Nicholas Tuele has been a man about the arts since the mid-1960s. I've known him since 1975 and yet, until we sat down to talk last week, I'd never understood the range of his activities. He's very articulate and this short column can't do more than itemize what we discussed.
Tuele was born in England in 1944 to a Canadian fighter pilot and his British war bride. After the armistice, they brought the toddler to their fishing camp on the rail line north of Lake Superior, a business that soon failed. Tuele Sr. then re-enlisted, and the family grew up on the Prairies before his father was posted to Germany, where Nick spent his teen years, which he says was "absolutely critical" to his life's "pattern and path."
Upon his father's retirement they settled in Victoria. Tuele enrolled at the University of Victoria, where he was inspired by Prof. Tony Emery. "He brought art history to life in a dynamic way," Tuele recalled. "He knew all the interesting stories of the artists."
The studies continued under Alan Gowans, who is world famous for what Tuele calls his "different way of understanding the complexities of analogical and analytical thought."
Uniquely, Gowans renamed the art history department History in Art.
Tuele next went north, working on oil rigs and in logging camps. He told me how, one afternoon, while sitting on a stump, he realized that with modern technology, they could log the entire valley in just a few days. "Looking around at the devastation," he explained, "I said to myself I just can't do this anymore."
Returning to school, he joined the masters program at the University of B.C., where he "fell into the clutches of the feminist art history profs" Doreen Walker and Avis Lang Rosenberg. His thesis was on Victoria's Sophie Pemberton.
Upon graduation, Tuele became, in 1975, extensions officer of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, setting up shows from the gallery's collection in communities everywhere on the Island. The high point was meeting Sybil Andrews, a charismatic artist and teacher who saw her art career, which began in Britain, evaporate when she moved to Campbell River in 1946.
Tuele arranged for Andrews' linocuts to be seen in their first showing in Victoria. Subsequently, a major exhibit and catalogue at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary resurrected her reputation.
"At the time, she offered me the contents of her studio for a few thousand dollars," Tuele recalled, but for professional and ethical reasons he refused. He says she would be "flipping in her grave" now if she knew that a single proof of her print titled Speedway sells for more than $50,000.
Next, he became director the Northwest Mounted Police Museum in Fort Macleod, Alta., where he enjoyed his interactions with First Nations of sub-Arctic and Arctic communities. Though profoundly engaged with the tasks there, in 1983 he heard the siren call of a job at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and returned to the coast.
For the following 18 years, Tuele was a senior curator at the gallery and brought to us definitive exhibits of Sophie Pemberton, Herbert Siebner, Jack Wise, Toni Onley and dozens of others. It was there that he created his first "online" exhibitions, many of which are still informing people. His term at the gallery came to an end when director Pat Bovey moved to Winnipeg and Tuele went into private practice.
He soon took training to become an accredited fine art and antique appraiser through a distance education program from the University of Maryland. Undertaking further contracts, he created online exhibits for, among others, the Duncan Forestry Museum and the Maritime Museum in Victoria. He was responsible for steering the Jack Wise estate to the University of Victoria's Artists Archives, and was curator for the Canadian Navy's collection of Robert McVittie paintings now on show at the Maritime Museum.
It goes on. Ten years ago, Tuele joined the board of Victoria's Sports Hall of Fame and oversaw the installation of the displays at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
With his wife Sue, he makes time for "adventure tourism," which has included sailing across both the Atlantic and the Pacific on a 112-foot yacht. Currently, he is helping develop portfolios and exhibitions with artists Arthur Vickers, Duncan Regehr and Pyx Sutherland.
Tuele is dedicated to working with creative people in Victoria. He's committed to the evolution of this community.
"I get up in the morning and I can't wait to get at it again," he told me. "There aren't enough days in the week!"
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