Niagara Falls Art Gallery

William Kurelek

The Art, the Passion, the Man.
Discover one of Canada's foremost artists here.

Canadian artist William Kurelek (1927 - 1977) has become known for his nostalgic, illustrative and didactic paintings. Examining life growing up on the prairies, Kurelek provided stories and illustrations for the books "A Prairie Boys Summer" and "A Prairie Boys Winter" as well as numerous paintings that further examined his life as a child in western Canada.

His exploration of Canadian life did not stop with his nostalgic remembrances but continued with illustrations of life across Canada among the various ethnic and regional groups. Books that were produced from these paintings include "Kurelek's Canada", "The Polish Canadians", and "Jewish Life In Canada". Although William Kurelek's fame is based on his examination of Canadian life what the artist wanted to focus on creating were his religious paintings that illustrated the bible. His best-known religious series is the 160 panels of "The Passion of Christ". Wanting to teach with his artwork Kurelek throughout his career produced a number of visual commentaries that explored social issues from abortion to pollution. To make his social commentaries more effective Kurelek would include them in paintings of Canadian life scenes or religious art works. An example of this are the artworks included in the book "O Toronto".
After creating over 3,000 paintings he died from cancer on November 3rd, 1977.


    About the WK Collection
    Niagara Falls Art Gallery's William Kurelek Collection has grown greatly since the Gallery was formed in 1979. Donations from individuals, institutions have created the largest collection of Kurelek materials in the country. This nationally significant resource is composed of personal artifacts such as research files, letters and library to a selection of his drawings, paintings and graphic works. Supported by an extensive archive of catalogues, magazines, newspaper articles, books and videos the William Kurelek Archive will be providing interested parties with information for years to come.

    - Selections from the Kurelek Collection:
    The centre-piece in the Gallery's permanent collection is the auto-biographical painting "All Things Betray Thee Who Betrayest Me." (1970) from the "Nature, Poor Step-dame" Series. Purchased with lottery funds in 1988/89 this painting is a self-portrait of William Kurelek as he sought psychiatric help in England and re-discovered his religious faith based on the Francis Thompson poem "The Hound of Heaven". Supporting this work are a number of prints that also illustrate themes from the poem but with an emphasis on the Canadian prairies.

    An excellent example from the "Last Days" Series of Kurelek's social commentaries is the "Nuclear Age Madonna" (1972), donated to the Gallery in 1992 by Mr. Joseph Maslany. This painting illustrates the devastating impact of a nuclear blast using Kurelek's didactic approach. In this case the lesson is illustrated by a mother who is suffering from radiation burns and sickness is hopelessly attempting to keep her children alive while humanity is reverting back to living in primitive conditions due to the damage caused by the nuclear bombs. The artist's concern with nuclear holocaust can be researched in the archives using drawings, plans and support materials for a home bomb-shelter as well as general information that Kurelek collected on nuclear war that are part of a 1996 donation by Jean Kurelek of her husband's personal papers.

    The scenes of Canadian life that made Kurelek famous are represented in the Collection by a lithograph and serigraph on paper entitled, "Evening Chore in the Maritimes" 24/50 purchased in 1987/88 using lottery funds. This work contains two themes that abound in the artist's illustration's of everyday and pioneer life - work, the chopping of wood; and play, children engrossed in a game of Fox and Goose.

    In the Kurelek Archives are the popular collectables of Pagurian Press' mechanical lithographs (or posters) of subjects such as "Hockey" (1977) from the "Sports Series" and "Stalking Migrating Caribou" (1975) from the "Last of the Arctic Series". These were donated by Jean Kurelek in 2000.

    - The Olha Kolankiwsky Gift:
    The Collection will continue to expand through the bequest of Olha Kolankiwsky who has left the gifts of numerous archival material and artworks to the Niagara Falls Art Gallery; included in this donation was the Passion of Christ Series(1961-1964) which is comprised of 161 pieces and serves as the focal point of the William Kurelek Collection. The archival material received has also been a significant addition to the already substantial William Kurelek Archives.


