Abbotsford 1922 depicts what the city looked like close to 100 years ago from the top of Old Yale Road. Photo courtesy of Brian Croft.

VIDEO: Painting Abbotsford 1922, Fraser Valley artist describes year-long creation

Brian Croft details research, landscapes, and painting again after four-year break

Brian Croft. Black Press File photo.

Abbotsford 1922 – a landscape painting depicting what the city looked like close to 100 years ago – took Brian Croft close to a year to finish.

After a four-year hiatus from painting, the Fraser Valley artist talks about his creative process, picking up the brush again and his development as a painter.

“I just do it for the sake of history,” Croft said. “All of us are searching for something, some subject matter, something that we want to say. For many of us, it takes a long time.”

The painting was presented to the Reach Gallery Museum in 2012. The inspiration for the landscape, which gazes down at Historic Downtown Abbotsford, came from finding three old photos in Vancouver’s online archives.

“Eventually I realized [the photos] for what [they were], so I took them all on screen and lined them up. It was a panoramic.” Croft said. “The photographer had gone up the hill to that water tower which used to be on top of [Old Yale Road].”

The panoramic Croft discovered in the Vancouver archives which served as the basis for the landscape.

He said he was informed by Kris Foulds, the curator of historical collections at the museum, that the subsequent art display had the highest attendance they had ever seen. Croft worked closely with Foulds in preliminary research for the painting.

“I was pretty proud of that,” Croft said. “It was a really good experience.”

Croft took up painting later in life after retiring as a pilot for Air Canada. He says his 22-year journey as an artist started with basic floral and portrait paintings, but his interest in archival research shifted his work to towards creating snapshots of the past.

“I started looking at old barns and painting them and I began to read into what I was painting. I was painting the history of the barn and not just the barn. You know, when they built it, what happened there,” Croft said. “That just opened up a whole drive of research.”

This research led him to create a series of historical paintings of each community in the Fraser Valley: Chilliwack, Abbotsford and his hometown of Langley.

“I didn’t play golf and I needed a hobby. History got under my skin,” he said. “Thing became incredibly complex. Not to execute it, but to get it exactly right.”

“I’m just taking you back 20 years, 50 years, 100 years and I’m showing you what it looked like. And I want to show you as much as I can, and as authentically as I can, to tell you the story.”

Croft will be releasing a painting this spring, his first in four years, of Vancouver’s C-FUN radio station in the 1960s. The building is set to be torn down around the same time.

For the past decade, he has been organizing the West Fine Art art show in the Fraser Valley. The show runs three times a year, and features local artists from all over Western Canada. His work as an organizer caused him to break from painting.

“It took a long time and I kind of dropped my art,” Croft said. “It was a huge project. If you try to organize 20 or 22 artists at a show, it’s like herding cats.”

“I don’t really have to paint,” Croft said. “But I should be painting because I still have got more to say.”

“I wish I hadn’t stopped.”

Croft was asked to paint the old radio station by his friend and veteran-radio announcer Red Robinson. Robinson, who worked at the station in the 1960s, is credited as being the first disc jockey in Vancouver to play rock and roll music.

“I couldn’t say no. So I did it, I just finished a couple days ago,” Croft said. “I’m glad he called because I’ve got several other paintings coming along that have been sitting in my studio.”

Croft says that while he doesn’t paint for money, he does market prints of his work in various art stores if anyone is interested.

“I do that because to do all of that work, and have it disappear into one household, is not my game. I like to have a broader reach into showing the story,” he said. “I hope people enjoy seeing Abbotsford the way it was back then.”

Samples of Croft’s other work can be found at his website:


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