"I paint realistically but I am not a true realist because I take poetic licence when painting ... I like to feel that I have enabled the viewer to see beyond a mere likeness of the subject and understand why I thought the subject worth expressing. A have been called a poetic-realist."
--Reginald Shepherd, 1998.
Reginald Shepherd's artwork has developed through a number of styles and media, but his focus has never strayed far from his childhood influences. He was born in 1924 in Portugal Cove, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, and while he did travel as an adult, his subject matter has returned repeatedly to the Conception Bay communities in which he lived as a child. Shepherd was in fact raised in several small places where his father was a school principal, including Bishop's Cove and Port de Grave.
As a youth, Shepherd accompanied the artist A. E. Harris on sketching trips in the Conception Bay area. After a brief employment as a sign painter at the Argentia American Military Base in 1941, Shepherd moved to Toronto where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a medic. It was while stationed in Gander, Newfoundland, during World War II, that Shepherd's life began to take a turn towards the arts as a profession.
A British serviceman named MacLellan, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, had turned one of the hangers at the base into a studio and was giving art lessons in the evenings. One of Shepherd's paintings from this period, For Freedom, was accepted by The National Gallery of Canada for a show of servicemen's art.
This was when Shepherd decided to go on to study art and make it his career. After the war, he went to the Ontario College of Art (OCA) on a Division of Veterans' Affairs scholarship. There, Shepherd became reacquainted with Helen Parsons, a fellow Newfoundlander. They were married in 1948, and, after graduation, the couple moved back to St. John's. In 1949, they established the Newfoundland Academy of Art (NAA), buying a house in downtown St. John's and renovating the building to accommodate the school, their studios and living quarters.
In 1951, the Shepherds' son Scott was born, signaling the beginning of a hectic period in their lives. Reginald began lecturing on art at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He also began an art therapy program at the Waterford Hospital, and continued with both teaching and administrative duties at the Academy. After several years on such a schedule, the couple decided to close the school and devote themselves to their own art full-time.
Shepherd, however, took on a temporary job as Arts Specialist at Prince of Wales Collegiate, a St. John's high school. This became an eighteen-year commitment, lasting until he retired in 1980. During the time that Shepherd was teaching, from 1949 to 1980, he continued to work on his art. He has described his painting as "poetic realism." His landscapes take on a fairytale quality. While his early paintings were sombre in tone, perhaps reflecting his experiences in World War II, his later work became more cheerful, with storytelling touches. In 1956, he was awarded the Royal Society of Canada fellowship, which enabled him to spend a year studying in Europe. Shepherd was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1976. He and Helen Parsons Shepherd were awarded honorary doctorates from Memorial University in 1988.
The Shepherds spend the summer in their home and studio in Clarke's Beach. They winter in St. John's, where Reginald prints his serigraph editions and Helen paints portrait commissions.
-Colin S. Macdonald, Dictionary of Canadian Artists
Category: Print Making