Daughter of P.E.I. war artist happy to see sketchbooks preserved, shared

·2 min read

Debi Buell has always been a big fan of her father, artist Athol Buell, so naturally she wanted to share his work with others.

In particular, she wanted to preserve the wartime sketches he did in the late '90s, before his death in 1999.

Several years ago she approached staff at the Robertson Library at UPEI to see if they could archive his work and now that work is complete and his sketches are part of a digital archive.

"He was so talented so it's very nice to be able to share with everybody what he was passionate about," she said.

Passion for wartime art

Submitted by Debi Buell
Submitted by Debi Buell

Athol Buell had a passion for the Second World War and enjoyed sketching everything from battlefields to planes and tanks, to the local P.E.I. soldiers who served. He also researched the personal stories to go along with his artwork.

"He just kept drawing every day. He would try to make sure that he drew the people that were involved," said Debi.

She said her father had the ability to capture "the essence" of people with his sketches.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

She said her father was well-known for his love of art, and it was a hobby he pursued whenever he had the time.

"Even before he was a teenager he was always drawing, everywhere he went," she said.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

She said he had originally done a lot of acrylic painting but later in life when he developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease he could no longer work with paints as they bothered his lungs, so he switched to pencil art.

Sketches now online

Athol's sketches can now be seen by anyone with an internet connection — they are part of a digital archive called Island Lives found at Islandlives.ca.

Keltie MacPhail, the digital initiatives librarian involved in the project, described his work as realistic and informative.

"A lot of the drawings, especially the ones of the people he talks about, are quite lifelike," said MacPhail.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

"They're beautiful," she said.

She said the Island Lives archive focuses on community history and artwork, like that done by Athol Buell, and it must have a substantial Prince Edward Island connection.

She said the stories he wrote alongside his artwork are also valuable.

"There are a number of P.E.I.-related stories sprinkled throughout some of the larger more international historic figures and events that he sketches about and it's a way of preserving some of those Island stories," she said.

She said his stories and sketches tell a history that may not be available in many textbooks.

Debi said her father would be thrilled that his sketch books are being preserved and shared with such a wide audience.

"This is a way of protecting them and being able to share them. I guess it's going to be shared with the world."

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