Thursday, May 03, 2007

Rex Woods (Birth-Death Unknown)

After Franklin Arbuckle, Rex Woods was probably Maclean's magazine's most prolific cover artist during the 50's. Some have called Woods "the Norman Rockwell of Canada".

In spite of that status and Woods' tremendous popularity with commercial art clients in Canada at that time, there is surprisingly little information available on him. This may be because Woods seems to have invested all of his efforts in illustration art -- and the relative anonymity that often comes with that choice. I cannot even find confirmation of the date of Woods' death, though I heard an intriguing anecdote from a reliable source regarding a situation related to that event:

A few years ago I was called in for a cover assignment by Maclean's Creative Director, Nick Burnett. As Nick lead me down the hall from reception to the studio I fell further and further behind as I realized that the hallways were lined with framed originals by Rex Woods. The larger-than-printed-size paintings were stunning to behold and Nick seemed surprised by my enthusiasic desire to linger and study them. I suppose that when one passed by these gorgeous works of art day after day, one could become blasé even about such accomplished craftsmanship.

Shortly thereafter, once we were settled down at Nick's desk he related the following to me:

By complete coincidence, Nick had discovered, he was living in the same well-appointed downtown Toronto apartment building where Rex Woods and his wife had lived for much of their lives. The superintendent of the building, upon discovering that Nick worked at Maclean's, had told Nick about how the elderly couple had passed away several years earlier - the husband and wife dying only a few weeks apart.

It seems that Woods had no immediate family - in fact, no relatives of any sort could be located at all. Upon cleaning out the apartment, the super found it filled to overflowing with original artworks, paintings were stacked in columns and leaning against every vertical surface in deep rows. Woods had managed to get a vast amount of his original art returned and had hung onto it for the remainder of his days. Perhaps he had hoped the art would be a sort of retirement fund... perhaps he was simply attached to it.

Whatever the reason, now that both he and his wife were gone, there seemed to be no one to pass along this treasure trove to. The superintendent even tried to contact potential publishers of a Rex Woods art book but none expressed any enthusiasm for putting together such a project. The market which Woods had so thoroughly dominated just a few decades earlier had lost all interest in him and his work.

Happily, the super realized this art was too valuable to simply landfill. Apparently he had had quite a close relationship with the Woods' and genuinely loved the artist's work. He put it all in storage. As far as we know its still out there somewhere under lock and key in some darkened, faceless cinderblock building waiting to be rediscovered.

You can see all of these images at full size in my Rex Woods Flickr set.


  1. Man, what a fascinating story, Leif. And that's very rare for someone like that super to hold onto artwork like that. Have you been able to find out who that man was? Can you find out through Nick? Would love to see what happens...

  2. Unfortunately I've long since lost touch with the AD, Ward - it was 5 or so years ago. But perhaps someone with more info will find this post and chime in on the subject!

  3. Wow, came across your artical when I was doing a search on the artist. Found a poster singed by him and wanted to know if you had more info on the subject, the poster is titled MC DONALD LASSIE.


  4. Betsy; That's a reproduction of the girl who appeared for decades on the Export "A" cigaraette pack. MacDonald's Tobacco hired Woods to paint her portrait and my friend, Will Davies, did the updated version in, I think, the 60's or early 70's. Next time I speak with Will, I'll ask him if he knows anything about the original Rex Woods version and post it here.


  5. Anonymous8:09 AM

    I was given a print of the The MacDonald Lassie by Rex Woods also.It appears to be made of carboard simmilar to cearal box and is framed with the same carboard. It has the numbers 229-9-68 stamped on the back of the print. I am thinking it may have been an advertisment print but am not sure. Do you think it is a collectable item?

  6. Anonymous8:11 AM

    I was given a print of the The MacDonald Lassie by Rex Woods also.It appears to be made of carboard simmilar to cearal box and is framed with the same carboard. It has the numbers 229-9-68 stamped on the back of the print. I am thinking it may have been an advertisment print but am not sure. Do you think it is a collectable item?

