Doorways Out of Time – A Tribute to David Lloyd Blackwood (Nov. 7th, 1941-July 2nd, 2022) by Way of a Story of an Art Collection and a Friendship

Cover for the Exhibition Catalogue, Doorways Out of Time, 2020. Image: Ephraim Kelloway’s Door, David Blackwood, copper-plate etching, 2012

(All artwork images in this post with permission and Copyright David Blackwood Inc.)

On July 2nd, the nationally and internationally acclaimed Canadian/Newfoundland artist David Blackwood(1941-2022) died at home in Port Hope, Ontario. He was eighty years old. But his artistic voice will continue to speak through his body of work that will likely rank among the most extensive and varied of any Canadian artist of his generation.

David is most likely most recognized for the hundreds of his signature, original copper-plate etchings – their stark, often monochromatic images based on the life and times of outport Newfoundland; most of the images from a time before Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949.

In characteristic shadowed blues and blacks and gray tones often contrasted with a shock of bright white from a seabird, an iceberg or sunlight, David told the story of a people making a life on the harsh shores and unforgiving seas of Newfoundland. It is thanks in large part to these images that so much of the history of those times remains so current in the hearts and minds of those lucky enough to have encountered David’s work.

I am one of those lucky ones. I enjoyed a fifty-seven year relationship with David and his art that began at my high school, Trinity College School, in Port Hope, Ontario in 1965. And wherever I have lived since 1969 I have lived with his art on my walls. A rare privilege. The art remains but not the man. A deep sadness.

When I say I have lived with his art I mean an awful lot of it! I purchased more than seventy pieces over the years but sold some and said goodbye to others through a divorce but when I counted what I had left a few years ago it was still more than forty works of art. It was then in late 2020 I was given the chance to hang the remaining collection all together at one time (my houses were never large enough to display all the pieces at once) at the spectacular multi-story Brentwood College School, Southam Art Gallery in Mill Bay on Vancouver Island. (Huge thanks to Brentwood Head-of-School, Bud Patel for saying a yes to this, Chris Spicer, former Director of Advencement for encouraging me to ask and Edna Widenmaier, Director of Arts for making it happen.)

For that three-week display I published a full-colour catalogue, Doorways Out of Time telling the story of my collection and my friendship with David. (I dedicated the catalogue to David and Anita’s son, David Bonar Blackwood (David Judah) 1971-2005. Young David as he was often called was also an accomplished artist. He died far too soon of cancer at thirty-four.)

As a tribute to my friend and remarkable creative, David Lloyd Blackwood, I have pieced together parts of what I wrote in my 2020 catalogue and included them in this blog post in his honour.

From Doorways Out of Time – A Collector’s Journey – The Art of David Blackwood

Art image:Gram Glover’s Dream, ( 1969) exhibited at the Southam Gallery, Brentwood College School, 2020. And Richard Osler discussing the image with friends and family.

The young man, a student, couldn’t say what it was exactly about the large etching, the dramatic image, he saw on the car’s backseat that assailed him that day in 1969. Struck something so hard inside him he felt the impact as if he had been wounded. Nothing sharp, more a deep ache. Perhaps the way, in the Bible story, Jacob was injured in the hip by an angel’s touch beside the Jabbok Ford. A touch that marked Jacob for life. Just as in 1969 when the young man saw that image on the backseat he was marked for life. Something inside that etching from a foreign and far-away place, literally and figuratively a new-found-land, Newfoundland. Something there and in so many of the many other art pieces that followed. Something held beyond those images that calls to him still. Something the great author C.S. Lewis described as “not the thing itself… only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

— A reflection on first seeing the David Blackwood etching “Gram Glover’s Dream

I still think back on that thunderclap moment when at eighteen years old I saw the etching that triggered my life-long passion for collecting the art of David Blackwood. When I first met David as an art teacher at my boarding school in Port Hope, Ontario, in 1965 I had no idea a lifelong adventure with him and his art awaited me! And a life-long friendship with David and, later, with his wife Anita.

When I first knew David he was already internationally recognized in his early 20’s for his monochromatic narrative etchings, focused around the shores and seas of Newfoundland, that portrayed “the dramas enacted by a courageous people choosing to live where nature is at its most unforgiving.” (Patricia Gratton, Memorial University, 1984).

David lived in Port Hope, Ontario for around fifty years but was born in 1941 in Wesleyville, Bonavista Bay, in what was then called the Dominion of Newfoundland governed by a non-elected body subordinate to the British government in London. It became part of Canada through a highly-contested vote in 1949. In 2001 the province of Newfoundland was renamed Newfoundland and Labrador.

What I saw that day in the back of David’s white Volvo sedan was like some time machine that took me back in time to an utterly foreign place. To a broken-windowed room in an abandoned house and outside, through the window, past peeling wallpaper, a group of figures, their backs to us, heading to the shores, the ocean beyond. That etching, Gram Glover’s Dream included here in this post was based on a dream of David’s grandmother who had the “sight”.

