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Biography & Autobiography Artists, Architects, Photographers

Charles Pachter

Canada's Artist

by (author) Leonard Wise

foreword by Tom Smart

introduction by Margaret Atwood

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Jun 2017
Artists, Architects, Photographers, Canadian, Popular Culture
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    Publish Date
    Jun 2017
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    Jun 2017
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An Officer of the Order of Canada, Chevalier of France’s Order of Arts and Letters, and recipient of the Order of Ontario, painter, printmaker, sculptor, designer, and author, Charles Pachter is one of Canada’s best-loved and most celebrated artists.

Pachter is an artist with an astonishing range. His work is witty, thoughtful, moving, and personal. Many works, like Queen on Moose, The Painted Flag, and Hockey Knights in Canada, have achieved a remarkable level of recognition, becoming famous across the country — indeed, around the world. His collaboration with Margaret Atwood on The Journals of Susanna Moodie has been called “truly the most magnificent book ever to be published in Canada.”

Charles Pachter: Canada’s Artist is a celebration of the life and work — the struggles and triumphs — of a man who has helped to redefine Canadian art. Pachter’s promotion of Canada and its culture has left a lasting legacy — one that he continues to build on.

About the authors

Leonard Wise has been a lawyer since his call to the bar in 1968, with a parallel career as television performer, food critic for the Toronto Star, screenwriter with Thomas Michael of You're Killing Me, a screenplay slated for production in 2018, and author of seven books, including the best-selling Toronto Street Names. He lives in Toronto.

Leonard Wise's profile page

Tom Smart is the Executive Director and CEO of the McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario, and the President of the McMichael Canadian Art Foundation. For seven years he was Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he developed an ambitious international exhibition program, and at the same time, he was appointed a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. He served as Acting Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery from 1997 until 1999 and was Curator of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton from 1989 to 1997. Smart is the author of nine books and catalogues. His most recent book is the critically acclaimed Alex Colville: Return, which moved criticism of Colville's works to a new intellectual level. His 1995 book The Art of Mary Pratt: The Substance of Light won the Atlantic Provinces Booksellers Association Booksellers Choice Award, the Studio Magazine Award of Merit, and the Printing Industries of America Award of Merit. It was included in Great Canadian Books of the Century.

Tom Smart's profile page

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.
Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.
Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson. 

Margaret Atwood's profile page

Excerpt: Charles Pachter: Canada's Artist (by (author) Leonard Wise; foreword by Tom Smart; introduction by Margaret Atwood)


Charles Stuart Pachter was born prematurely at Toronto General Hospital on the night of December 30, 1942, during the Second World War. Charles has an older sister, Maida, born on April 13, 1941; a younger sister, Karen, born on November 20, 1946; as well as a younger brother, David, born on August 20, 1948.
Charles’s name was an anglicized version of both of his deceased grandfathers’ names. One reason his parents may have decided on an English name was in honour of Bonnie Prince Charlie; another was because they thought Hitler might make it to Toronto. It was, after all, 1942, the year Jews were being deported to Auschwitz. Whatever the reason, the name stuck. The family has always referred to him, and continues to refer to him, as Charles; although, most of his friends have called him Charlie since high school.
Both of his grandfathers died in their fifties before he was born, but Charles was told that his maternal grandfather was scholarly, rebellious, and determinedly anti-religious — traits that Charles cherishes.
His grandmothers were feisty characters — hardworking, funny, and the source of much mirth with their broken English, picturesque phrases, and old country sensibilities. One winter, for example, his maternal grandmother, Eva, announced matter-of-factly, that the unseasonably warm weather was due to “a general toe.” After some linguistic sleuthing, the family determined what she meant was “a January thaw.” Another time, she came home from selling her wares in Port Credit and asked her kids what a “bleddehyoo” was. Wondering what she meant, they asked her to explain. She told them she had sold a black half-slip to a woman whose husband had come home drunk, and called her “a bloody whore.”
Charles’s parents, Sara and Harry Pachter, were both Canadian-born and grew up in Toronto during the Depression.
When one of Sara’s brothers died of tuberculosis in 1922, the family moved from Edmonton, where they had been living, to Toronto where a cousin had a shoe repair shop on Queen Street East. Sara’s father opened a cobbler’s shop at 768 Yonge Street, which later became the Loew’s Uptown Theatre, now long gone. Her mother, widowed at thirty-five with four children, became a door-to-door peddler of dry goods that she bought wholesale on Spadina Avenue and sold in Port Credit.
Harry was born on March 11, 1914, on Peter Street in downtown Toronto, just north of the present-day Rogers Centre. He attended Sir Charles G.D. Fraser School.
A cousin introduced Sara and Harry at a party in Toronto in 1936. They were married in January 1937. After their marriage they eventually moved to a flat at 499 Palmerston Boulevard, where Charles was born.
His parents weren’t particularly religious, and the house where he grew up, at 84 Chudleigh Avenue in north Toronto, was in a neighbourhood inhabited mostly by middle-class Anglicans. His childhood playmates were well-brought-up little WASP and Catholic boys and girls, with names like Johnny, Gail, Betty, and Jeannie.
Johnny Macfarlane, who would grow up to be John Macfarlane — the respected magazine and book publisher — was Charles’s next-door neighbour. Macfarlane lived there with his divorced mom and his grandmother, who, thinking she was a coloratura soprano, spent humid summer afternoons at her piano practising operatic scales. Johnny and Charles, both four at the time, used to stand outside under her window howling like little coyotes whenever she sang a scale, then they would collapse laughing until she poured a bucket of water over their heads to shoo them away.
“Charles was my favourite of all the kids I knew then,” recalled John.

