Born as Hans Karl Hesse in Dresden, Germany on November 30, 1911, Carle Hessay was a Jack London-like character who died from a heart attack that occurred while dancing at a New Year's Eve party at the Sasquatch Inn in the Fraser Canyon town of Spuzzum on January 1, 1978. Along the way he fought against Fascist forces of Franco during the Spanish Civil War and as a Canadian soldier in World War II. During the former war, when the boat he was on docked in Spain, he was captured and imprisoned, but because he spoke several languages, Hessay was put to work translating letters. "This gave him more freedom than the rest of the prisoners under their Moorish guards," says his publisher Maidie Hilmo, "so he was able to organize a small escape party. They stole a small boat and escaped to Africa, and after a grueling and thirsty ordeal in Africa, he finally made his way back to Canada. A few of his paintings record the Spanish Civil War. One is called La Passionaria (Dolores Ibarruri)."

Hessay also travelled the world as a seaman, became an accomplished gymnast and chess player, worked as sign painter in Langley, B.C. (he first arrived there in 1950) and became a highly skilled painter of semi-abstract landscapes. According to Vancouver School of Art historian Leonard Woods, Hessay was an exceedingly vivacious character, always willing to entertain by performing hand-stands or diving feats. This gleeful nature and unconventional behaviour sometimes belied his sophistication as an artist and opera-lover. Hessay's rough exterior concealed his excellent knowledge of science, mythology, ancient philosophers and the Bible. Having served as the principle speaker for a celebration of Hessay's art in Dawson Creek in 1984, Woods has provided the text for Meditations on the Paintings of Carle Hessay (Trail: Trabarni Publications & Victoria: Treeline Press, 2005), a slender coffee table book, edited by its publisher Maidie Hilmo, that records Hessay's considerable artistry. 1-895666-27-9 $39.95

[Treeline Press, 3986 Cedar Hill Cross Road, Victoria, BC V8P 2N7.]

[BCBW 2006] "Art"