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Obituary: Artist Caleb Beyers was 'a creative through and through'

Family was always his top priority for Caleb Beyers, but creative pursuits were a very close second, according to his friends.

Pender Island artist Caleb Beyers died unexpectedly last month at the age of 42, the result of a fatal heart attack. While the loss cut short a life full of substance and promise, his spirit — and artistic contributions — will reverberate through the region for years to come.

Born in London, England, and raised in and around Victoria, Beyers played an integral role in the creative design of several popular and wide-ranging local companies, including Habit Coffee, Bows Coffee Roasters, Discovery Coffee, Hoyne Brewing Company, Big Wheel Burger, Mo:Lé and Victory Barber & Brand. His impact was such that a fundraising initiative in Beyers’s honour was met with considerable support, raising more than $215,000 thus far for his wife, Hanahlie Beise, and sons Asher, 4, and Elia, 2.

The immediate response — more than $150,000 in donations within the first 24 hours of being posted on GoFundMe — did not surprise friend Alex Conconi of Vancouver, who co-ordinated the crowdfunding drive. Beyers was incredibly well liked wherever he went, and genuinely cared about his clients and the well-being of their respective companies.

“It doesn’t surprise me, but it impresses me. We’re almost at 700 donors. That’s a big group of people that he has touched or changed their lives in some way. It’s testament to who he was.”

The biography on Beyers’s Instagram account is an apt summation of his talents, interests, and priorities: “Art, family, fibre, farming, design, food, cameras, plants, buildings, bikes, cats, dogs, alpacas, sheep and everything else.” Family was always his top priority, but creative pursuits were a very close second, according to his friends.

Autopsy reports concluded that his death was caused by undiagnosed coronary artery disease. Which was a shocking turn of events to those in his inner circle, because was he was anything but sedentary. Beyers was a high-level athlete in his teens, and eventually made the rowing team at Brentwood College. That resulted in a scholarship from Harvard University, where he rowed crew alongside Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, the twin brothers and future U.S. Olympians who are credited with co-founding the website that became Facebook during their time at Harvard.

Even then, Beyers’s duality was ever-present. He lettered at Harvard (an award given to a student for achievement in sports), but he was also an editor at The Harvard Lampoon, an on-campus magazine whose alumni includes talk show host Conan O’Brien, Saturday Night Live cast member Colin Jost, and authors George Plimpton and John Updike. After graduating from Harvard in 2003, with a degree in psychology, Beyers returned to Vancouver Island.

His first job following the move was digging ditches for sewer lines. His next gig — a one-year internship teaching film and coaching the rowing team at Shawnigan Lake School — made better use of his skillset. Conconi was one of his students that year, and remembers the impact Beyers had on the school. “He was a true multi-disciplinarian. He was teaching us film, but he was also making us T-shirts with his illustrations on them,” he said.

Beyers became an avid squash player in his late twenties and early thirties, and never lost his passion for cycling and skateboarding. But art and design were always at the fore, especially during the last decade of his life. And his accomplishments in the area of creative pursuits were impressive, on a multitude of levels. “His mind worked differently from anyone else,” Brad Jawl of Victoria, who hired Beyers to design his Tall Tree Health offices, said in an e-mail to the Times Colonist.

“When building a brand he wouldn’t rest until he could feel the synchrony between the project, the spirit, the people involved and the moment. He had both an openness to different angles and ideas as well as a ton of certainty about when it wasn’t quite right and when it was.”

In 2007, Beyers made himself his own art exhibit, living inside Open Space Gallery for a short spell, in order to illuminate his artistic process. Around the same time, he was operating out of a loft in Chinatown, where he balanced commercial work with a variety of art installments that showcased his range, with topics ranging from the culture of war (told through G.I. Joe action figures) and consumerism (featuring iPods and cellphones made from folded paper).

His distinct mobiles hung from the ceiling of Hemma Community Acupuncture in Victoria — whose logo he also designed — having migrated there from instalments inside Mo:Lé and Habit. Beyers ran Caste Projects with Beise, under which the couple designed brands for and created campaigns with the aforementioned companies, in addition to the Rifflandia festival, Aryze Developments, the Dockside Green development, and Origin Bakery.

“Everything was his medium,” Jawl wrote. “He made art out of his garden, out of leaves and foliage, out of scrap wood, with video, a pencil, a camera, a computer, anything. He was always paying attention to the world. He noticed things uniquely.”

Pender Island was a frequent vacation spot for Beyers over the years, and the pull proved impossible to resist. Beyers and Beise moved to the island in 2018, shutting down Caste Projects in the process. The couple turned its focus to Hinterland Farm, an alpaca farm and wool business, and living off the land which surrounded them.

Creative work continued, but family took precedence. Art remained ever-present, Conconi said. “He definitely was not a money focused guy. He was a creative through and through. A lot of people know him as a creative-for-hire more than they do as an artist, but he was an artist. He was always appreciating the world through the lens of art.”

Jawl believes the impact Beyers had on his community is immeasurable. “He created countless beautiful brands for businesses that make Victoria a bit more wonderful. He knew how to live, he was alive, and he felt deeply. His art was in real conversation with the world. He thought independently. This inspired everyone who got to know him.”

A celebration of life for Beyers will be held at Brentwood College School (2735 Mt. Baker Rd., Mill Bay) on Sunday, July 7, at 1 p.m. It is open to the public.

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