Local art world, WPBS mourns the loss of artist / teacher Wilson Bickford | Best Stories

WATERTOWN – Normally this time of year, Tracy Duflo, executive producer and production manager of WPBS, would make final plans for her annual January visits to St. Lawrence County and Wilson R. Bickford’s Fowler Studio for filming the popular “Painting with episodes by Wilson Bickford.

For seven seasons, the Treasure of the North Country changed the lives of many viewers with his approachable and supportive approach and sharing what he loved to do with others.

Mr Bickford died on Sunday at the age of 62 of complications from COVID-19. He was a self-taught artist, learning to paint in his 30s and encouraging everyone to do the same. He began to share this passion with others by teaching art, starting with giving evening classes at his home while working at Gouverneur Talc Co. In 2002 he pursued his dream of teaching art on time. full.

Mr. Bickford has taught across the country. In 2016, when interviewed by The Times, he shared a typical comment that would-be artists would say during his lessons:

“What I hear is, ‘What am I doing here? I can’t even draw a straight line ‘”

His response: “I tell them, ‘It’s okay, because we’re not going to draw straight lines.'”

Wilson Bickford was often called the “Bob Ross of the North”. Mr. Ross, who died in 1995, hosted “The Joy of Painting”, an educational program that aired from 1983 to 1994 on PBS.

Scattered all over the country and in parts of the world, there are hanging images, or perhaps set aside, which were inspired by Mr. Bickford.

“He inspired artists in our region to recognize that they could have a career in the arts in our region, both teaching and selling their work,” said Maggie McKenna, Executive Director of the County Council of the Arts. St. Lawrence. “He inspired each of his students by teaching them techniques and helping them to be successful in their own art, which is not easy to do.

“Painting With Wilson Bickford,” produced by WPBS, airs on approximately 90 PBS stations nationwide and is also available on the Create TV network and via on-demand services.

Tributes noting Mr Bickford’s death have poured into WPBS studios on Arsenal Street.

“We have received emails and letters from people as far away as Australia,” Ms. Duflo said.

Ms. Duflo has produced all seasons of “Painting With Wilson Bickford”. She said it was remarkable to work with him. The show’s eighth season is scheduled to air in March.

“We go up there at the end of January every year and plan a week of filming,” Ms. Duflo said. “We were doing three or four shows a day for a week. “

The schedule was unusually fast paced, but was made easier by Mr. Bickford’s organization and planning.

“It’s no small feat to do three or four shows a day,” said Mark Prasuhn, president and CEO of WPBS.

Over the years, several “Paint Smart, Not Hard” instructional DVDs have also been produced during the tours, which have been a fundraising element for the station.

“We were able to do all of this in a week because he was so prepared,” Ms. Duflo said.

“There are a lot of people who are members of WPBS today who have come in part, and maybe even in full, because of Wilson,” Mr. Prasuhn said. “He has a heritage in so many ways. “

Ms Duflo and Mr Prasuhn said Mr Bickford had certain attributes which led to success.

“He was someone you could email or call on the phone and talk to,” Ms. Duflo said. “He always tried to answer your questions and he loved to teach. It was his passion and he always knew how to combine it with art, which he also loved. He was really able to connect with the audience and with people in person. “

He also encouraged students to send him pictures of their creations.

“And if they had any questions or comments, he would love to hear them,” Ms. Duflo said.

These characteristics were ideal for a public television station, Mr Prasuhn said.

“For us here at WPBS, that’s a big part of what makes content work for us,” he said. “We are an educational media provider. We seek to educate and inspire people, empower them and try to help them realize their potential. He had a unique and special gift for it.

This relationship and accessibility, Mr Prasuhn said, was evident both on and off the show.

“Both of these aspects are a rare gift,” he said. “That’s a big part of what made the shows work so well – that it seemed so accessible. For something that could intimidate people, he made him very approachable and seemed friendly and non-threatening.

In this way, what Mr. Bickford taught was much more than just applying paint to canvas.

“Art is an amazing tool for bringing people together and for people to explore and express their most authentic personalities,” said Ms. McKenna.

“He was definitely an example of realizing your dream and going beyond expectations,” said Hope Marshall, local artist and co-founder of River Muse Art Gallery & Studio. “He touched a lot of ordinary people who would never think of themselves as artists. “

‘you can draw that’

Mr Bickford’s daughter, Amy L. Ordway, said her father’s artistic career began with an advertisement at the end of a magazine or newspaper.

“He always drew when he was a kid and started drawing like cartoon type animals and stuff,” she said.

But one day, Ms. Ordway noticed the advertisement, which promoted a correspondence course, in the mail.

“I showed him and I said, ‘Daddy, you can draw this.'”

At the time, Mr. Bickford was a serious musician – also self-taught in guitar, harmonica and saxophone – and enrolled in the course.

“He’s been assigned to different mediums,” Ms. Ordway said.

He eventually discovered oil paintings. His mentor became Bill Alexander, host of the PBS show “The Magic of Oil Painting”. In 1993, he and his wife, Glenda, traveled to Silver Falls, Ore., Where Mr. Bickford became a certified art instructor through the William Alexander Co. He was asked for many years to teach and certify other instructors.

“For eight or nine years, he and his mother went to Oregon every fall,” Ms. Ordway said. “My mother took pictures. She does some photography next door.

Her father’s favorite subjects, she said, were wildlife and birds.

“Him and mum were driving on the back roads and he would stop and say, ‘Oh, I have to take a picture of this barn, or that, and I’ll paint it later,'” she added. Ordway said. “That’s what inspired him: nature.

She said her father would surprise people by sending them a painting he created.

“That’s just how he was,” she said. “He was humble. He just loved to paint and loved to share it.

His motivation?

“If you told him he couldn’t do it, he would be determined to prove them wrong,” Ms Ordway said.

special tribute

WPBS is producing a Tribute in Memory of Mr. Bickford which will be released by the end of the week. The approximately 5-minute tribute will air several times a day between shows.

“He had a tremendous sense of humor,” Ms. Duflo said. “I put a lot of these jokes into the tribute with a little bit of background and some quotes from him.”

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