FREDERICTON – Family, friends and fans paid tribute to Bruno Bobak at a special memorial on Wednesday evening, remembering the artist for his big heart and gentle nature as well as his great talent.
It has been just over three weeks since Bobak died of cancer at the age of 88, leaving a legacy of wonderful art, a loving family and deep friendships in his beloved New Brunswick.
Bernard Riordon, executive director and CEO of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, said Bobak’s death has left a gaping hole in the arts community of Fredericton, the city where he lived most of his life with his wife and fellow artist, Molly Lamb Bobak.
“It’s going to be a long grieving process,” said Riordon, who learned everything he knows about salmon fishing from Bobak.
It was fitting the memorial was held at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in downtown Fredericton, a pivotal place in the life of the Bobaks and home to one of the largest collections of his work – more than 120 pieces.
Several hundred people crowded into the gallery’s exhibition rooms to sign a book of condolences — placed beneath a Bobak self-portrait — and listen to the tributes.
Bobak once described the gallery as the “axis” around which the community’s artistic life revolved.
“We have watched the Beaverbrook Art Gallery grow almost, you might say, from a private collection for a select group of friends of the gallery to something that has become a community event,” Bobak said in an interview four months before his death.
“It’s now a people’s gallery.”
At the memorial service, Riordon described Bobak as a “superman” of the visual arts, contributing his time and talent to mentor young artists.
“Bruno was the ultimate creative citizen,” he said.
The tributes, including one written by Alex Bobak, Bruno’s son, focused to a large extent on Bobak’s love of fly-fishing.
“He fished and sketched his way up all the major salmon rivers of New Brunswick,” said friend and fishing buddy, Bruce Eddy.
“He was like a school kid on recess when he got to the river.”
Alex Bobak’s memories include stories about his father’s sly and wicked sense of humour, especially his so-called fear of flying which enabled Bobak to avoid trips to places that he didn’t particularly want to go to and would have cost money.
“He avoided visiting British Columbia and paying for an airplane ticket for 45 years,” Bobak wrote in his tribute, which was read at the memorial by a family friend.
Alex noted the fear of flying vanished when his father was offered a complimentary ticket for an award ceremony or a free helicopter ride to a fishing camp.
He referred to his father by the nickname, ‘marmot,’ a name Bobak had adopted as his signature when he gleefully discovered that a European genus of the large rodent is known as the “Bobak marmot.”
Alex Bobak said that one his father’s last wishes was to have his ashes thrown into the “swift waters” of the Miramichi.
That was another sly joke since the spot he was referring to tends to whirl objects around for quite some time before finally heading to sea.
“Swift waters it is Marmot,” Alex Bobak wrote.
“You were quite a guy.”
The service concluded with a moving version of the old First World War ballad, Now is the Time, sung by the chorus of the Fredericton Royal Canadian Legion.
Bobak, a Canadian war artist during the Second World War, used to sing with the Legion choir.
Bobak is survived by Molly, Alex, his daughter, Anny Scoones, of British Columbia, and Alex’s daughter, Julia.