A project on the artist and historical illustrator, J.D. Kelly

About JD Kelly

Photo of an Elderly JD Kelly courtesy Percy Township Historical SocietyJD (for John David) Kelly was a son of local settlers and farmers John and Margaret Kelly. He was born in Gore’s Landing in 1862, and grew up in the Sandy Flats area near Warkworth. A logging accident crushed one of his feet, along with hopes for a life as a farmer, so JD developed a livelihood for himself as an artist. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art with a gold medal, and spent 71 years with the Toronto Lithographing Company. Over the course of his long career, he painted many carefully researched but visually invented representations of moments in the development of Canada that were widely reproduced and distributed for decades, on calendars, in textbooks and as framed prints on the walls of schools, banks and public buildings. They have become subliminally familiar to many of us as the history of Canada, history as we know it. Together, those moments of the past five centuries form a glorious narrative of Canada that is so carefully curated by the storytellers, that it is close to Social Realism in its formulaic manner of representation. And it is, by and large, even now, as consensual and official a history as the narratives of Social Realism were for its culture. J.D. Kelly’s paintings are windows into the world view of his times, and into the creation and power of historical narrative.

These panels below are based on the research of Aureen Richardson, and pairs her text, along with the words of Orville Kelly and JD’s own words, with images to help create a sense of who JD Kelly was, and what his inspiring story may mean to us as artists and citizens in the twenty-first century.

Click here to view all of the panels below as a single PDF.

Contact Clive at info@cliverussell.web-demo.ca