Victoria Bellefeuille still gets goose bumps remembering sitting quietly in her half-brother’s Victoria home as he painted on a slanted table with a palette of pastels within reach.
“I would say he went into a trance. He knew what he was expressing and he was very slow about it,” she said about the only time she witnessed him at work.
“He wouldn’t look for a certain pastel, he would reach over and take a pastel as he knew which one it was.”
North, one of the founders of the Ladysmith food bank in the 1990s, died in 2010 at the age of 86.
Bellefeuille was inspired on Canada Day 2013 to write a letter to then mayor Rob Hutchins, donating her brother’s 30 pastel paintings to the town he cherished fondly.
A four-day exhibition opens Thursday at the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery.
Past president Kathy Holmes said the show is an opportunity to honour North and “stretch people’s imaginations.”
“We have never hosted an exhibition of this sort at the gallery with such powerful pieces in this style,” she said.
“The Gallery is a place where our community can view art, all sorts of art and this is an interesting collection done in Salvador Dalí style of surrealism not often seen in our community.”
North, originally from Saskatchewan, was a self-taught artists who completed hundreds of pastel paintings over his life.
He and Bellefeuille connected by chance as young adults in Vancouver where North was working as a cobbler.
She would fulfill a lifelong purpose a few years later in 1971 of reuniting North and their mother.
North published several books and dabbled in sculpting, producing several handcrafted figurines which were popular with tourists.
“He never went to school for art. He was just natural.” Bellefeuille said.
The paintings took anywhere from a week to 10 days.
North also had a penchant for home renovations, and would purchase neighbouring properties only to live in one while he fixed up the other.
“He was a man of many talents,” admired his sister. “He made himself known everywhere.”
All the paintings being donated to the town are from when North was living in Victoria.
He took sociology and religious studies from the University of Victoria and went on to become an Ordained Minister.
In the early 1980s he opened the Church of the Heart out of his home on Quadra Street.
Bellefeuille said her brother believe in spirit and was very intuitive.
“He paid more attention to his intuition than to opinions of other people,” she said.
North travelled to India in 1975 hoping to become more enlightened, but found that could not be achieved through another person.
In his art, however, North was deeply inspired by Salvador Dalí, who died 28 years ago this week.
But unlike Spanish painter, North stuck to pastels, and was known to decorate the walls of his home with his favourite colours.
Holmes said the paintings demonstrate that North’s technique was quite good.
“Most artists learn to use pastels or at least try them but it is a bit more difficult because, it is like painting with chalk,” she said.
Among the pieces that will be hanging at the gallery this coming Thursday through to the end of the weekend at the gallery are the 12 Disciplines of Man – a series portraying emotions that Jesus taught disciples to overcome.
Bellefeuille said her brother was well versed in the Bible as well as Eric Johnson’s Christ in You.
“He had sold a lot but he didn’t want to sell any of these because they were more at the spiritual level,” Bellefeuille said.
When the town decided last year to accept the North collection, the plan was to have it at the Frank Jameson Community Centre.
However, now it’s unclear what the plans are for the artwork following the show.
Former mayor and now Coun. Rob Hutchins said this week is not only about the artwork, but also the contribution North made to the Ladysmith community.
“Rev. North made his prescence known in our community when he first arrived. He set up our first food bank and ran it out of his own garage behind the library,” he said, noting how those the town had consulted with prior to acquiring the collected called it “first class.”
Bellefeuille would like to see the collection as part of a travelling exhibit, but is happy to be sharing it with the community that was North’s “treasure.”
“This is Julian’s dream full-filled,” she said.