Local artist remembered

On May 22, the Laurier Association for Lifelong Learning (LALL) held its 13th annual anniversary lecture. This year’s lecture featured Laurier film professor Paul Tiessen, and Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo professor of English Hildi Froese Tiessen, who spoke on their recently published book Woldemar Neufeld’s Canada: A Mennonite Artist in Canadian Landscape 1925-1995.

Hildi Froese Tiessen explained to the audience of LALL members, the work of the Mennonite artist that documented scenes of Waterloo Region using his talents in watercolours, block prints and oils. She described his work as, “an ideal and uncomplicated world.”

Throughout the lecture Tiessen referred to discoveries she and Paul Tiessen made through studying Neufeld’s art, his diary that was uncovered in 2009 and speaking to his family and others that knew him.

Arriving in Waterloo at 15 from Ukraine, Neufeld, according to Tiessen, “knew then that his life’s ambition was to become an artist.”

That ambition became clear as he established his career as an artist, designing prints for an advertising company in the region, and founding the KW Society of Artists.

While Neufeld painted and sketched the landscapes around him, Tiessen explained that his work always included “the impact and traces of human habitation.”

“There was always the sign of the human,” said Tiessen, providing images of his creations while traveling Ontario’s north in the summer, “And the human putting his or her imprint on the landscape.”

Despite the influence of working with artists such as the Group of Seven and taking art courses in Cleveland, Neufeld’s muse was always Peggy Conrad, who remained in Waterloo during his travels until they married in 1939 and moved to New York City.

“Once I met her, that was it, it was romance,” read Tiessen, from Neufeld’s diary.
Tiessen noted Neufeld’s connection to WLU, as Peggy Conrad was daughter to Clara Conrad, the founder and president of the Women’s Auxiliary of Waterloo College and Seminary.

Although Neufeld spent a great part of his career working in the United States, he returned to his passion for depicting the Waterloo Region. “He came to the conclusion he had to record with particular attention the changing life in the places he knew,” said Tiessen.

Succumbing to Parkinson’s disease and glaucoma 1988, Neufeld continued to paint to the end of his life, expressing the limitations of his illnesses in his work.

“To the end Neufeld saw his work as a way of expressing his gratitude to the beautiful world,” said Tiessen.

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