I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of the artist Richard Rudnicki. I was privileged to work with Richard on two very different but wonderful picture books. He had an assuredly authoritative, unflappable, eminently professional approach to illustration, and it was a joy to work with him. I found myself envying his students at numerous moments during our projects together.
In 2010, Groundwood published the first picture book celebrating the Canadian anti-segregation heroine Viola Desmond. Richard’s fearless, luxuriantly brushed style brought this captivating story to life and to young North American readers — for most it was an introduction to a sorely needed new hero from a neglected corner of our history. With its bravura passages, calm and assured scene-setting, careful attention to period and place, and the inventiveness of its human drama, the work was astonishing and the perfect complement to Jody Nyasha Warner’s sparkling, vibrant text.
Two years later, I asked him to take a look at James Laxer’s sprawling and gripping kids’ biography of the great chief and Confederacy leader, Tecumseh. Despite having numerous projects already on the go, Richard responded with eager enthusiasm, tackling the demands of this somewhat daunting 48-pager with passion and an impressive inwardness and mastery of North American Indigenous history and society — a mastery that went far in honing and shaping the text as well. The book was a perfect model of non-fiction pictorial storytelling. From maps, to narrative and explanatory images, to accurate historical reconstructions — all were given form with Richard’s unifying, swashbuckling style.
The extra thoughtful touch extended even to the delivery of the finished physical paintings — they showed up carefully packed in a really impressive and expertly crafted plywood crate!
I will always cherish these two very special projects and remember Richard as the princely artist he was — so deeply and widely accomplished.