Charles didn’t really grasp what being Jewish meant until he turned six, according to his long-time friend, Margaret Atwood. When he was four, his babysitter, Mrs. Rupert, a Baptist holy roller, taught him to pray and roll at the same time while chanting, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Not your typical Jewish prayer!
On Sunday evenings, after supper of peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches on brown bread at Johnny’s house next door, the two of them usually went to the basement of the local Catholic church to watch flickering black-and-white “Prince of Peace” movies, starring Jesus, dressed in a long white nightie with rope belt and sandals, his stringy hair parted down the middle, his aquiline nose highlighted by makeup. The kids would also sneak into the church where there were niches with statues of the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation. On the floor of the basement were little blue and red plastic chips, which they collected. For years Charles thought bingo was a Catholic ritual.
To this day he can still remember being bullied by a bunch of bigger kids when he was four and locked under Lawrence Park Collegiate stadium where concrete bleachers were being built. He will never forget the smell of the curing concrete, straw and mud, and the echo of dripping water in the pitch-black as he waited, terrified, to be rescued. Another time when he bragged to the other kids that Jesus was Jewish, he got beaten up and called “a dirty Jew.” He asked another babysitter, Mrs. Decker, if he was “a dirty Jew,” and she replied in her thick Scottish accent, “I wouldn’t know, dear, I’m not Jooweesh.”
One day he came home and asked his parents, “Why don’t we have a picture of the Baby Jesus in our house like all the other kids?” Another time he came home with a Gideon Bible he had signed in school, confessing that he was “a sinner in the eyes of Jesus Christ, our Lord.” On each occasion Sara looked at her husband and said, “Harry, say something!”
Feeling they should help their kids discover their Jewish identity, Harry and Sara decided to enrol five-year-old Charles and his older sister Maida in religious school at the Holy Blossom Temple because, as his father later admitted, theirs was the cheapest membership fee of the new synagogues being built in the then-suburbs around Eglinton and Bathurst. After being “consecrated,” Charles came home with drawings he had done of Jonah and the whale and Elijah riding a flaming chariot. In fact, Charles’s artistic inclinations were evident from the time he was a baby. One night when his parents returned home from a movie, they found his distraught babysitter cleaning the wall beside his crib. Charles had gleefully used the contents of his diaper to create his first mural.

Editorial Reviews

Charles Pachter is a Canadian legend and he and his remarkable vision come to life in this book.

Bob Rae

This book is very rich in detail, funny, poignant, and so revealing of who Charles Pachter, the Canadian artist and the man, is. It is a page-turner and an inspiration for all young artists contemplating the meaning of their own creative existence in contemporary life.

Dr. Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov

Pachter’s biography resonates with the highs of praise and lows of criticism, his sink to depression and his indomitable spirit that helped him rise above it.

The Canadian Jewish News

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