Woldemar Neufeld’s Canada
A Mennonite Artist in the Canadian Landscape 1925-1995
Woldemar Neufeld (1909–2002) emigrated with his Mennonite parents from Ukraine to Canada in 1924. By the late 1920s, he had begun his lifelong project as documentarist, responding especially to the built environment, whether close to his home in southern Ontario or farther afield: northern Ontario, the prairies and the west coast, the Maritimes and Quebec. His work passed through a number of styles, from the coolly abstract to the vividly “realistic. ” Although he never abandoned oils, he produced a substantial body of watercolours and block prints—the latter influenced by German Expressionist and Japanese printmaking approaches.
Woldemar Neufeld’s Canada, a record of Neufeld’s Canadian paintings and block prints, explores influences that shaped Neufeld’s career as it developed in Canada during the 1920s and 1930s and came to fruition from 1940s to the 1990s. Early on, Neufeld came into contact with leading Canadian artists, from Homer Watson to members of the Group of Seven. During the 1930s, he began to participate in group and solo exhibitions, including a one-man show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. After studies in Cleveland, he settled in New York City (1945) and New England (1949). Until the 1990s, however, he continued to work in Canada, returning especially to document, in various media, urban and rural landscapes in southern Ontario.
``This volume on the work of landscape painter Woldemar Neufeld is a welcome addition to the short list of books on Mennonite art. The monograph includes five illustrated biographical chapters . .. followed by ninety-one pages of beautifully reproduced drawings, paintings, and prints that are interspersed with biographical notes. ... Woldemar Neufeld's Canada provides compelling glimpses of the histories of Russian Mennonites and the early-Modern Canadian art world that will be new to many readers. Though a fully indexed and genuinely critical assessment of Neufeld's artistic contribution might have been more important, this is still a valuable introduction. Some Anabaptist communities have certainly suppressed artistic inclinations, but somehow Neufeld's art flourished. In fact, because the authors and editors paint a portrait of Neufeld's art as a nearly perfect biographical reflection, it almost seems as though he succeeded because of his religious heritage rather than in spite of it. Neufeld's historical scenes have obvious ‘humble’ appeal to a people more focused on community than on individuality, more enamored with tradition than with provocation. In that respect, the fact that Neufeld's history—and not his art—is the most compelling part of the story is one of the most revealingly ‘Mennonite’ aspects of the book. But it is more than the historical orientation of the monograph and the historical content of Neufeld's compositions that make his work arguably ‘Mennonite. ’ To some extent it is also the techniques he used. Just as Mennonite churches often eliminate mystery and amplify architectural austerity in the name of economy and humility, Neufeld developed his brightly lit illustrations in the name of clear-eyed reportage. In the end, his paintings are washed in the same uniform florescence as the un-dimmable, but eminently cost-efficient, light fixtures that illuminate Mennonite churches throughout North America. ''- Jon Yoder, The Mennonite Quarterly Review
``This lavishly illustrated book records the work of Mennonite artist Woldermar Neufeld (1909–2002). ... [The] paintings go beyond nostalgia because Neufeld's achievement was to record what is there in such a way that it is simultaneously a recording of what is lost. ''- Magdalene Redekop, University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 81, number 3, Summer 2012
``Beautifully designed and elegantly produced. ''- UW Daily Bulletin (University of Waterloo)
``What a wonderful book! Woldemar Neufeld's Canada is simply superb; it is one of the best and most informative accounts I have read. It links art and culture in a magical way. ... I have recommended the book to a number of people and community leaders who are interested in better understanding the community of which we and they are part. This book is invaluable to them. ''- Kenneth McLaughlin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome's University,University of Waterloo, local historian, and author