Bob Paterson had enormous reach and impact

When Georgian College opened its School of Fine Arts in 1971, it attracted excellence all round… terrific professors—all practicing artists—and gifted students.

The school was small, its fledgling campus in the empty fields of Barrie’s east end.

But ambition was mighty.

Karen Smith, head of the School of Fine Arts, attracted a stable of talent. Kornelia Mezaros taught colour; Pat Hard taught design and drawing; Don Stuart taught weaving; Robin Hopper taught pottery. Tony Gilsenan taught architectural drafting. And Bob Paterson taught print making.

Bob stayed at Georgian for eight years; but he’s impacted it for three decades, through students who have gone on to forge significant reputations for themselves, through the community of support he nourished, and through just the person he was.

Bob Paterson died March 19, at age 76. Those who revered him are planning a memorial celebration on Sunday, June 23, in Utopia.

A graduate of Ontario College of Art, Bob graduated in 1960, travelled in Europe and then spent time setting up a print making studio at Cape Dorset, one of the first white men to work in that community. That studio launched many famous Inuit print makers whose work is familiar to us today.

Like many artists in the 70’s, Bob came to Georgian because he needed a job. While money was never a driving force for him, a community college with a new design department gave him a fabulous place to teach and work. His wife Marion, whom he met on a Norwegian freighter, came from Scotland and moved to Barrie with him. Their marriage is over 40 years old.

Barb Robillard, a weaving student at the time, remembers Bob’s total determination, coupled with generosity. She remembers his frustration with the new design building, built with administrative funding, corners cut in the most unusual places. Bob’s studio–an artist’s studio, remember–had no window in it. No natural light! Bob threatened the dean (Karen Smith) that he would put the window in himself. He was determined, and if things didn’t go quickly enough, he’d take over and do it himself.

Walter Fry, building manager and an artist himself, said ‘okay, okay, we’ll put the window in!’

Bob Paterson was one of the pillars behind the movement to save Barrie’s historic downtown Firehall, at the corner of Mulcaster & Collier streets. He was a fundraiser, helped design what the city’s original city hall, firehall, and jail could become. He mounted a show of his own paintings at the old firehall, donating 30% of the earnings to restoration of the hall. It was Georgian’s artistic community, paired with community strength, that developed hopes for an art gallery, theatre that would be in place today…except for political will.

Bob took his enthusiasm for etching, wood block, lino cuts to the college, bringing the students to his Owen St basement where there was equipment to teach them. He became mentor to a lot of art students, seeing potential when often others could not. And he stayed in touch with students, writing old fashioned letters until he died.

When Bob left Georgian in 1978, he and Marion moved north to Hot Junction, a tiny hamlet outside of Wawa. Bob grew up in Sudbury and was thrilled to be back in the country where he could paint the landscape that spoke to him. Today, hundreds of paintings hang in homes, many the homes of former students.

Bob had a stroke two years ago, just days before he was to open an art show at former student, Hartley Woodside’s art studio in Craighurst. Hospitalized for a couple of months, he then suffered a fall that resulted in a brain injury. Bob never came back to his old self.

Students, friends, patrons, fellow former teachers, and the community at large will gather June 23 from 1 to 5 in the Utopia Hall in the village of Utopia. It’s a location Bob would have loved. Bob’s wife, Marion will e there. Bob work and memorabilia will be there. Location is south of Hwy 90, on the 6th line of Essa, next to the church. Street # is 8396 Sixth Line.

A Bob Paterson Memorial Arts Bursary fund has been established and contributions can be made at the Northern Credit Union, Box 1669, Wawa, ON P0S 1K0.

Bob? Your impact on Barrie continues. Thanks!