  7. I am living in Rex Woods apartment. The superintendent had saved his tear sheets from Canadian Home Journal and we have now printed and framed them. They currently hang in the lobby and hallways of the building.

    Some people who have lived here for decades remember Rex Woods.

    There seems to be a lot of mystery about his life....and I would be interested in learning more about him. If anyone has anymore information, please reply.

    Many thanks.
    I am a big Rex Woods fan.

    1. Lynda, is there any way you could send me an email to discuss further. I'm currently working on an exhibition with a nod to Rex Woods.

  8. Lynda, I hope you will follow up with Leif, or me, about where the building is. I think we could maybe get that collection into an archive.

  9. Anonymous5:26 PM

    In a refular google search for info. about Rex Woods, I came across your posts. I am related to Rex - he was my mother's cousin. He was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire on 21st July 1903 and emigrated to Canada when he was 18, attending the Ontario School of Art. He died on 18th November 1987. My mother visited Toronto after his death to try and safeguard his original paintings (all we have are prints) but was usuccessful. The creation of an archive of his work would be wonderful. Lots more inf where this came from.

  10. Julie;

    Its great to hear from someone who can fill in some of the biographical details for us - thank you!

    If you'd like to contact me directly, my email address is

    It would be wonderful to learn as much as possible about Rex Woods. His work was remarkable and continues to be admired by a great many people - especially those of us who are also illustrators.

  11. Hi Julie,

    I am also interested in compiling a biography on Rex Woods for my doctoral research. I invite you to contact me -

  12. Hi Leif

    just visited the new ROM building in Toronto and there are several original Rex Woods hanging in the Canadian history section on the main floor.

    They are beautiful!!

    Cheers... Andrew

  13. Great to hear from you, Andrew - and thanks for giving us the head's-up on where we can view come of Wodds' originals! :-)

  14. Wow..Wonderful story on a superb artist! I do hope he gets the recognition he so deserves as it is very disheartening to search the web and there is very little on such a talented person! Thank you for being one of the few to do so!

  15. Oh my gosh! I LIVE in that building! About a year ago, they hung up a bunch of his prints... I HAVE to talk to my old (retired) super (he still lives here). I think it was the same super... Rex passed in '87. I'll have to see if I can find anything more out! There are also residents living here (though I don't know them) who've been here pretty much since the building was built in '39.

    I'm doing a post today about Rex. I'll add a link here when it's done. I've photographed every one of the 20 prints that decorate our walls here!

  16. My post on Rex is here:

    My flickr album is here:

    I've found out a bunch more about Rex, so I'll be doing another post, as well! The super who knew the Woods's was indeed my former super who's still living here! He wrote a couple of articles (one of which was published in '87, when Rex passed) and he has lent them to me!

  17. Anonymous7:46 PM

    Have a watercolour done by Uncle Rex at home. His Paintings were donated to the ROM in Toronto in 1988 per his wife's will

  18. i have an original piece of rex's
    work that hung in the brantford cortage ( largest rope makers in the world while they were running).
    it was painted in 1934, and hung in the office till the mid 80,s when it went out of business. it is a painting of a grain harvest.
    it shows a young boy and a lady overlooking a wheat is in very good condition. i would like to know if there are collectors that would have an idea of its value.i will send a photo to any interesting parties. hope to hear
    from anyone with information.

  19. I have stumbled on two sketches From Rex Woods.
    One of a lady tossing an object at a man running.
    The object shatters the glass of a credenza.
    The foreground is the lady's backside in full motion following through with her toss.
    Her dress is swaying in a vibrant green the only coloured area on the sketch. I want to upload a photo of the two sketches.
    How do i go about doing this?

  20. The second sketch from 1931 is of a lady sitting on a bench in a long dress ,heels and white gloves.There is an animal sitting beside her with a furry tail. The sketch is very mysterious.
    I want to upload this sketch for all to enjoy..