The Maritime arts community is mourning the loss, but also celebrating the life of one of its preeminent artists.

Fred Ross died Tuesday morning at the age of 87.

The Saint John artist began his studies in 1946 at the former vocational school. Ross went abroad to further his studies, but eventually returned to his hometown.
“He was a man who could have chosen anywhere to fulfill his career and his passion as an artist, but he chose to stay here in Saint John,” says Saint John Cultural Affairs Officer Bernard Cormier.

His work is displayed at the National Gallery of Canada and at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, as well as in many homes and galleries across Canada and around the world.

Ross was a soft-spoken, diminutive artist who worked out of a studio in uptown Saint John, where friends say he was just one of the neighbours.

“He was a person everybody would see on the street, or the city market, drop into the coffee shop,” says art dealer Tim Isaac. “He’d come into my shop and say, ‘Tim, I really like that vase, do you think I could borrow it?’ I’d say, ‘Fred, take it.’”

Ross’ friends say he will be best remembered for teaching generations of young artists.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Ross was an art teacher at the Saint John Vocational School, which has since become Harbour View High School. The murals Ross painted during his time at the school remain at the building’s entrance.

Carol Taylor has been an artist since she was a teenager, when she was a student of Fred Ross.

“He certainly made an impression on me,” says Taylor. “When I first met him, I had just turned 16 in May and he was, he was so quiet.”

Ross set the bar high for himself and for other Maritime artists.

“When it goes out of the studio, it has to stand up as artwork, not because it’s Fred Ross, not because it comes from the Maritimes, but it has to stand up against all the other artwork out there and you can’t have any excuses,” said Ross during an interview with CTV news prior to his death.

During his career, Ross received countless honours, including the Order of Canada. He was also named a Freeman of the City of Saint John - the highest honour bestowed by his hometown.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Mike Cameron