  • 1927 - Born March 3rd to Dmytro and Mary Kurelek on a farm near Whitford, 75 miles northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
  • 1934 - The Kurelek family moved to Stonewall, north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the family children attended Victoria School.
  • 1942 to 1946 - Entered and graduated from Isaac Newton High School in Winnipeg.
  • 1947 & 1951 - Kurelek spent two summers in a bush lumber camps. The first summer was 1947 where he worked near Neys, Ontario (north of Lake Superior) and the second summer in 1951 where he worked at two camps one near La Tuque in northern Quebec and the other south of James Bay near Fraserdale, Ontario.
  • 1948 - Late in the year the Kurelek family sold the Stonewall, Manitoba, farm.
  • 1949 - Received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Manitoba and entered the Ontario College of Art. The Kurelek family moved to Vinemount, near Hamilton, Ontario. Fall - entered Ontario College of Art and withdrew after the first term.
  • 1950 & 1951 - In Mexico and briefly attended San Miguel Art School.
  • 1952 & 1953 - Traveled to London England and in June, 1952, until November 1953, was both a resident and out-patient of Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital. During this time he made a trip to the continent and viewed the influential works of Brueghel and Bosch as well as obtaining a labourer's position with the London Transport Commission. During this time he made his first sale of a painting entitle Tramlines (1952) and created the self-analytical painting The Maze (1953).
  • 1953 & 1954 - Enters Netherne and creates therapeutic art works such as Where Am I? Why Am I? (1953) and Lord That I May See (1955).
  • 1955 - Kurelek leaves Netherne.
  • 1958 - Visits Turkey, Isreal, Greece and Italy.
  • 1959 - Returns to Canada.
  • 1960 - Begins illustrations of the Passion of Christ Series. First one-man exhibition at theIsaacs Gallery, Toronto, March 26 to April 7.
  • 1962 - On October 8th marries Jean Andrews.
  • 1963 - Completes the 160-piece Passion of Christ Series. Chosen for Biennale of Canadian painting at the National Gallery of Canada and exhibited Patience (1963). Kurelek was also in the 1965 Biennale and, from the An Immigrant Farms in Canada series, exhibited Manitoba Party (1964) that is now in the collection of the National Galley.
  • 1966 - Ukrainian Pioneer Woman in Canada series created. Painted This Is The Nemisis (1966) now in the Collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton.
  • 1967 - National Film Board of Canada creates the 10-minute film KURELEK.
  • 1968 - Travels to Cape Dorset on Baffin Island and creates 30 paintings. Creates a series of 20 paintings entitled Ukrainian Pioneer Woman in Canada.
  • 1969 - Created the Prairie Farm Work series. Exhibited the Burning Barn Series at Hart House, Univ. of Toronto. Traveled to India, South Africa and Hong Kong on a Canada Council Fellowship.
  • 1970 - Created Nature Poor Stepdame Series of 16 painting. Had a retrospective at the Edmonton Art Gallery in Edmonton, Alberta and the Art Gallery of Ontario traveled an exhibition.
  • 1971 - Last Days and Humour series and the Ukrainian Pioneer Mural (1971) created. Two films Pacem En Terris and The Maze were produced.
  • 1972 - Toronto Series of 21 paintings created.
  • 1973 - Someone With Me, Kurelek's autobiography, A Prairie Boy's Winter, and O Toronto were published. Bush Camp Memories Series (1973) created.
  • 1974 - The Happy Canadians and A Prairie Boys Summer series created. The book Lumberjack published.
  • 1975 - Jewish Life In Canada, The Nativity In Canada, series created. 72 drawings for the Fox Mykyta (illustrating the poetry of Ivan Franco) completed. The Books The Passion of Christ, A Prairie Boys Summer, Kurelek's Country, and Kurelek's Canada published. Film Ukrainian Pioneers produced.
  • 1976 - Irish In Canada, Rural Quebec Today series created. Fields, Jewish Life In Canada, The Last of the Arctic and A Northern Nativity published. Who Has Seen The Wind with Illustrations by Kurelek published.
  • 1977 - Canadian Sport, Big Lonely, and The Polish Canadians series created. Trip to Ukraine to explore roots. Died November 3rd.



- Kurelek on Kurelek

  • Kurelek, W. (1988). Someone With Me, Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls Art Gallery - Kurelek Collection. This 1988 autobiography is a reprint of the 1973 original. Written for use by the Cornell University Psychology Department the book is not typeset but typewritten and illustrated with Kurelek's drawings. Someone With Me ends in 1971 when Kurelek produced the Last Days series. A sometimes rambling book, Kurelek uses its pages as a vehicle to both explore and explain his life decisions and philosophy. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1973). Someone With Me, Ithaca, New York: Centre for Improvement of Undergraduate Education, Cornell University. The 1973 Cornell printing is no longer available for sale but can be found in some second-hand bookstores.
  • Kurelek, W. (1980). Someone With Me, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart This version of Someone With Me is a smaller and revised version of the Cornell book. (Currently out of print)

