All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for December 2003

Daughter has a hand in artist's labour of love

Stimac's sketches, paintings chronicle struggles of blue-collar workers

Saturday, January 03, 2004
Mike King
Montreal Gazette

The work of disabled artist Charley Stimac is a labour of love - inspired by his love of labour.

Stimac has spent his life in blue-collar and industrial jobs, all the while chronicling the struggles of his co-workers through sketches and paintings.

Crippled the past 10 years by chronic multiple sclerosis, Stimac has had to borrow the hands of others to put the images in his mind to canvas.

He moved from Victoria last summer to live with his daughter and son-in-law in Montreal.

"I now tell Kiva what to paint and she does it," Stimac said yesterday at their Mile End loft.

His latest project is to illustrate the growing battle between Quebec's unionized workers and the provincial government.

Stimac was upset his physical condition didn't allow him to participate in the massive Dec. 11 day of protest organized by Quebec's top labour groups to campaign against Premier Jean Charest's planned Labour Code reform.

Born in Detroit in 1949, Stimac had a strong unionist upbringing. His Croatian grandparents were founding members of the United Auto Workers in his home town; his paternal grandfather was instrumental in bringing the UAW to the Ford plant there.

Stimac's father was a unionized carpenter, his mother a garment worker.

After attending Wayne State University in the 1960s, during which time he was an avid social activist with the student left, Stimac started developing his talent as a labour artist while working in steel foundries in Ontario.

His art was strongly influenced by three Mexicans - painter Frida Kahlo and muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera, who in 1932 created 27 fresco panels on the walls of a large garden court inside the Detroit Institute of Arts. That piece is titled Detroit Industry.

Stimac also borrowed the style of Canada's renowned Group of Seven.

During the approximately 20 years before the onset of his MS, Stimac completed commissioned works (murals, paintings and posters) for such clients as the United Steelworkers of America, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the International Workers of the World.

The family moved to Canada in 1972 and Stimac began a string of jobs across the country, working in everything from mines to foundries.

He received a Canada Council of the Arts award after completing a series of paintings of the country's mines and steel mills.

While living on the West Coat, Stimac tried his hand at federal politics during the 2000 campaign. Representing the Communist Party in British Columbia's Saanich-Gulf Islands riding, he garnered 88 votes even though he had temporarily lost the ability to speak during the campaign because of his illness.

Despite his growing physical limits, Stimac stressed he is "still interested in the labour movement and workers' rights."

To view more of Charley Stimac's work, visit the Web site at

Copyright © 2003, Montreal Gazette