Hugh McKenzie

Hugh McKenzie was born on the Ojibway Reserve on Bear Island , Lake Temagami , which is still his home and studio.  He attended Temagami Public School but did not proceed past grade 7.  He moved to Hull , Quebec , where he lived with Benjamin Chee Chee, another Bear Island painter.  They learned from one another.  The Canadian Government would buy all the art they would produce through the Canadian Indian Markets Service.  They had art shows in Ottawa .  Chee Chee became famous through a mural he did for Expo 67.  They painted one day a week, because they did not have to worry about selling their work.  Hugh did stencils for several paintings, which after Chee Chee would touch up, were sold under Chee Chee's name, as Benjamin commanded a higher price.  Hugh and Benjamin found life in the Capital City challenging and drifted into alcoholism and substance abuse.  Both were jailed at various times, but Benjamin could not handle his despair and died in jail.  After Benjamin's death, several writers approached Hugh to get information for a book on Chee Chee, but Hugh would not cooperate, for he would not endorse stories that were not true.  David John Smith was Hugh's first agent, contacting him after Chee Chee's death, and arranged tours and shows across Canada .  Several Canadian galleries helped bring Hugh into prominence.


    "Yorkville [in Toronto ] was the most expensive" he says; "I got exposure but didn't make much money."  Returning to Bear Island , Hugh had a partner, Dianne, for eight years until the relationship ended.  Hugh turned to AA for help; now totally reformed from his drinking habits, he leads a vigorous life of painting, music and design engagements for several Canadian Companies, including a jay painting for the Toronto Blue Jays.  He is buying a professional laser printer, and intends to print his own cards, paintings and T-shirts, as well as doing job printing for the Reserve and the town of Temagami .  His home/studio on Bear Island is open to the public, but it is best to phone in advance because Hugh is frequently on business trips and also puts in time in the summer at a permanent art show in Temagami.  Hugh continues to perform his music for fund-raising events for the Cancer Society in Temagami.


    "Part of myself goes into every painting," he says.  "Art is a gift; I had no formal training other that watching my father [Donald] craft toys out of wood he got in the bush.  I can still see and feel his hands at work.  Such inspiration from turning wood into lovable objects."  Hugh likes to blend colours into clean flowing lines which are relaxing - as in his paintings of flying geese.  "My lines suggest serenity" he says.  In addition to his printing venture, he intends to devote more time to his music.  He says he has to stay in the North to do his work; "I couldn't draw or do my music like this in the city.  Here is where I belong."

Hugh McKenzie
Ojibway Designs
General Delivery
Bear Island , ON
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