final parts of the retrospective exhibition due to open shortly at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. At the museum, the registrar asked Mr. Ross if he would help her identify some large-scale drawings done on brown Kraft paper that had been discovered in a corner of the museum’s storage vault. Unrolling one of them, the registrar asked whether they were artist Miller Brittain’s?

The soft-spoken, gentle Mr. Ross started to shake and was momentarily speechless. Finally, he let out that they were his detailed drawings of the high school war mural. He had left them at the museum 40 years earlier and forgotten about them. The drawings, which were later purchased by the National Gallery of Canada, would become essential tools in recreating the mural almost a decade later.

“Fred had a beautiful gift: He could draw like an angel. In my own life and career I have seen very few artists who were as gifted at drawing as was Fred Ross. I am astounded at how expressive his drawings are,” Mr. Smart said.

In 2010, New Brunswick artist William Forrestall approached Mr. Ross with the idea that he work as the Renaissance masters once did, with three studio apprentices, overseeing the work, to recreate the lost war mural based on his original drawings. Mr. Ross agreed.

“Like many great teachers, Fred was not easy to please,” said artist Amy Ash, who worked on the mural project. “To say he had a lot invested in the project – time, energy and heart – would be an understatement; he didn’t want to see it lost again through a representation he didn’t agree with.”

Mr. Ross was delighted when the recreated mural was unveiled on June 27, 2011, at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. “Seldom, if ever, does one get a second chance like this,” Mr. Ross said at the time. “I’m not aware of any other work in Canada, or anywhere else in the world, that has been resurrected in this way.”

“It was clearly an incredibly special moment for Fred,” said Ms. Ash, who remembers Mr. Ross holding her hand and congratulating her and her colleagues on their work. “I think, even after months of working on it every day, we were all shocked at the size of the thing looming above us.”

Aside from art, the other love of his life was Sheila Urquhart, a young dancer he met at a party shortly after she moved back to New Brunswick from England. Sponsored by the YMCA, Ms. Ross set up a ballet school and taught dance. The couple married in 1954.

“She was his muse, his model, his inspiration and his love. The beauty that radiates from his work is due in a great part to the sheer joy he found in his life with my mother,” Chris Ross said.

On the wall in his room at the nursing home where he lived at the end of his life hung a tender drawing of his wife, who died in 1998 after suffering from esophageal cancer. He called the drawing “one of the loveliest things I have.”

Recognized for his ability to capture young people on the cusp of adulthood, the artist often called on Chris Ross and his two sisters to model for him. “Modelling was our household ‘chore,’ just something we were expected to do as members of an artistic family,” the younger Mr. Ross said. “We didn’t have to cut the grass, but we always had to model.” Sheila Ross later ran the Ring Gallery on Saint John’s Prince William Street, where Mr. Ross sold his paintings. The gallery was above Tim Isaac Antiques Art and Auctions, where Mr. Ross would often find old vases or other objects to use as props. Mr. Ross kept his studio above the gallery, on the building’s top floor. He later moved to other studios within the city, and continued to work until about a year and a half before he died.

Wanting natural light, he always made sure his studios had large windows. They were fascinating, magical places where visitors would find shelves of art books, paintings, drawings and sketches tacked on the walls or scattered on tables or strewn across the floor. Props such as vases of flowers, ballet shoes, a Persian rug, or a top hat were in every corner, along with his old rocking horse and a rusting tuba.

He loved having visitors over to talk about art and the latest art opening. “He was very charming,” said Bernard Cormier, Saint John’s cultural affairs officer. “There was always a twinkle in his eye.”

For his work, some of which is part of the National Gallery of Canada’s collection, Mr. Ross was named to the Order of Canada and received an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick and the Order of New Brunswick.

Mr. Ross leaves his son; daughters, Lorna and Catherine; grandchildren, Julia, Jeremy, Olivia, Thea, Liam and Aiden; and his sister, Theresa.

Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.
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