STEELE, Bob




Author Tags: Art, Education, History

Robert Cameron (Bob) Steele of Vancouver, a UBC Professor Emeritus and a practicing artist, sees drawing as a language that’s potentially as important as talking or writing and he has consequently made the study of “aesthetic energy” in children’s art into his life’s work.

In his Draw Me a Story (Winnipeg: Peguis, 1999 $18) -- now out of print -- he used examples of child art to explore the connections between drawing and language. He contends that in their drawings children can capture degrees of sophistication in perception, understanding and emotion that are far beyond their literacy level. "Draw Me A Story was motivated," he says, "by the strange reluctance on the part of educators to accept the spontaneous drawing of children as a language phenomenon. This has considerable significance for intellectual development and emotional well-being of children." He subsequently self-published The Drawing Path for Children in 2011.

Bob Steele was born in Mervin, Saskatchewan, near Loon Lake, on January 27, 1925. He served in the RCAF, received Educations and Arts degrees at University of Saskatchewan, and taught music, art and English in Princeton, Chilliwack and the Vancouver School of Art. He taught within the UBC Faculty of Education for 28 years, specializing in graphic arts and art education. He has had numerous one-man shows for his paintings, drawings, prints and photographs around British Columbia.

Having spent his early life in Saskatchewan towns near many of the important sites for the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, such as Loon Lake, scene of Big Bear's flight through muskeg country, Bob Steele self-published Stories from the Rebellion (Drawing Network, 2011, $24), an historical work that includes observations from a fictional journalist named Thomas Cruikshanks. It is illustrated by Steele's own portraits of central characters such as Police Commissioner A.G. Irvine, Gabriel Dumont, Louis Riel, Chief Fine Day, Big Bear and Chief Poundmaker. Steele writes, "It is written as history and fiction, thoroughly researched but fictionally imagined through the eyes of a young reporter from Ontario. The format is alternate sections of straightforward historical narrative and the fictional sections. In this way it departs from the typical historical novel. The rationale is to attract young adult readers and demonstrate that Canadian history is far from dull. A secondary motif is to encourage young readers to become young writers of history."

Of his self-published book, A Picture Book of Children's Drawings (The Drawing Network 2013 $22 978-0-9868230-3-9), Bob Steele writes, "This will be my fourth title which we distribute at cost to promote children's drawings as a language phenomenon. The Drawing Network is a small informal group of parents, teachers, academics and reform minded citizens who recognize that spontaneous drawing is the young child's most important language for articulating, expressing, and communicating his or her deepest and most complex perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. Hard to believe, but true. And yet, it is almost universally neglected in the critically important preschool years and vastly underused in the school years. Our mission is to spread the word about the situation and illustrate how easy it would be to remedy. This is above all a literacy project as spontaneous drawing is not only a language in its own right but an important aid to literacy!"

[BCBW 2013] "Art" "Education"