Carle Hessay

Carle Hessay (b. Dresden, Germany  1911 – d. Hope, British Columbia 1978)

Green Shadows, 1961

oil on board

24” x 36”

Born 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.  As a child he moved with his family to Vienna where his talent for drawing was discovered and he was accepted as an art student at the Louvre in a class of forty selected from two hundred applicants. When his father died his art studies ended. He was placed in an orphanage by Catholic monks. He was unhappy there and ran away reaching Bulgaria and Turkey. He was arrested while attending a bazaar in Istanbul where the police gave him a meal, new clothes and 25 shillings and then deported him to Vienna. He was returned to the orphan­age where he was severely punished by the monks, and after six months, ran away again. He worked on a fishing boat in Holland, cleaning herring with forty-five other orphans who were exploited and harshly treated. After landing back at Rotterdam he signed onto a Japanese freighter and working as a stoker he shovelled coal into the ship's firebox on shift work. His memories of the Suez and the Red Sea were put down on canvas. By 1927 he had saved enough money to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where part of his training included how to restore paintings damaged by water, smoke or carelessness. He also learned the rudiments of colour, and how to grind paints, make glazes, grounds and other skills including how to protect colours from fading by glazing them. Today he still makes his own paints and obtains his colours from minerals and plants. Next he went to art school in Dresden but in 1934 was forced to flee from Germany because of his anti-fascist sentiments. Some of his fellow students were sent to prison and were never heard of again. He went to French West Africa where he spent four years lithographing and preparing maps. Then he spent fifteen months in the Spanish Civil War where he was trained for three months and then transferred to the Bolider Partisans fighting with this group in the battles of Teruel, Aragon, Alcantar and Ebro River. During the 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)”. In 1942 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Engineers and served with the 18th Field Company in Europe. Once he volunteered to paint panels on the bare walls of the Beaver Club in Lon­don. He married in Holland during the war and returned to Canada with his bride to settle in Vancouver. He established a commercial artists' shop above the Lyric Theatre in Vancouver where he made posters for the Theatre to pay his rent. His wife and child were killed on a Vancouver street when a truck went out of control. The tragedy brought an end to his purpose in Vancouver. He moved to Langley where he established a small sign and poster shop. He has spent many years pros­pecting and landscape painting in the mountains of B.C. He has also done a number of documentary canvases of Indians in the Cariboo, a Chinese mining ghost town in B.C., scenes of street musicians and other genre subjects. All his documentary canvases are primed with fifteen coats of specially prepared gesso ground which draws the impurities from the pigments of paint to give the painting good texture. He has exhibited his work at the Village Art Centre, West Vancouver (1965); Langley Art Gallery (1971) and other shows. His work has been bought for the Vincent Price collection.