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 Leonard Brooks  (1911 - 2011)

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Lived/Active: Ontario / Mexico/Canada      Known for: coastal view, landscape, flowers and military genre painting

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Leonard (Frank Leonard) Brooks
An example of work by Frank Leonard Brooks
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is courtesy of Jeff Kimmel, friend of the artist.  The first section was written October 2003 by John Virtue, biographer of the artist and Deputy Director, International Media Center, Florida International University.

Leonard Brooks, an official Canadian war artist during World War II, is the dean of artists in the international art colony of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he has lived for more than half a century.

Once he and his photographer-wife, Reva, settled in San Miguel in 1947, other Canadian artists such as York Wilson, Fred Taylor, Michael Forster and Fred Powell followed him there. He was not only the leading foreign artist, he was also for 25 years the director of the music department at the Mexican government's cultural center.

Born in Enfield, England, Nov. 7, 1911, Brooks attended school in Toronto and North Bay, Ontario, before dropping out at age 15 to study art. He washed dishes in the cafeteria of an Eaton's department store in Toronto while taking night classes in art at Central Technical High School.

During the 1930s Depression, Brooks worked his way on a cattle boat to England, where he scrounged a livelihood in London's Chelsea art district. Once penniless in Spain, he appealed for help to famed British watercolorist Frank Brangwyn. Impressed by Brooks' paintings, Brangwyn sent him the funds needed to get back to Canada.

Brooks' European experience helped convince the Toronto Board of Education that he had the equivalent of a high school education, allowing him to obtain his teacher's certificate. He had taught art for six years at Northern Vocational High School in Toronto when he enlisted in the Navy.

After designing the sets for the Navy Show, a musical by enlisted men and women which toured Canada and Europe, Brooks was appointed an official war artist in 1944 and sent to England. He often painted the mundane aspects of navy life, such as "Potato Peelers," a watercolor of two sailors peeling potatoes aboard a Corvette doing escort duty in the Atlantic.

When he returned to Northern Vocational in 1946, he found it difficult to be a part-time painter again, so he applied for and received a one-year grant from the Veterans Affairs department to study art in San Miguel de Allende. A disciple of Canada's Group of Seven, all of whose members he knew, Brooks soon made friends with of one of Mexico's leading artists, the Communist muralist David Alfredo Siqueiros.

Siqueiros' presence in San Miguel eventually led to the closure of the art school where he and Brooks taught and the deportation at gunpoint from Mexico of Brooks, his wife and six other foreign teachers in 1950. The owner of the art school who triggered the deportation claimed the teachers, like Siqueiros, were Communists. "The Globe" and "Mail's" headline on its story of the deportation said: "Claim Deported Artists Showed Red Leanings."

Under the Mexican constitution, those deported can never again set foot in Mexico. But Brooks was able to use his influence with a former Mexican cabinet minister to whom he had given art lessons and the deportation order was lifted. Had this not happened, San Miguel would not have become the art colony it did because it would have had no foreign teachers attracting students from abroad.

"Leonard was responsible for bringing people to San Miguel," said internationally known American-born cellist Gilberto Munguia, who holds an annual music festival in San Miguel. "Other painters came. Then he got involved in music. When he arrived in San Miguel, it was a sleepy little town where magic was about to happen. Leonard brought the magic."

During his 25 years as director of the music department, Brooks turned the sons and daughters of some of San Miguel's poorest workers into top Mexican musicians. He also organized his own chamber music quartet which enlisted the participation of top visiting musicians such as American jazz great Bobby Haggart.

Brooks' last one-man exhibition of his works in Canada was at the Edward Day Gallery in Toronto in 1998. He also held six one-man Toronto shows at the Roberts Gallery and seven at Eaton's art gallery. He was invited by the Mexican government to hold two-one man exhibitions at Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts, a rare honor for a foreign artist.

Brooks' wife, Reva, was selected by the San Francisco Museum of Art in California as one of the top 50 women photographers of all time.

Addendum by Jeff Kimmel:
On November 20, 2011 Leonard Brooks died at age 99.  Leonard was painting and writing almost up to the end.  He just got tired and when it started to interfere with his art; he went with it.
Aside from having more than 50 one-man expeditions of this art work (Canada, USA, Mexico, & Europe). Leonard was a prolific writer.  Something like eight
'how to' art books and several, what I would liken as children's books about his cat, Sir Nobby.  All were very popular and well known, particularly the art books.  His last book entitled, In and Out of Mexico, was published just this month with all proceeds going to his favorite children's charity in San Miguel.  Leonard was also was a wonderful poet; his last book of poems was also released this month Reflections of a Passionate Life is spectacular.

He passed away at his home in San Miguel de Allende. 

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is descriptive information from on the book, Leonard and Reva Brooks, Artists in Exile in San Miguel de Allende by John Virtue.

In 1947 Leonard and Reva Brooks left for Mexico where Leonard planned to study painting for a year. In Mexico they discovered a vibrant, sometimes even dangerous, society and a dynamic artistic community, unlike the mundane world they had left behind in Canada with its stale and unwelcoming artistic scene. Invigorated by their new environment Leonard and Reva ended up staying for over half a century, playing a key role in establishing San Miguel de Allende as a world-famous art colony. In this new biography, John Virtue chronicles the lives of these two important artists and offers an intimate look at these complex and creative people. Virtue describes how they were caught up in the McCarthy era of Communist witch hunts and blacklisted in the United States. He details their close friendships with luminary figures such as Marshall McLuhan, Earle Birney, and the Mexican art icon David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as a host of others. As Leonard became a fixture in the Mexican art scene Reva's photography quickly garnered international recognition, applauded by photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. In 1975 the San Francisco Museum of Art selected her as one of the top fifty female photographers of all time. With tales of deportations, shootouts, murder attempts, failures, and triumphs, Leonard and Reva Brooks is a biography of two creative people caught up in interesting times.

"John Virtue reveals the fascinating story of how the deportation at gunpoint of American and Canadian art teachers from San Miguel de Allende at the start of the McCarthy witch hunts almost kept the Mexican town from becoming the international art center it is today." Andres Oppenheimer, author of Bordering on Chaos: Mexico's Roller-Coaster Journey Toward Prosperity "Virtue's extensive research into the lives of Leonard and Reva Brooks opens our eyes to the circle of Canadian artists who made their home in San Miguel, Mexico.

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