Danby hosting one-man show

Every hockey fan worth his salt remembers 1972 as the year of the Team Canada goal by Paul Henderson that defeated the Soviets in the fabled summit series final game in Moscow.

Ask fans these many years later and they can still vividly remember the moment when national pride soared to dizzy heights that, as a nation, we have not reached since.

That was also the year Ken Danby, then a 32-year-old Canadian artist of some promise, completed an egg tempera painting called At The Crease showing a crouching hockey goalkeeper, the focus on the starkly white face mask, on high alert for a shot from an unseen opponent near the blueline.

It has remained as enduring as the memory of Henderson’s goal.

Jim Proudfoot of the Toronto Star, in a story marking the painting’s 25th anniversary, described it as an “evocative masterpiece that has become the very image of hockey … reminding you of how much you love the game as a fan, a spectator or both.”

Over the years, many people have been under the mistaken impression the painting was done to commemorate the Team Canada win.

But actually Danby had finished the work before the series and, contrary to another misnception, it is not Tony Esposito behind the mask. It is really… nobody.

It is not being disrespectful to our country’s artists, both present and deceased, to claim this particular Danby work is one of the most identifiable of Canadian paintings, ever. In addition to its gallery showing and repeated reproduction, more than 100,000 prints are out there in Canada, the U.S., Europe… wherever the game is played. And, now a quarter of a century down the road, orders still come in at the rate of about 4,000 annually. Much to Danby’s delight.

Ironically, when he first took it to his dealer, the assessment was “it packs plenty of power… but who would want it?”

As the saying goes, always get a second opinion.

Danby, 58, born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, still plays hockey for the Guelph Good Timers (Good, not Old) and has been a fan for years. But he admits, like many of us more senior types who still fondly recall the Original Six, that he is turned off by the avarice of players and owners in all sports.

For those not familiar with At the Crease and another popular hockey study titled Lacing Up, his scope goes far beyond the rinkboards.

My personal favourites, next to the goalie, are Canada I (1983), Pancho (1973), and Catching the Sun (1989). Much to my editor’s relief I will not write the thousand words that, according to another old saying, a picture is worth. But Internet travellers who would like to see more can do so at the web site below. (Stop again to comprehend what a wonderful thing it is that anyone with a computer, including millions of kids, can call up and appreciate these images).

Danby, who has not had a showing of his works in some time, has continued to labour at a steady pace (recently geared up to almost a killing one). He decided a couple of years ago that he would underwrite his own one-man show. And it becomes a realized dream at the Carrier Art Gallery at Columbus Centre in Toronto on Oct. 24, sponsored by General Motors Canada.

“If you like a picture,” says Danby, coining a true cliche, “it’s good art!”

Danby is a man who is comfortable in conversation on most any subject. Stella, usually a discerning judge of people despite being my wife, described him as a man who is completely comfortable with himself and what he does.

With the charming Gillian, he lives in the restored Armstrong Mill, originally built in 1856 in the pretty countryside near Guelph. He has lived there for 31 years and, understandably, has no intention of moving.

They have a Great Dane named Summer, gentle in nature but in stature about the size of a Shetland pony. Gillian boards her horse at a stable just down the road and spends a lot of time riding so as to keep out of the way while Danby works at the easel – a task he’s recently been doing many hours a day, and some nights as well.

A couple of years ago Danby was invited with others, including Gordie Howe, to play on a celebrities team in a hockey charity game against the famous Flying Fathers. It was at St. Michael’s in Toronto. You tell it, Ken:

“Well, I am such a great admirer of Gordie. I was determined that if I was on the ice at the same time and he so much as touched the puck I would wing over at the first whistle and scoop it up for a souvenir.

“Not only were we on the ice at the same time but on the same line and, wouldn’t you know, the game is not very old and I find myself going in on the net and Gordie lays a pass on my stick and I couldn’t do anything else but put it in the net. Well, you can imagine how I felt when the announcer said on the P.A. ‘Goal by Ken Danby… assist Gordie Howe.'”

“Then a bit later in the game, wouldn’t you know? Same thing. Here comes a gentle pass from Gordie and it’s in the net and again the announcement, `Goal by Ken Danby, assist Gordie Howe.’ My cup runneth over that night.” And so it should again. Very soon.

The Way I See It Anyway.