Charlie Tanner 1904-1982

There are certain folk artists who’s work is so personalized, and exhibits such a distinct style, that once seen, you can recognize the work from across a room.  Charlie Tanner is just such an artist.  I loved his work the first time I laid eyes on it, and he has been one of my favourite folk artists ever since.

In Chris Huntington’s excellent essay published in the booklet that accompanied the 1984 retrospective of his work at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, he writes

 “Stonehurst is a small fishing village that located itself about 200 years ago amidst the barren, rocky, coastal out-reaches about ten miles south of Lunenburg. Stonehurst is that much closer to the inshore fishing grounds so that, in spite of it’s inhospitable geology, it attracted the Germanic farmer-fisherman pushing out fom the hills of Lunenburg. Today every other mailbox proclaims that a Tanner is it’s owner. On February 15, 1904, another Tanner was born there and his name was Charles Enos. “We were common people them days. Everyone was.” Charlie spoke with the heavy Lunenburg-Dutch accent that is still often heard in those parts today. He recalled “Children were growed up before they had any age to them. They never had a chance to go to school. You had to start work when you were so young that you never really had much chance to develop any interests other than fishing”. One of 12 children Charlie started cod lining as part of the family livelihood when he was “eight, ten maybe nine”.  By 13 like other his age, his father took him to Lunenburg and put him on a schooner for the Grand Banks, where he earned $30.00 a month as a deck hand until he was 15, at which time he was considered a grown man. Charlie then took his place at the bow of one of the dozen dories that put out each dawn and afternoon to set trawl for codfish. There he labored under tutelage of an older, experienced fisherman as a part of a two man team, for which Charlie earned a share of the schooner’s take.  Between the long voyages to the banks, like other fishermen, Charlie mended gear, built boats, repaired houses, farmed, chipped out decoys and took them gunning, as he had ever since he was big enough to carry a gun. – “That was none too big either”.

After a dozen years or so of salt-banking Charlie contributed to the bootleg industry by schoonering cases of liquor from St. Pierre to outside the twelve mile boundary off of Block Island, New York, where the crew would wait for power boats evading the Feds to steal through the darkness to relieve the cargo. “That was good fun,” Charlie said. At the same time Charlie put his name in as a labourer at the New Mersey Plant. Though the job never materialized, he bought a boat and, between rum-running trips took up life as an inshore out of Mersey point near Liverpool. Stonehurst hadn’t been big enough for all those Tanners so Charlie settled into a forty year period of either fishing alone, or with one partner, in his 40 foot Cape Islander, jigging Cod, seining herring or mackerel, the latter of which was used to bait lobster traps during those seasons. ”Them times there was no money. When you went all  day out and got 2,000 pounds of fish and made $25 or $30 to fead the two of you.” The take was one cent a pound for cod and 40 cents for lobster. Charlie said he took by handline a much as 3,000 pounds of cod by himself in one day. It may have been a tough haul but it was what Charlie knew.  His hands after a life of such toil were an amazing testament to the life they lived. Work was like breathing; it was second nature. “Fishing.  It’s a damn habit, that’s all it is,” he said looking back. His wife Helen offered “He’s just an old alt, that’s all he is.” But of course that is not all that Charlie was, and this exhibition celebrates the other part of his life, for which he will ultimately be remembered; that is, the roughly eight years he spent making small carved and painted figures of living things.”

Charlie Tanner died in 1982. Two years after his death, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia honoured him with an exhibition of his work.

Reference: Charlie Tanner Retrospective, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1984. Folk Art of Nova Scotia, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia,

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Joe Lloyd – Brantford carver captured life moments in miniature

You won’t find many references to Joe Lloyd in the folk art books.  It is difficult to see his work in museums. To my knowledge he never received an award or was offered a show in a public gallery. But besides being a heck of a nice fellow, Joe was a dedicated folk artist, and he had his niche.

Joe at his home in 1994

I met Joe in 1994 when I picked up signs he had voluntarily made for the one time Canadian Contemporary Folk Art Festival which was held in Paris, Ontario. He lived near the hospital in Brantford, and he and his wife Janet welcomed us in for a cup of tea in spite of the fact they did not know us. In the living room, behind him on some built in shelves there were many examples of his work. All on a smaller scale with the biggest being about ten inches tall. I asked him how he got started, and what he was carving at the moment.

He told me his carving life began at age 14, and he won a prize in grade five for his ivory soap carving of the Lone Ranger. Joe continued to carve occasionally but really “got back into it” in 1976 when he moved to Brantford, and met and was encouraged by local folk artist Gordon Papple.

Joe’s subject matter evolved from wildlife carving of fish, bear, and birds, into carving the human figure, and then he began to place those figures in small scenes, many which are interictally detailed. Typical subjects of Joe’s sculptures are sports figures, cowboys, super heroes, soldiers, and domestic scenes such as a man changing a tire as his wife looks on, a farm auction, a butcher shop, and a kitchen scene, a barber shop etc. All of his work is carved and painted and most of it is signed.  His prices were very reasonable, typically asking between $25 to about $60 for his most intricate pieces. Joe was a modest man. He told me he didn’t care about being paid for all the hours he put into producing the pieces, and was just happy to have the pieces go to appreciative homes, so the place didn’t clutter up, and he could feel free to produce some more.  We bought eight or ten pieces that day, and would call Joe every six months or so to see what he had been up to.  Usually going home with six to ten pieces.  Then in 2005 when I curated the Finding Folk Art exhibit at the Eva Brook-Donly Museum in Simcoe, we included Joe, and asked him to participate in a one day folk art sale which was a part of the proceedings. It was great fun, and he did very well that day.

Years slipped by, and we got busy with new ventures and life direction and we just didn’t get around to visiting Joe much after that.  A couple of years slipped by and the next thing we knew we were reading his obituary in the paper.  We didn’t know joe very well, but we really liked him, and we are glad to have known him and to own some of his pieces. At his best, his little, detailed miniatures look into moments of human behavior with a simplicity and clarity that make you happy to be looking at them.  They are both light-hearted, and observant. Because his work was not large or flashy it is easy to underestimate him. He stayed in his area, and he was good at realizing what he was imagining.  All this and not a self-conscious bone in his body. When he participated in the Simcoe exhibit we had him provide us with some biological details. This is what he told us.

a typical
Joe Lloyd signature

Joe Lloyd was born in 1937 in Ernstown, South Fredricksburg County, near Napanee Ontario. When Joe was one, his father became involved in cheese production.and moved the family to Aston, Ontario. Then when Joe was fourteen, he moved with his family to Carlton Place when his father got a job at the Finley Forge making cook stoves.

Joe left school at the age of fifteen, and went to work at various jobs in woolen mills, sheet metal plants, logging, pulp and paper mills, and then with the C.N.R. and Great Northern railways. Then Joe crossed Canada twice working on construction jobs in bridge work, highways, building construction and renovation. As a laborer, then carpenter, and foreman he has helped to build houses, bowling alleys, airplane hangars, cottages, and the Maple Leaf Gardens. Joe worked from 1976 until his retirement in 1999 as a maintenance worker, and then night security at the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ontario.

Joe lived with his wife Janet in Brantford until his sudden death on April 21, 2011 at the age of 74.  He is survived by Janet and two grown sons.

I’m looking at a little crane that he carved and gave to Jeanine when he noticed she had a collection of carved birds. It makes me smile.  His work lives on.

So long Joe.  It was good to know you.