The dream of Gram Glover foreshadowed and predicted the infamous “resettlement” program of the 1960’s, closely associated with then Premier Joey Smallwood, which encouraged thousands of Newfoundlanders to leave their isolated islands and outports and move to larger villages closer to essential services. David’s maternal grandparents the Glovers lived on Braggs island off shore Wesleyville. And they were forced to leave.

What did that mournful image conjure in me? A sorrow for a way of life long gone: the mummers, the sealers, outport villages, fish flakes, the cod fishery, gone? Did I see as American novelist Annie Proulx writes about the Newfoundlanders of old, “their burning will to survive” against all odds? But ultimately, also, their fragility? And maybe even more, in spite of my own keen sense of aliveness then, my own fragility?

But that day and in the weeks and years following I think I saw in that arresting image and the ones that followed something else as well. I saw how art can stop time, bring what was lost back to life. Gone but, now, remembered. A harsh richness recovered. An understanding of the life-giving power of all art. How it can preserve what time takes away. How it can make large our tiny lives when seen against the backdrop of eternity.


In Christmas of 1969 I proudly bought home Gram Glover’s Dream purchased with all my earnings the summer before – $100. I showed it to my parents and my godfather who had come for dinner. The picture troubled my parents but delighted my godfather, Terry King. It turns out that he had bought a Blackwood at a show in Toronto two weeks before. I never saw his print while he was alive. It came to me through his will after Terry died unexpectedly in 1972.

David Blackwood, copper-plate etching,1968

That print is one of David’s more challenging pieces: Captain’s Kean’s Men Waiting for the S.S. Bellaventure. Based on a tragic true story, this image features a group of men, a ghostly colour of ice, hunched together on pack ice many miles from land waiting for a rescue that never happened. It is not clear if they remain alive or if they are frozen in place. To the right and behind them a smaller dark figure, in stark contrast to the men in the foreground, remains standing looking out at the vast darkness – an icon of hope.

While some men survived what is known as the Great Sealing Disaster of 1914, it was far fewer than the 78 sealers (swilers) who froze to death on that ocean of ice and darkness in March 1914. I always imagine that the standing figure was one of them. A riveting account of this disaster can be found in Harold Horwood’s 1972 book Death on the Ice. This image and others based on this tragic occurrence became part of what is known as The Lost Party Series which ended up including about fifty etchings.


For me, a city kid brought up in Toronto, David’s life couldn’t have more different than mine! His boyhood in a place beyond my imagination. People tied to nature in an extraordinary way, Connected to the sea and its costly bounty; cod and seals. And the hair-raising stories of disasters and near disasters as men sailed north “down on the Labrador” for the summer cod fishery or jumped from ice flow to ice flow in the sea ice of the north Atlantic hunting for seals in March and April. And before the introduction of steel ships, the stories of the wooden walls, the wooden sailing ships and steamers, reinforced to withstand the ice as they ventured into the icepack to find and harvest the so-called whitecoats, the newborn seals.

From David I learned about Wesleyville, a former center for the seal fishery, about three hours north of St John’s, in Bonavista Bay where he was born and lived until he was eighteen when he left to go the Ontario College of Art. He was one of ten children. His Father Captain Edward Blackwood had five children with his first wife who died and then had five more with David’s mother Molly Glover.

Flora S. Nickerson Down on the Labrador, David Blackwood, copper-plate etching, 1978

David came from a long line of skippers and ship captains. His father an accomplished schooner captain skippered his schooner the Flora S. Nickerson so often pictured in David’s images. David spent summer’s cod fishing on the Nickerson “down on the Labrador”, the waters offshore Labrador.

His grandfather Captain A.L. Blackwood was a legendary seafarer honoured later in his career with a captaincy of one of the largest steel hulled ships used for the seal fishery, the S.S. Imogene. The Imogene was owned by Bowring Brothers, ship owners and merchants. Bowring’s was noted for naming its ships after characters in Shakespeare’s plays.

Growing up as he did David developed a discipline for hard work that never left him. Until a few months ago he was still visiting his studio and last year produced at least a new full edition of fifty etchings!

And his hands, strong and squared shaped seem more like the hands of a fisherman than an artist! Those hands and that work ethic served him well with the rigor required for etching and printing! His strength and discipline resulted in a huge artistic outpouring over the years.


And it’s important to note that from an early age David’s Wesleyville community recognized and supported his artistic talent. The crew on his dad’s schooner bought him art supplies and noteably,  Aunt Gertie Hahn, sister of renowned Captain, Jesse Winsor, commisioned him to paint two major murals for the local high school in Wesleyville (still there) and a few other art works when David was around 16 and 17 years old. I am fortunate to own one of those pieces. The signs of his genius already showing.

