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Artist inspired by the biggest visitors in Georgian Bay harbours

The hulking metal hulls of the great Laker ships are the perfect subject for engaging paintings, according to one artist whose work is now hanging on the walls of the Collingwood Public Library.
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Murray Van Halem has painted a series of oil paintings featuring the big Lakers of the Great Lakes. The images are hanging on the walls of the Collingwood Public Library. Erika Engel/Collingwood Today

The hulking metal hulls of the great Laker ships are the perfect subject for engaging paintings, according to one artist whose work is now hanging on the walls of the Collingwood Public Library.

Murray Van Halem has painted a series of oil paintings featuring laker ships docked mostly at harbours along Georgian Bay.

Van Halem lives in Victoria Harbour, and comes from a background in commercial photography and photojournalism.

“Boats are very much a part of where I live, and at one time very much a part of the Collingwood industry,” said Van Halem, adding that’s one of the reasons he was invited to show his paintings at the Collingwood Library.

Van Halem is mostly self-taught. While he wanted to attend art school, he didn’t have the cash or the portfolio to attend the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). He didn’t start painting until he had retired.

“It’s taken me 60 years to afford to be an artist,” he jokes. “I was always doodling, though. It’s a way of getting it out and making sure I had my hand in it, literally and figuratively.”

Van Halem has always admired the big ships that carry cargo across the Great Lakes.

“There’s a history and an interest in these ships. They always gather a big crowd. They’re like a big apartment building floating on the water,” he said. “They have interesting design elements and that makes for a good painting.”

Van Halem does a lot of portrait painting and he likens painting the ships to his work painting portraits.

“Each and every line on the hull is a story,” said Van Halem.

He teaches art and mostly paints in the oil medium. Landscapes and portraits are his specialty.

The paintings currently hanging on the library walls feature two lakers with a connection to Collingwood. One photo features the Captain Henry Jackman, which was built in Collingwood. The other features the SS Frontenac, which was converted to a self-unloading grain belt system in Collingwood’s former shipyards.

“A lot of people think the Lakers are history, but they’re not. They’re very much active, it’s still an industry that’s happening,” said Van Halem.

Van Halem said he visits Collingwood about once a month, adding anywhere on the coast of Georgian Bay has elements of home for him.

“When you’re on Georgian Bay, it all seems to be one community,” he said. “The bay is the common denominator that keeps people together. There’s a kinship about it.”

Van Halem’s paintings will be on display at the Library until June 30, and they are available for sale by contacting the library public service desk.

For more on Van Halem and his paintings, click here.


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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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