Bill Schwarz (HS'60)
Skewing Artistic Lines And Defying Conventions
Teens tend to get clumped into convenient stereotypes in high school with immediately recognizable labels: the brainiacs, the jocks, the choristers, the rebels.
Bill Schwarz (HS’60) never liked labels, and did his best to avoid being boxed in to one stereotype while attending Luther College high school. He served as Class President and Valedictorian. He was involved with debate and football and the Letterman’s Chorus (a singing group for male athletes). He even hosted a Luther TV show called Teen Tempo on CKCK-TV every Saturday, helping students learn about different vocations.
Is it any wonder that this successful commercial lawyer in Cambridge, Ontario, is also a renowned artist – who picked up a paintbrush only twenty years ago, in his fifties?
“It never occurred to me that you couldn’t do both – and I think I got that from Luther,” Bill begins. “The school grounded me and gave me the opportunity to realize my potential and do anything I set my mind to – from playing centre on the football team, to campaigning for student council.”
Bill admits he was a bit naive after he graduated from high school and was working toward his undergraduate degree at Western University. “I thought I could get my business degree and move right into the President’s chair,” he chuckles. “When I found out that grads were eligible to become account Managers – and not the CEO – I thought maybe architecture or law might be a better fit.” Bill ended up choosing law, graduating from the University of Toronto with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence.
He set up a successful law practice over the next thirty years and says he hadn’t really thought about any artistic pursuits until one fateful afternoon in September of 1999. That’s when Bill’s wife, Nancy, asked if he would like to attend a drawing class with her. While he admits it wasn’t his first choice for an evening out, he agreed to accompany his wife.
That class, Bill says, opened up “an exciting new world of creation. I paint what I feel, and every time I pick up a brush, it’s something new.” Bill’s inspiration comes from a mishmash of houses, boats, old cars, church spires, and even utility poles sketched from his many travels. The lines on his canvases are purposely skewed, with walls that lean and roofs that dip. The colours are rich, warm, and brilliant. “I don’t like to follow anyone. My art is just like me – a little skewed,” he laughs playfully.
Bill has donated his work to hospitals and charitable organizations across Canada. “I’m a little bit like a breeder,” he begins, then hesitates, like a comedian who knows just when to deliver the punchline. “I’m good as long as I know my ‘puppy’ goes to a good home. My art is the same. It makes me feel good knowing my work is being seen, making people happy.”
At an age when many of his peers are enjoying retirement, Bill finds it ludicrous that someone would even think to ask him when he might retire. “Do you know when you’re going to die?” he asks rhetorically, then deadpans: “neither do I. so why would I stop doing something I enjoy? I have nothing from which to retire. I love what I do. I have a successful commercial law business where I can be creative and help people solve their business problems. And my art feeds my creativity. Being an artist makes me a better person – a fuller person – and ultimately a better lawyer who can look at different sides of a story. I think I have the best of both worlds.”
It would seem that Bill’s life plan was set out for him at Luther – smashing stereotypes, defying boxes, and living life on his own terms.
Bill’s art collection is available for viewing on his website at kirkwoodwagnergallery.com.