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'Local treasure': Renowned artist Dave Beckett mourned

'Marchmont won’t be the same without you,' wrote one local artist who was also a mainstay on the popular Images Studio Tour
Dave Beckett is shown in his studio in Marchmont. Beckett, 85, died on April 18.

People in the Orillia area and art lovers around the country are mourning the loss of Dave Beckett, a renowned artist, colourful character and friend to many. The 85-year-old died on April 18 after a battle with cancer.

Beckett, who was born in Winnipeg but grew up in Orillia and graduated from Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute, moved away to pursue a successful career in advertising.

But in 1980, he returned to Orillia, trading in his briefcase for a box of pastels and an easel to pursue his dream. 

From that moment on, Beckett could often be found with his camera, often in a canoe, finding inspiration from different locations near his Marchmont studio. He loved Georgian Bay, but also found vistas worthy of painting during his travels to Canada’s east and west coasts, Lake Superior, Mexico and other points.

Wherever he went, he was always searching for that next painting-worthy scene that might focus on rural fields, the deep forests of the rocks, trees and crystal waters of the Great Lakes and, in later years, the spectacular skies above. 

"To me, this is the inspiring and exciting part,” Beckett told Village Media in 2022. “After a few hours of paddling and researching, a special scene is where it begins. 

“Armed with many different shots of the subject, I head back to the studio to begin the process of developing the painting," explained Beckett of his process.

That process and passion helped Beckett become a celebrated artist who loved to share his love of nature through his work. 

While his paintings hold a place of honour in many local homes, his sought-after paintings can also be found in many private and corporate collections that include the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario, major banks and throughout Europe, Japan and South Africa.

He was perhaps most proud that one of his paintings has a place of honour at the Orillia City Centre.

In June of 2019, Beckett presented the city with an original pastel painting he christened, 'A New Day'. The painting, he said at the time, embodies the essence and beauty of the Sunshine City.

beckett painting unveiled
Artist Dave Beckett, left, donated this painting, A New Day, to the City of Orillia. Steve Clarke, who was the city's mayor at the time, unveiled the gift. | Dave Dawson/OrilliaMatters File Photo

"I donated this to the city because they've been so good to me," Beckett said following the unveiling.

"The people in Orillia have just been real champs, great supporters in my book for, I guess, about 40 years. I want the people of Orillia to be able to see this and enjoy it," he said.

Then Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke was grateful to Beckett for the painting.

"This painting is beautiful," noted the mayor at the civic unveiling, adding it "will hang proudly in the city for decades and decades to come."

Clarke praised Beckett's abilities and his character.

"His work is known in the area, it's known provincially and internationally," said Clarke. "Not only is he an acclaimed artist with a great talent, but he is also very giving."

The painting features a pastoral field north of Orillia under a vast sky dominated by golden hues from the sun.

“When I looked at it, and thinking how Orillia is known as the Sunshine City, it just seemed like a natural thing to do,” he said of the donation.

After the unveiling, Beckett told Village Media he was happy to see the painting find a permanent and prominent home.

“Down the road, I’m not going to be here, so to leave a little bit of my past there as sort of a legacy … it means a lot to me,” said Beckett.

Beckett was well known in his field; he was an elected member of The Pastel Society of Canada and was recently awarded the title of Premier Pastellist of Canada. He was also a life member of the Pastel Society of America, an international organization of distinguished pastellists and a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists.

But to his family and friends in Orillia, though his art was always his calling card, his sense of humour and zest for life were also legendary.

“It's a sad day for the community as we lose a local treasure,” wrote Matt Thomson on social media. 

“I always admired his artistic talent. It was exciting to visit his home studio to see what (he had) been working on. Such a fun guy to be around and I'll miss his sense of humour,” said Thomson.

Grant Serra called Beckett a “wonderful man” and an “incredible artist” who will be painting the heavens.

“Marchmont won’t be the same without you,” wrote Pam Allen, a local artist who, like Beckett, was a mainstay at the popular Images Studio Tour that draws thousands to the area each fall.

“He was a wonderful man. (He had a) great sense of humour and (was) an excellent artist,” wrote Cheryle Moore.

Visitation will be held at the Mundell Funeral Home, 79 West St. N., Orillia on Tuesday, April 23 from 4 to 7 p.m. followed by a private family service. Click here to read the obituary notice.