Arthur Walter

Arthur Dale Walter

Tuesday July 26, 1932 - Friday January 1, 2021
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Arthur Dale Walter: A Life in Art.

Born to Gwyneth (Wright) and Harvey Walter on July 26, 1932, in Wilkie, Saskatchewan, Arthur Dale Walter was soon joined by a brother, Lyle, but the two boys would be Gwyneth and Harvey’s only children. The Walters were not rich by any stretch, but even during the Great Depression they nevertheless managed to feed everyone and stay healthy. Life was tough, and Harvey moved the family a few times in pursuit of better work. Art’s happiest days as a kid were when the family ran a small resort in Pine Lake, Alberta, where the roads were so bad they could swallow a truck up to the top of its bumpers.

Art completed Grade 10 in a dusty one-room classroom and left home to seek his fortune. He worked for a year on a seismic oil exploration crew, but reluctantly concluded the thrill wasn’t worth the cold, the bad pay, and the risk of getting blown up. He hung up his hard hat and accepted a scholarship to the Provincial Institute of Art and Technology, where he studied commercial art. It was there that he met Joan Nissen and fell in love. He courted her by sharpening her pencils and impressed her father by fixing a car engine using only a tin can he fished out of the ditch. The two were soon married. With the arrival of their sons, Christian and Jim, Art took a low-paying and relatively uninspiring job designing graphics for the Saskatchewan government, which happened to include displays. When he applied for a commercial artist job at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, he was instead offered a position designing exhibits. That kind of work was so new the recruitment agency hadn’t had a name for it. Thus, he stumbled into a career as a museum exhibit designer.
While not ideal, this position paved the way to another museum design job, this one in Edmonton, Alberta. Slowly, the Walters were moving up. Before long, a third son, John, made his appearance. They rented a townhouse in the suburbs that was adequate for their needs and set sail on the tempestuous Sea of Responsibility. Joan stayed home to raise the kids, but spent most free moments painting, drawing, or making batiks. The smell of sandalwood incense filled the house, and Art went off to work with three meat-spread sandwiches each day, cheekily allowing his hair to almost cover his ears. Although Art and Joan weren’t hippies by a long stretch, residents of Wilkie in those days probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. At this point, a final child, Lisa, arrived as somewhat of a surprise. Art and Joan were happy for a girl to round out the collection. They could only hope that Lisa would be less of a test. Her siblings were already stealing milk bottles from porches and throwing rocks at anything handy. She could only be an improvement.

The couple might have remained in Edmonton forever had Art not been offered a position as senior exhibit designer with the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature in Winnipeg in 1968. They relocated to 699 Jubilee Avenue in the midwestern Canadian city, unaware that 85.3% of the world’s mosquitoes also called it home.
Although they paid less than $14,000 for the old house on Jubilee, Art and Joan bought a new-ish semi-detached house in the suburb of Windsor Park. Fort Rouge had been a wee bit rough, and they must have been hoping that the suburbs would be a better place to raise children who were already hard to handle. Art struggled to control his wild brood but was woefully ill-equipped to do so.

Not that things were always grim. The children, who were all artistically inclined, mostly loved each other, and were even nice to their parents on occasion. Vacations to Alberta in their 1949 bread truck-turned-camper were fun, and art and music were constants in the Walter household. Sunday suppers were boisterous, noisy affairs, and Art presided over the foody bacchanals with an easy authority, his dry wit and keen sense of humour saving them all from total madness. He also kept himself busy making or repairing things in the Engine Room (what lesser mortals refer to as a workshop). The family was frequently bemused by the sound of Art’s enthusiastic if out-of-tune whistling, as he listened to his beloved Irish folk music while working away in the basement.

Art left the museum in 1974 for a better-paying job at Parks Canada as head of their interpretive design section for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon, along with Baffin and Ellesmere Islands. He managed to survive the knicker-wringing, armpit-buried, penny-grubbing, addle-witted, parsimonious bureaucracy of Parks at that time for seventeen years, thanks to the friendships he struck with his crew of artsy misfits.

In 1991, when Parks Canada decided to whittle their design services down to the bone, Art and four other colleagues took early retirements and opened their own shop, Nighthawk Interpretive Design. They created exhibitions for organisations across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, but Art eventually decided to focus on smaller jobs on his own, which allowed him to be more selective about contracts and to have more time doing fun stuff. He painted numerous cars and airplanes (“things with wings and wheels”), preferring mechanical objects rather than people as subjects. This was on-point for a man not given to extended verbal outbursts or long conversations. His phone calls were always short, matched only by the brevity of his shopping excursions. Except for the time he bought lime-green trousers by mistake, the man was in-and-out of shopping malls so quickly that nobody was certain he’d ever been.

Art gave many hours to the Western Canada Aviation Museum, now the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, as a designer, exhibition coordinator, photo editor, and Director. After winding up Art Walter Design in 2005, he spent great blocks of time working on a family history that spanned several hundred years. Earlier in his life, he had been the proud writer, editor, and printer of his very own newsletter, The Eyeball Opener; in latter years, he renewed his literary effrontery with his annual Christmas newsletter, which he would work on for weeks with glee.

Despite the previous turmoil with his own kids, family was important to him, and that included keeping up ties with his brother and extended family in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Of the death of his son, John, in 1994, he wrote, “That was by far the worst thing that has ever happened to either [Joan or I] but we have survived with our marriage and family still intact, though battered.” He and Joan renewed their wedding vows in a modest ceremony in 2008 and remained lovingly married. Art was the proud grandfather of five fine youngsters, who were much less hassle than his own children, and became a great-grandfather only weeks before his death.

