Bruce Douglas Graham (1950-2006)
My brother Bruce was a talented artist with a wry sense of humour. He died at age 55, ten years after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This gallery is dedicated to his memory and showcases a sampling of his creativity, including his final work created when he could no longer draw or paint. This work is featured below.
From age six, Bruce demonstrated his fascination with shape and form. He was always drawing. In the late 1950s, our parents enrolled him in one of those correspondence drawing courses typically advertised in comic books. A drawing of a pirate with a caption “Can you draw this?” lured young comic book readers into an art correspondence course. His sense of humour soon emerged in his drawings of cartoon characters, especially in his use of two characters he created in 1974. His skill with shape and form is evident in his wood carvings and clay sculptures. He did very few paintings, well aware that his skill with shape and form greatly outshone his work with colours.
After his 1995 MS diagnosis, Bruce’s energy to carve and sculpt waned quickly. “Like walking through gelatin” was the way he described his movements on most days. He used to say even making a sandwich could feel like he was in a slow motion movie. Eventually, drawing could no longer give him the outlet he needed so much. It only served to tire him and ultimately fuelled depression and frustration. Shifting his focus to income and adapting to his MS, he reluctantly chose to leave his art behind to embark on his MS journey. He had to deal with life day by day. At right, Bruce in 1996.
“GB Fisheries Ltd.” … Whose painting is it?
About six months before Bruce died, he created a final painting, pictured at left. He created it through his girlfriend Ghislaine. At this point, he couldn’t hold a pencil to draw. Although weak verbally and physically and confined to a hospital bed, his sense of humour never waned.
One day I walked into their apartment and came face to face with this large completed painting displayed on an easel. I gave Bruce a puzzled look and asked, “How did you do that?” His smile said it all and was worth more than anything money could buy. I had recognized it as his work, a compliment many artists dream of hearing. I see Bruce’s mind in that large orange body and it always brings me a huge smile. There’s no doubt this is his painting. How could he possibly have done it? Find out below.
FIND OUT HOW BRUCE COMPLETED THIS WORK - "GB Fisheries Ltd.", 2005, 24" x 36", oils on canvas (Private Collection)
Above is Bruce’s final painting. Not only does it reflect his connection to Nova Scotia and Canada’s Maritimes, it’s typical of his humour. From his hospital bed at home, Bruce told Ghislaine what to draw and edited it through her. With Bruce’s limited staying power, it took quite a long time. Once satisfied with his design, he then directed her in his colour preferences and she put paint to canvas. Based on his few painted works, these are colours Bruce would have chosen. This is indeed Bruce’s art work but created through Ghislaine’s hand. It came from his mind and this accomplishment surely felt wonderful for him. What does the “GB” stand for? It’s “Ghislaine-Bruce“.
Dual clay face: eyes open & eyes closed. Bruce’s friends said he often based his sculpted faces on his own image.
“Man in Mountain“, 1997, 8x11 pen & ink, 1997. Bruce did this piece a few years after his MS diagnosis. He expressed the physical struggle and strain his body was enduring, saying at times he felt like he was walking through gelatin. (Private Collection)
"The Mediator", 1978, wood carving (Private Collection)
I treasure this birthday gift from Bruce. It stands about 8 inches tall. The figure is strong yet refined. I feel power in this piece when I hold it. He carved it from one piece and mounted it on a simple block of wood with a wide grain. He finished both pieces with shoe polish and wax.
The Fantasy Novel, pen and ink (Private Collection)
The Fantasy Novel and its opening line “But no one knew why the …” features many drawings of two fun characters Bruce created in 1974 named Do-Boy and Do-Girl. He also had a favourite style for whimsical figures, of which the writer in this drawing is one. They were the stars of many drawings and doodles.
Aid for Stroke Rehab, 1993, pencil on card stock
After our father suffered a debilitating stroke, Bruce came up with this idea for an eating aid. He drew it on the inside cover of Dad’s birthday card. If anyone wants to design this aid for real to assist stroke victims, please go ahead and do so. Perhaps call it Bruce’s Plate?
"Self Portrait Caricature", 1996, pen and ink (Private Collection)
In 1996 Bruce was working as a freelance Technical Writer. He created a calendar with drawings featuring his colleagues on one of his projects. Aside from the 12 caricatures included in the calendar, Bruce included this self portrait. At 6’2″, he was tall and slim and often kidded about how he could be blown away with a wisp of wind. Love the suction cups on his shoes!
"This was Mum", abt 1980, pen and ink, (Private Collection)
Our mother in a Nutshell – Bruce used his Do-Boy (pronounced dough-boy) and Do-Girl characters to illustrate activites our mother was involved in at one time or another, and as a reflection of her character. He did the same for our father, pictured at right. Sheer fun.
"This was Dad", abt 1980, pen and ink, (Private Collection)
Our father in a Nutshell – Bruce used his Do-Boy (pronounced dough-boy) and Do-Girl characters to illustrate activites our father was involved in at one time or another and as a reflection of his character. He did the same for our mother, pictured at left. Created with love.
An unknown carving and a fun farewell
- At left, wood carving I didn’t know about until a friend of Bruce’s shared this photo with me.
- Lower left, 1996 drawing from a calendar Bruce put together for colleagues upon completion of one of his technical writing projects.
- Above, drawing by Marlene Nelson in memory of Bruce. She used his Do-Boy character.
And finally .... Art in the Family
Bruce came by his talents naturally. In this last bit of Bruce’s Gallery, I share some family art. Our father (Henry “Bud” Graham) carved in his spare time and also did a lot of screen printing. Shown below are a horse, a mule, and two figure carvings, one by Bruce and the other by our father.
Bud, Bruce & Joy
Left, Bud & Joy, late-1960s. Above, Bruce and Joy at a family reunion mid-1970s in Nova Scotia. Right, Bruce and Joy 1997, visiting Bud and enjoying a glass of hospital water.
Al's Nellie-Belle - a family heirloom
Dad’s mule carving is extraordinary in its detail. It was a 1962 anniversary gift to his parents. She’s called “Al’s Nellie-Belle” because my grandfather was Alton and my grandmother Nellie. Nellie-Belle and the base are carved from one block of wood and stands about 6 inches tall. She’s buffed to a shine with shoe polish. The items on her pack are a frying pan, coffee pot, rope, two bundles, and a flask. Her bridle is braided heavy hobby kit thread, waxed for preservation.
Gus & Mary Comeau and the Horse
The carvings below right are of my great-grandparents Augustine “Gus” and Mary Comeau. My father carved Gus (about 4″ tall) and Bruce carved Mary (about 3″ tall). Although their styles were quite different, the two pieces work together. The resemblance to Gus and Mary are almost perfect. It’s fascinating how Bruce captured Mary so well with his clean lines. The horse shown below is one of several my father carved.