The second floor of the old mill in St. Jacobs – previously the home of retail business – will, as of this summer, be home to an extensive collection of Woldemar Neufeld’s paintings.
The Neufeld Gallery is now open and features its first exhibition: “Woldemar Neufeld: Rural and Urban Landscapes 1928-1982. Curated by Laurence Neufeld, a son of the artist, it is tentatively scheduled to run for one year.
Currently, the exhibition houses examples of the artist’s woodblock, oil, and water colour creations that document his view of landscapes, tracing Neufeld’s journey from Canada to Ohio (1935-44), New York (1945-49), Connecticut (from 1949) and then back to Canada (from 1968).
Visitors to the gallery will be astounded by the variety of styles that the local artist employed in decades of painting.
“He was so prolific. He painted so much, that my hope is that we can just keep rotating his work through there; we can have an ongoing presence there but keep changing it,” said Jenny Shantz of Mercedes Corp., the gallery’s landlord.
Although the loan agreements from Wilfrid Laurier University, Conrad Grebel University College and the Neufeld family last one year, Shantz hopes the gallery will be able to secure new paintings from other collections and collectors in the future.
Shantz, whose father, the late Milo Shantz, was a personal friend of Neufeld, thinks the St. Jacobs mill is the perfect setting for the Neufeld Gallery.
“I think it was always in Milo’s mind that it would be a wonderful thing to have a gallery of Neufeld’s work in St. Jacobs because so much of what he painted was right in this area, in addition to painting in Manhattan and Cleveland and Connecticut. A good chunk of his productivity, a volume of his work happened right here in this region.”
This new gallery, dedicated entirely to the work of Neufeld (1909-2002), will hold some 85 works on loan from several sources, including WLU, Conrad Grebel and several private donors. The gallery opens during a year of centenary celebrations of Neufeld’s birth that will include the publication of a collection of his paintings and block prints.
Neufeld began his career as a painter in the Waterloo Region in 1924, as a 15-year-old immigrant from the Mennonite village of Waldheim in Ukraine. His family left for Canada as a result of the Russian Revolution.
In Canada, the young Neufeld quickly embraced the rural towns and farming communities of his new world, later placing them on the canvas. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was in contact with leading Canadian artists, from Homer Watson to members of the Group of Seven.
In the 1930s, Neufeld enjoyed a career as an independent artist, living and working in Waterloo, Toronto and Vancouver. He began taking trips to northern Ontario to sketch, and visited his sister in the United States. He later enrolled at the Art Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, and spent much of his career in the U.S., moving to New York in 1945. Just as his experiences in Waterloo Region became the inspiration for his creations, so too did New York’s many landmarks become subjects for his watercolour, block print and oil creations.
“When you go there you will not believe that the same man painted all these paintings – I mean, they’re from the 1930s right through to the ’80s and I think what’s astounding to a lot of people is that the same individual is actually the artist in all of this work,” said Shantz.
Admission to the gallery is by donation.