And until the onset of an illness 2014 that left him near death a few times over a number of months before he recovered, but not without lasting impact, there was hardly a day David wouldn’t be out working in his backyard studio filled with memento’s of Newfoundland’s past. And as a measure of his discipline I will never forget seeing David after the onset of his life-threatening illness, convalescing in a rehab hospital in Toronto with recent watercolours around him on the floor – winter scenes from outside his window.


David’s work has been featured in four books. The first, The Wake of the Great Sealers was published in 1973 in collaboration with the renowned author Farley Mowat. The second one: The Art of David Blackwood came out 1988 in collaboration with William Gough, a gifted Canadian author, born in Wesleyville. His book based in Newfoundland, Maud’s House, is a standout.

The second book indirectly ended up as the unlikely midwife to another book. It was through Bill Gough, and his and David’s book, that Annie Proulx was introduced to the stories and images of the Newfoundland seal and cod fisheries. That inspired her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Shipping News, set in Newfoundland and published in 1996. The paperback version featured one of David’s etchings on the cover and one of those original etchings was presented to Annie by her publisher when she received the Pulitzer.

David’s connection with the gifted American author didn’t end there. In 2001, another coffee table book, David Blackwood – Master Printmaker came out featuring his Newfoundland etchings and a forward by Annie Proulx.

The most recent book came out in 2011 – Black Ice: David Blackwood Prints of Newfoundland, is a book-length catalogue of a retrospective exhibition of David’s etchings held in 2011 by the Art Gallery of Ontario.


The books and much of what is written about David focuses on his copper plate etchings, original prints. Yet, while David never stopped being a printmaker (a new etching came out last year) and is celebrated as a master, one of the world’s finest, he has used many other mediums as well. That has been one of my delights. Watching David push his artistic boundaries year after year!

First, I discovered his drawings in the 1960’s, then came the watercolours in the mid 1970’s. A huge shock to those familiar with his stark etchings. More colour, landscapes and no signature human figures. I bought a few of these watercolours and drawings in the 70’s and 80’s and again in the early 2000’s as I could afford them. One of those watercolours, Ephraim Kelloway’s Door (1986), was the first image I collected of this iconic door which became such a central part of my collection. And this image had a lot of meaning for me as I describe below.

Then, in the 1980s, came the monumental oil paintings and then the surprising monotypes of the 1980’s with more colour. These images are painted on copper or glass and then one print is pulled from the printing press which adds to the complexity of the image. I bought one of the flower monotypes from David in 1988, the flowers set on a coffee table in his living room.

In the 1990’s the monotypes kept their colour but began to pick up Newfoundland subjects and themes and later some Tuscan backgrounds where David visited often. Then came a series of oil tempera paintings that also began to explore the Newfoundland story in yet another medium. And most recently in the past fifteen or so years David has add three-dimensional assemblage paintings with encaustic!


Ephraim Kelloway’s Door, David Blackwood, copper-plate etching, 1981

It was during one of my periodic visits to Port Hope in the late 1980’s that I saw the beginnings of his first massive oil paintings which became part of the “Ephraim Kelloway Door” series. This series of 15 paintings was based on the door of a shed that once served as the woodshed for David’s studio building in Wesleyville. This was one of David’s first major attempts to explore how to portray the same object in many different ways and mediums while keeping each image fresh and vital. David transformed this simple door into a colourful invitation to stand at the threshold of something far greater than a shed. It was an invitation, painted in many different colours and ways, to enter this “other” world of Newfoundland. His first image of this door (to the left) was an etching in 1981.

I purchased one of the door paintings called Celebration Door , at the first showing of the paintings in the Fall of 1990 in Toronto. (This painting was later sold.) I bought this painting because I had promised myself years before that I would buy one of David’s first oil paintings. But I had other reasons as well. This door was not just a colourful icon. It had been part of my life.

I lived in St. John’s and Wesleyville for three months in the winter of 1985 to research a book that would try to do in words what David’s prints did with images. That book remains unwritten. But this trip to the heart of David’s world made real for me many images of the buildings, places and people that previously I had known just through the prints. I tried to capture some of this in a CBC radio interview with Peter Gzowski that winter on Morningside, his CBC radio show that was broadcast every weekday morning across Canada.

I knew the “real” Ephraim Kelloway’s door from my stay in David’s Wesleyville studio. I took my wood from there to heat the two-storey studio where I was staying. The door and shed had belonged to Ephraim Kelloway a long-time neighbour of the Blackwoods in Wesleyville before David and his brother Edgar bought it and moved it beside David’s studio building. Edgar and his family were wonderful hosts for me when I was there.

