The short facts:
- Born November 20, 1951 Austria
- Grew up outside Hamilton Ontario
- Grade 2 Fruitland Public School: decision to become an artist.
- University of Guelph 1970 -74 Fine Art
- 1977 Printmaking advisor to Inuit of Povungnituk
- 1986 Farmer Joe’s Hot Day
- 2004 Jean Little’s Pippin The Christmas Pig wins Mr. Christie Book Award
- 2005 drawing camels, donkeys, dogs, cats, rabbits, shoes, trees….. and teaching at Seneca Collge Toronto in the Animation Arts program.
- 2010 Libris for Best Picture book of the Year with Helaine Becker for Porcupine In A Pine Tree
- 2011 Life drawing Instructor at Seneca and Humber Colleges in the Animation and Illustration programs
- 2011 Madly trying to stay organized
the much too long story
I was born in a small town in the Austrian Alps in 1951. The name of the town is almost as hard to say as my name: Wörgl. Try saying that! In fact, if I were of nobility, I would have been Werner von Wörgl! That’s probably why they had me shipped out. Actually, we did come to Canada on a ship. I liked it so much that I decided to celebrate my first birthday half way across the ocean. My mother said I learned to walk on that ship. I took my first steps in the middle of a storm. I still walk that way.
My brother and sister and I got our parents to Canada at Quebec City in 1952 and we took the train to Hamilton. When I sort of messed things up (my diaper) at the train station in Hamilton, my mother was so caught up in the event that she accidentally left her purse behind. She never forgot how surprised and touched she was that someone, a complete stranger, would find the purse and return it to her the next day. After all, we were new immigrants who (not counting my gurgles) hardly spoke any English at all. It was a wonderful welcome to a new land and new life and she never let us forget it.
My parents worked very hard. We moved from a basement apartment, to a garage while my father, like so many imigrants to a new land, built a house up on what they fondly call the Mountain in Hamilton. Finally, when I was in grade 2, we moved to another place with an amazing name: Fruitland Ontario. It just doesn’t sound heroic. It wasn’t. It was close to Stoney Creek, but I ended up at “Fruitland Public School”
It was there, in grade two, that I decided to become an artist. It was also there that I decided never to read again. I was a poor reader (a whole other story).
I had great teachers, and some not so great. My Grade 5 teacher was horrible. When the ink in my pen (we had horrible ball point pens that left big gooey smeary blobs of ink all over) backed up into my mouth (I sucked the end of the pen…not smart…) she hardly cared if I died (after all, I just had my tonsils out) and made me wash my mouth out with soap. But that was after she had given me the strap. After all, I did put up my hand (trying to let her know of my plight and imminent death from poisoning) after she had told everyone “no more questions.” Later that year I gave her a bouquet of poison ivy. It’s okay, she survived.
By the time I reached Grade 8, I was painting and drawing almost day and night. I remember my teacher telling me to go to university to broaden my mind. I never forgot Mr. Camiletti’s advice. Besides, he had strapped me twice in the first week of school (honestly, I didn’t do anything!) He was one of those special teachers you never forget and owe a lot to later in life….not because he wrongly strapped me (ouch) but because he was someone who challenged your mind and made you rise to your potential. He made me believe in my dreams of doing art in life.
In Grade 9 I passed Latin by painting a picture of Ben Hur! I wanted to be an artist so bad that I admit that I let everything else slip and barely got through school. In Grade 9 I was also thrown out of French class for doing a horrible cartoon of a monster that ended up on the teacher’s desk with her name on it. Honestly, I had nothing to do with it! Unfortunately I hated French class because of that and added it to my ever growing list of things not to learn. ( I would later regret that decision when I visited Paris!)
At one time I decided to be an architect, but told I was too poor in math. I wasn’t really bad at math, only bad at paying attention in class and trying. I figured an artist didn’t need math. Dumb. Besides, no one foresaw the coming of the computer back then. But math helps.
At 16 I had the best summer of my youth, maybe my life. At least I’ll never forget it and it had a big effect on my later work. I had a chance to work on my future brother in law’s dairy farm near Cayuga, Ontario. I jumped at the chance even though I’d had my appendix removed only 2 weeks before. (Surprising how fast we can heal when we want to). I learned to milk cows (ouch, they can kick!), herd geese (they can be mean!), and clean pigs (they’re really quite smart). The farmer, Franz Lindemann, was a wonderful person who I’ll never forget. He let me drive the big red tractor (almost killed myself…farming can be dangerous for teenagers who think they know everything) and take their old black VW beetle for rides through a field. He even had an old green truck! It was very hard work, but I loved it. The Farmer Joe books owe a lot to that summer.
I ended up at the University of Guelph only because it was a chance to escape the unhappy days of highschool before the end of the school year. Guelph had early admission and once I heard of that, I became an Ontario Scholar. It was a great place to study then, and still is. I’m proud to say my son Chris graduated from there with an honours degree in Fine Art. I never did graduate. I was in a hurry to become an artist. Watching my son and others graduate filled me with admiration, and made me decide to go back and finish my degree. I did love the learning, and soon I’ll be a student again.
When I left university I was very young and newly married. I was trying to be an artist (although I still wasn’t sure what that meant) and was painting rural scenes like Andrew Wyeth ( an artist I admired) when by accident I ended up in the Arctic.
Suddenly I was a printmaking advisor to the Inuit artist of Arctic Quebec. I never until then believed that the Quebec that had Montreal and Gaspé could have polar bears, caribou, Inuit and Igloos and very, very, very, cold weather! I emphasize cold! I was in a place called Povungnituk working with amazing people that would teach me more about art than ever I could teach them. It was 1977. I would work with them steadily till 1981 and make my last trip north in 1984. Only now do I realize how long ago it was and yet it still has a big effect on my life and art. It changed both of them. I hope that everyone has a chance to travel to Canada’s arctic at least once in their lifetime.
My career in children’s books and my experience as a teacher started almost simultaneously in 1986. It was just about the time I started illustrating Farmer Joe’s Hot day, that I started teaching figure drawing in the Animation department at Sheridan College. Both were huge learning experiences. Just as I never dreamed of being in Canada’s arctic, I never dreamed of writing and or illustrating over 16 children’s books, or of being so close to the fascinating world of animation.
I discovered through learning and teaching that children’s books and animation share much in common. Each taught me about the other, and each has given me wonderful experiences and friends. I couldn’t have been luckier.
Over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to see most of this magnificent country, and meet new people everywhere. I’ve had the chance to visit schools and libraries from Inuvik in the arctic, to St. John’s in Newfoundland on the east coast and Vancouver Island on the west. I consider myself very fortunate to be in such a rich and exciting creative world of books, art and teaching.