Robert David Symons: Country Man

7 November 2013

Robert David Symons: Countryman: Artist, Writer, Naturalist, Rancher
by Terry Fenton
Published by Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery and Hagios Press
Review by Keith Foster
$25.95 ISBN 978-1-927516-03-4

As Robert Symons lay seriously ill in bed, a friend dropped by to check on him. Sweating profusely, Symons explained that he needed to finish reviewing the proofs for his forthcoming book because “I think I’m going to die tonight.”

His friend remarked, “Boy, that’s what I call a deadline!” They both laughed so hard that Symons’ temperature dropped, his fever subsided, and the baffled doctors sent him home.

This is one of the incidents related in Robert David Symons: Countryman, about a multi-talented man who was a naturalist, rancher, artist, and author of eleven books of natural life on the Prairies.

Trevor Herriot, a Saskatchewan naturalist who knew Symons personally, introduces Terry Fenton’s text, which is almost a memoir or personal recollection. This is followed by a chronology by Heather Smith, curatorial director at the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery.

An astute observer, Symons recorded his observations in both paint and words and illustrated his own books. He also painted many of the dioramas for the habitat exhibits in the Museum of Natural History, now the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

Fenton points out that Symons’ books, such as Hours and the Birds, Silton Seasons, and Where the Wagon Led “breathe life into the geography of Saskatchewan. They make fresh and exciting what is often laborious and dull.” In short, writes Fenton, “Bob humanized the facts.”

The book contains 14 photos, mostly black and white, and 57 watercolours or paintings in glorious colour. Many of the watercolours, especially of birds, occupy a full page, amply displaying the brilliant colours of Symons’ subjects.

This book, like Symons, his art, and his writing, is truly a treasure.


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