A reserved man by nature, Art is remembered for his sardonic humour as much as for his accomplishments in design. His best-known achievement is the Manitoba Museum’s Nonsuch Gallery, which houses an astonishing sea-worthy replica of a seventeenth-century merchant ship, complete with an English sea-side town and all its shops. The exhibit has been seen by millions of visitors and is beloved by countless people.
Time, of course, waits for no one, and the proud patriarch eventually developed vascular dementia and moved from the family house to Lion’s Personal Care Centre in 2019. The last thirteen months were very difficult for him, but he maintained his sense of humour, and the care home staff must have wondered about the tetchy old man with the quick wit. He died at age 88 on January 1, 2021, in the presence of his wife and daughter.

Art is survived by his wife, Joan; brother, Lyle; children, Chris, Jim, and Lisa; grandchildren Max, Zak, Arien, Ambra, and Frank; great-grandson Oliver; and cousins Fay, Donna, Bob, Charlie, and Ruth. He is predeceased by his son, John. He will be deeply missed and loved by many.

Art would want us to include an index of the vehicles he owned, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll only mention his favourite car, a 1961 Triumph TR3; his worst, a 1983 Mazda 626; and the longest-running, the 1949 GMC 1-tonne van converted into a camper, which he bought for $1765 in 1973 and sold for $500 in 2003.

Rather than flowers or gifts, his family encourages donations to Lions Housing Centres ( or a local music organisation of your choice.
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Tony Harwood-Jones

Posted at 02:35pm
I have just uploaded a photo, taken in 2018, when Art was a young fella of 86. You can see it in the photo section. The title of the photo is "Some OLD friends." In it are: Heather Dixon, me, Rene Jamieson, Art, and Joan. We're all visiting at Rene's place, catching up with one another. Lisa was there, too. She took the picture. It's a happy memory. ~ Tony

Mimi Paige, Designer

Posted at 10:51pm
In memory of the most wonderful kind hearted and good humored boss. He hired me at the MMMN I would not have had a career without him. Condolences.
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A memorial tree was planted in the memory of Arthur Walter — Plant a Tree Now

Lisa Walter Posted at 07:00am

As I knew him, Art wasn't one to do favours for people; he recognised good work when he saw it and liked to give deserving people a leg up, I think. Thank you for your kind thoughts, and for the tree.

Amelia Fay

Posted at 02:15pm
My sincere condolences to Art's family, but what a wonderful view into his life through this beautifully written obituary. I only met Art briefly at the reopening of the renovated Nonsuch Gallery in 2018. As the current curator I was incredibly nervous undertaking the gallery upgrade project because the original gallery was incredible and so well-loved. I wanted to retain as much of the original design and character, and thus our upgrades were largely technological to enhance the atmosphere. I was so pleased to meet Art at the opening, and especially to hear him say that he liked what we had done. His legacy lives on in one of the museum's most beloved galleries!
Amelia Fay (Curator of the HBC Museum Collection at the Manitoba Museum)

Lisa Walter Posted at 06:53am

Thank you, Amelia. You can be sure that if Art said he liked something or approved of it, he meant it. I think it was very fine that late in life, his work was still as appreciated as it obviously was when we went to the reopening.

Ruth Millar

Posted at 10:46am

How I wish my cousin Art and his wife Joan had lived in my city. They were so delightful to visit. and the art (and the Art) in their house was always so impressive. What a soaring career he had in graphic design! Having seen some of his work, I am not surprised he flourished in his field. And yet he was self-effacing about it, in his witty way. It was always a hoot to sped time with them, and his letters were a "work of art." Artistic takent seems to run in the family. (My daughter Joni is also a graphic designer, and so is one of my sister Merry's sons. My mother, also, was a portrait and landscape painter.) Rest in peace, Art. Yours was a life well lived.

Lisa Walter Posted at 06:38pm

Thank you, Ruth. Art always spoke with affection and great respect about you and your own creative work. – Lisa W

Rene Jamieson

Posted at 03:01pm
I often refer to Joan, Art's wife, as the daughter my parents wish they had had. Art, Joan, and I met at art school, and forged a lifelong friendship, which later included my husband Larry, who worked with Art at the Manitoba Museum, and all our kids.

My parents became Joan's surrogate parents, since she was 200 miles from home in Irma, living in Calgary while she attended school. When Art asked Joan to marry him, she broke the new to my mother and dad, and my mum promptly decided to hold a dinner for Art and Joan. My mother was a superb cook, a Swiss-trained chef, and she prepared a classic meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, green peas, carrots, green beans, gravy, with apple pie for dessert. I'll never forget the look on my mum's face when Art refused offers of all vegetables except potatoes, explaining that he never ate vegetables.

I was Maid of Honour at Joan's and Art's wedding, and I'll never forget the look on Art's face when Joan started down the aisle toward him. It was the same besotted look he had on his face when we celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary in June of 2018.

Rest in peace, Art. You were, in the words of your beloved Pogo, a good friend, not like some.

Lisa Walter Posted at 06:40pm

Art always insisted potatoes aren't actually vegetables, but he had many infamous things to say about peas especially onions. I'm glad Art and Joan have had you as a good friend, not like some, for so many years.

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Some OLD Friends
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