  • - Other Books by Kurelek

  • Kurelek, W. (1999). Kurelek Country, Toronto: Key Porter Books. The artwork in Kurelek Country is supported by a preface by Kurelek's gallery dealer Av Isaacs and a biographical essay by historian Ramsay Cook. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1988). To My Father's Village, Montreal: Tundra Books. To My Father's Village was published after Kurelek's death using letters to his wife Jean from his 1970 trip to Ukraine and artwork from his return trip in 1977. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1985). They Sought A New World, Montreal: Tundra Books. Although the book is attributed to Kurelek, Margaret Engelhart wrote the text with snippets of the artist's commentary and paintings illustrating Engelhart's text. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1981). The Polish Canadians, Montreal: Tundra Books. This book is an examination of the Canadian-Polish experience. (Currently out of print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1980). The Ukrainian Pioneer, Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls Art Gallery - Kurelek Collection. The Ukrainian Pioneer tells the story of Ukrainian immigration between 1900 and 1939 using the 1971 mural of the same name as the illustrations. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1976). The Last of the Arctic, Toronto: Pagurian Press Limited. Kurelek comments upon and illustrates his perceptions of Arctic life. (Currently out of print)
  • Kurelek, W. and Arnold A. (1976). Jewish Life In Canada, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers. A collaboration of artist and historian makes this examination of Jewish Life In Canada a historical as well as an artistic journey. (Currently out of print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1976). A Northern Nativity, Montreal: Tundra Books.Kurelek puts the Nativity into a Canadian context. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1976). Fields, Montreal: Tundra Books.Fields was a poster book with 12 16 x 20 inch images. (Currently out of print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1975). Kurelek's Canada, Toronto: Pagurian Press Limited. This book records Kurelek's written and visual impressions of life in the various Canadian provinces. (Currently out of print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1975). A Prairie Boys Summer, Montreal: Tundra Books. This companion book to a Prairie Boys Winter continues Kurelek's remembrances of growing up on the Canadian Prairies. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1975). The Passion of Christ, Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls Art Gallery and Museum. The 160 images of the Passion of Christ illustrate the Book of Matthew from the New Testament. (Currently out of print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1974). Lumberjack, Montreal: Tundra Books. Lumberjack depicts Kurelek's 1946 and 1951 summer logging experiences in the Ontario and Quebec bush. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1973). A Prairie Boys Winter, Montreal: Tundra Books. This is the book that began Kurelek's career as an illustrator of the Canadian experience. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek, W. (1973). O Toronto, Toronto: New Press. A look at life in Toronto through the eyes of Kurelek mixes social commentary, religion and day-to-day living. (Currently out of print)

  • - Books on Kurelek
  • Friesen, I. (1997). Earth Hell and Heaven In the Art of William Kurelek, Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press. (Still in print) Kurelek's religious artwork is the focus of Friesen's work. Unfortunately, the images of Kurelek's artwork are in black and white and are poorly reproduced. (Still in print)
  • Ewanchuk, M. (1996). William Kurelek: The Suffering Genius, Steinback, Manitoba: Derksen Printers and Micheal Ewanchuk Publishing. This private press book is a personal exploration of the life of William Kurelek. (Still in print)
  • Morley, P. (1986). Kurelek, Toronto: Macmillan of Canada. Morley's biography of Kurelek attempts to bring together the complexities of the artist's life. (Currently out of print)
  • Pomedli, M. (1991). William Kurelek's Huronia Mission Paintings, Lampeter, Dyfed, Wales: The Edwin Mellen Press. Pomedli uses Kurelek's Huronia Mission Paintings, reproduced in black and white, to illustrate the Missionary work of the Jesuits. Unfortunately, the images of Kurelek's artwork are in black and white and are poorly reproduced. (Still in print)
  • Kurelek W. and Murray J. (1983). Kurelek's Vision of Canada, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers. A catalogue more than a book, Kurelek's Vision of Canada was created from an exhibition and has a reprinted segment from Somone With Me, Kurelek's commentaries on the artworks and a brief essay by Joan Murray. (Currently out of print).

  • - Illustrations by Kurelek
  • Kupchenko-Frolick, G. (1989). The Chicken Man, Stratford, Ontario: Williams-Wallace Publishers. The illustrations in this book were created in 1976, a year before Kurelek died. (Currently out of print).
  • Franko, I. (1978). Fox Mykyta, Montreal: Tundra Books. Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko's classic tale has 72 illustrations by Kurelek.(Currently out of print).
  • Mithchell, W.O. (1976). Who Has Seen The Wind, Toronto: Macmillan of Canada. Kurelek's illustrates Mitchell's Canadian classic of growing up on the prairies.(Currently out of print).
  • Demarco, D. (1974). Abortion In Perspective, Cincinnati: Hiltz and Hayes Publishing. Kurelek provides section head illustrations. (Currently out of print).