Much has been written about celebrated, Canadian artist Robert Bateman from his early years in Toronto to his long and prolific career. As a youngster of 12, he developed an interest in bird watching. The ravines of Toronto supplied the natural area where he was able to observe the avian landscape and other wildlife as well.
During his high school years Robert worked in Algonquin Park at the Wildlife Research Centre and in his spare time, he painted en plein air just as the Group of Seven did.
When he completed his post secondary education at Victoria College at the University of Toronto with a degree in geography and a teaching degree at the Ontario College of Education, he took time after his first teaching position in Thornhill to travel around the world with a friend in 1957-58. As can be expected, he sketched what he saw and was no doubt inspired by his interest in both natural and human heritage.
In 2018, Robert and his friend, Bristol Foster, revisited that that 1957 trip.
As with any artist, Robert’s art evolved over time including impressionism, cubism and abstract expressionism to the unique realism that we know him for today. That realism, through his art, allows the viewer not only to see the subjects in their natural environment but also invites the viewer to explore that environment itself.
1958 saw Robert moving to Burlington to teach at Nelson High School. His love of the nature brought him to the Niagara Escarpment which gave him both the nearness to the cultural life offered by Toronto and also the unspoiled natural aspects the Escarpment provided.
To find that perfect location, he looked within 12 miles of the centrally located Nelson High School, visiting the area numerous times until he purchased 10 acres of wooded land in 1961 from Eric and Ethel Gudgeon in the Lowville area. Not only was this unspoiled, but it offered woods, a stream, a view and a plethora of wildlife for inspiration. Mount Nemo and Rattlesnake point were both just a short distance away. The land offered a blank canvass to build the home of his dreams.
Robert designed the house and a Dutch born carpenter built it with a north facing view that was helpful to an artist. It included beams and barn board to complete the exterior. Inspired by his travels, the house also included Japanese and African influences while maintaining a chalet feel. In later years, an upstairs was added.
Many of the local residents remember seeing Robert walking the area, no doubt with a camera in hand. The Twelve Mile Creek is very close and wanders through the area. The Bruce Trail also goes through Mount Nemo, Lowville and north to Kilbride. On one of the side trails just off of Britannia Road, the River and Ruins Side Trail, Robert was able to see the ruins of the James Cleaver House. Lowville was built at the intersection of land owned the area’s early settlers, Cleaver, Featherston and Pickett.
In 1973, both Robert Bateman and Ray Lowes, who was a founder of the Bruce Trail, served on the Niagara Escarpment Commission. Ray’s mandate of protecting the Escarpment balanced with affording people the opportunity to enjoy the area spoke to Robert. Robert remained on the Commission until he left the Lowville area for Salt Spring Island in 1985.
In 1976, Robert gave up his teaching career and focused full time on his artistic endeavors. He was then able to travel abroad more often and expand the inspiration for his many and varied works.
When the decision was made in 1985 to move to Salt Spring Island, Robert hoped that another artist would purchase the property. Serendipitously, Brigitte Schreyer and her husband Klaus were looking for a country property when they spotted the For Sale sign they inquired about the house. Brigitte was and remains a watercolour and oil paint artist and the house spoke to her and her husband. She painted, exhibited and held classes in the house. They lived there for almost 30 years before downsizing.
In 2012, the Bateman Centre was founded and located on the waterfront of Victoria B.C. Its purpose is to promote the preservation and sustainability of the environment. The art gallery includes works of other nature-inspired artists. For more information about the education programs, workshops and the Bateman Sketch Across Canada program visit www.batemanfoundation.org.
Over the years, Robert has received numerous honours and awards, including Officer of the Order of Canada and fourteen honorary doctorates. He has been the subject of several films and books. He has had numerous shows from his first one to many throughout North America and a one-man show that toured Russia. He has been a member of many naturalist and conservation organizations that span the world and continues to advocate for a healthy, rejuvenated and creative engagement with the natural world.
Contributing Author: Helen Callaway
Our sincere thanks to Robert Bateman for sharing his information and photos.