Nelson Surette taught himself to paint before age five,using stains, dyes and natural pigments from his mother's pantry.
He painted to please himself. It wasn't until he was nearly 50
that a friend convinced him that his work would be of interest to others.
His real, solid everyday people emanated from his own life and experience as a fisherman,
gravedigger, sailmaker, builder and expert in antique furniture. He often sailed with his
father and with his uncles in the fishing schooners of old.
His expressive portrayal of the life and times of Nova Scotia's people in the earlier years
earned him an unique place in Canadian art.
His paintings hang in private and public collections worldwide, including the governments
of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Parks Canada, Dupont and Imperial Oil. He
had solo exhibitions at the universities of St. Francis Xavier, Sainte-Anne, St. Thomas,
York and Toronto University College.
The paintings are also depicted in a film by Kingsley Brown, "The
made for the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and often shown on CBC television;
also the film "Sketches of our town: The Municipality of Clare" by
In December 2002 Nelson Surette was awarded the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal by the Premier of Nova
Scotia. In August 2003 the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia presented him with the Queen's
Golden Crown Award for outstanding contribution to the people and province of Nova Scotia.
"Nelson has endlessly reworked the form in his painting. The image has become
transfigured into an emblematic phantom. These are metaphors for real life that preclude
mere depiction. They are not renderings of quaint folk. Their struggle with life, mud and
the sea is the struggle Nelson has imbued in the paint itself.
The images flicker before us, imparting frailty and power. They are at once ethereal and
monumentally solid. More feeling and energy and expression than calculation and intellect.
More fire than ice. More volcanic than glacial. More Van Gogh than Cézanne." ¹
¹ Roy Mandell, MFA, painter and friend of the artist.