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.