Here is what David said about this door of many colours in a feature on the door published by Abbozzo Gallery in Ontario in 2010:

In the late 1950’s, Ephraim Kelloway painted his shed door green. Then over a two year period it changed colours frequently, from blue to white to black to brown to red, as Ephraim found paint. When Margueritte Tuff had some pink left over from a girl’s bedroom, it found its way onto the shed door. Some discarded aluminum stovepipe paint changed it again to silver. In the summer of 1959 the shed door was painted bright yellow… In September of that year I left Wesleyville to attend the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. Ephraim stopped painting the shed and the elements took over where he had left off – transforming the door slowly over the next several years as it shed its coats of many colours.

By the time I saw it those colours had muted down to a weathered green. And in 2002, after the door had become a recognized iconic image across the country, some thieves tried to steal it but lost heart and dropped it after one hundred and fifty feet. It ended up being a feature of the Art Gallery Of Ontario’s 2011 retrospective exhibition and now hangs safely in a provincial art gallery and museum in St. John’s.


During the past fifty-five plus years certain reoccurring images have become a kind of signature in David’s work. I think of course, of Kelloway’s door but also, his father’s schooner the Flora S. Nickerson, icebergs, whales, ships – leaving and returning from the icefields, in the ice fields, on fire – churches, Mummers (strangely dressed Christmas-time house visitors) bifurcated mitts or trigger mittens with their distinctive patterns, a lit storm lantern and Bennet’s High Island offshore Wesleyville with its distinctive marker on top.

Poster for the David Blackwood A-10 Series, 2001

But there is another series of images that come to mind and became associated with me and my former money management company, Aequanimitas Inc., when I commissioned sixteen of them back in 2001. These are his distinctive navigational signal flags now part of his International Code Flag Series. And, yet again, the signal flags, especially as they became more abstract, represented another point of departure in his art.

Why did David on these navigational flags? Because his captain father had to learn them when Newfoundland became part of Canada. Imagine, this utterly experienced captain in some of the world’s most challenging seas having to get certified as a captain in Canada. David remembers seeing his father going over cards he made of all the flags to help him remember!

I never expected to be a part of the development of this series but when I asked David if he could create an image or images to give to my clients he said yes and he suggested he could create a series of images that reflected the anniversary by using the Letter A and the numerals 1 and 0 as represented in navigational signal flags. I agreed. This became the remarkable A-10 Series shown for one night only in Calgary in 2001 before each image was given to clients. I kept one!

And what a result. In his spare time he created configurations on small cardboard cards of those three flags in startling different ways. Then he painted the full-scale images on copper and printed one-off images one by one! In these works David continued to surprise me with his originality of design and composition.

The A-10 Series was not the last commission David undertook for me. In late 2015 when he was recovering at home from months away in hospital I asked if he might consider doing a book cover for my first full-length poetry collection, Hyaena Season,  published in October 2016. I knew this was a huge ask because the cover would not have a Newfoundland theme! It would be of an African wild animal, a hyena! David graciously said yes and that he was fine if the publisher didn’t use it. I was disappointed David’s striking image wasn’t chosen by the publisher but I hold it as a cherished part of my collection! A gift of friendship.


When I started on this artistic journey with David Blackwood I would not have guessed the outcome. That it would become truly a highlight of my life. And such a privilege to watch from close in this extraordinary artist stretch himself and his art and to be able to have so much of that art become a signature feature of the houses I have lived in. I am so grateful. I feel a deep personal loss at David’s passing but he is not far away! Almost every room in my house has a Blackwood art work on its wall or walls! His voice still speaks. Thank you David for bringing something so priceless into my life – you, your art and Anita.



  1. Linda Roberts
    Posted July 5, 2022 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much. You have honoured and illuminated David, ,his art, and our home province.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted July 12, 2022 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I am so delighted to have honoured him and Newfoundland! Knowing him and some of his story and the Newfoundland story has made my life so much richer. At one time I lived in his studio building to research and write about Newfoundland. A novel never resulted but a distant part of Canada became much closer!

  3. Sandy O'reillyt
    Posted July 6, 2022 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I loved David Blackwood’s work from the first moment i saw it as a young adult. I didn’t realize then that anyone ,even someone not rich,could own art and I regret not purchasing a piece of his art years ago. I met him in Victoria when he cane for an exhibit of his work at the Art Gallery of Victoria, He was an engaging, delightful man
    We and the art community will miss his work and his presence.

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted July 12, 2022 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Sandy: love when you say: he was an engaging, delightful man. I remember so many openings where he would mingle so gracefully with the people there!Thank you for this tribute!

  5. Heidi Garnett
    Posted July 11, 2022 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Richard, what a loss both personally and artistically for you.

  6. Richard Osler
    Posted July 12, 2022 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Dear Heidi: So thoughtfully expressed! A man I stayed connected to for about 56 years!!! So glad you have some of his art in your house!

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