Canadian Hockey Icon Dies

September 25, 2007

A Canadian hockey icon, Ken Danby, collapsed and died Sunday while canoeing on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park, Ontario. While Danby, 67, wasn’t a hockey player, he captured the excitement and drama of the sport in a way no one else could – with his paint brush. One of the world’s foremost realist artists, Danby delighted Canada’s hockey fans with such iconographic paintings as “At the Crease” and “Hockey Night in Canada.” Since 1972, homes throughout Canada have been decorated with prints of “At the Crease,” which perfectly captures the intense concentration of a masked goalie on-guard at the net. The painting is considered by many to be a Canadian national treasure.

At the Crease, Iconographic Hockey Painting by Ken Danby

Hockey Night in CanadaAnd what Canadian child doesn’t remember the magical excitement of “Hockey Night in Canada,” still broadcast on television every Saturday night? Note the constellation formed within the Northern Lights and stars; attention to detail in extremis was Danby’s hallmark. Many of his paintings resemble photographs at first glance. He also painted legendary hockey player Wayne Gretzky’s retirement portrait, “The Great Farewell,” in 1999.

Commenting in 2002 about the “Hockey Night in Canada” painting, commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and their broadcasts of “Hockey Night,” Danby said: “The central image focuses on a television screen being watched by a young boy and girl, each wearing a hockey sweater featuring the number ‘50.’ The sweaters reflect the colours of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, the two preeminent Canadian teams of NHL [National Hockey League] history. The children are depicted at the moment of jubilation – cheering a game-winning goal. The image on the screen is an accurate depiction of the most famous play in Canadian hockey history — Paul Henderson’s dramatic goal in the Canada-Russia series of 1972 — when he clinched the series with less than a minute remaining. . .More Canadians watched this event than had seen the first moon walk. It was a national phenomenon.

“The background offers a night sky filled with stars, symbolic of the countless heroes and luminaries of hockey who have entertained the television audience over the years. Canada’s northern lights flare up from the horizon and accentuate the figure of a unique constellation in the shape of a hockey player raising the Stanley Cup high above his head — the ultimate goal of every player — in sharing his celebration with all fans of the game.”

The Guelph-based painter was honored for his contributions to Canadian culture many times, including his 2001 vestiture in the Order of Ontario. He received the Order of Canada medal in 2003. Greg McKee, manager of the artist’s studio, said: “He has been a huge influence on Canadian art and on Canadian artists who look to his images for inspiration. . .He was always exploring. He was always interested. . .He lived art.” Many of Danby’s paintings are on display worldwide in galleries including The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York and The Art Institute of Chicago.

Ken DanbyIn a Monday interview with The Canadian Press, Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, said: “He aspired to be — and in many ways achieved — the status of Canada’s storyteller. . .He wanted to be an artist who painted Canada in its heroic moments and in its everyday moments. . .he wanted to tell people through his art that you could paint realistically and capture great emotion and generate great feeling, and he did.“ Studio manager McGee added: “He’s been called a national icon and that’s basically what he was.”

It’s believed that Danby, who was in Algonquin Park to gather more material for paintings, suffered a heart attack. An air ambulance lowered two paramedics to the remote Algonquin Park location, but were unable to revive the Sault Ste. Marie native. Rescue teams from Canadian Forces Base Trenton assisted in flying Danby’s body to North Bay General Hospital, according to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

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Photo credits: The Canadian Press / HO, Ken Danby Studios and Ken Danby Art

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