In 1970, Greg Freedman had a choice.
He could stay in his hometown of Los Angeles and be shipped to Vietnam, or he could head north to B.C. and avoid the highly contentious war altogether.
The latter won.
“I bought into that whole patriotic American thing as a kid. But it was an illegal war and went against everything the country stood for,” says Freedman, a New Westminster resident.
“And you know, I praise Lyndon Johnson every day for my life here.”
Then 22, Freedman was in his third year in architecture at California Polytechnic State University when he left for Vancouver.
He wanted to continue his studies at UBC but the school said he needed some French. Being dyslexic, Freedman knew a new language was not in the cards.
He was told he could re-apply at 25, leaving him with three years to kill. He had begun to paint—inspired he says, by the most beautiful place he’d ever seen—and took a job as a deck hand on Seaspan tugboats because the flexible hours suited his creative pursuits.
“You’d work two weeks on and then get two weeks off. I had fallen in love with painting and the job allowed for making your own schedule,” he says.
“I had to do something and I guess the tugs were the answer.”
In 1972, not long after his nautical career began, Freedman held his first one-man show at a gallery in Gastown. It sold out.
It would be 33 more years before he would show again—a career as a captain on the SeaBus and being a father to three kids kept him busy.
But he never dropped his brushes.
“I had to teach myself to paint in between,” he says with a smile.
Three decades of self-imposed lessons appears to be paying off. On July 17, Freedman won the Port Authority Award at the annual Maritime Art Exhibit at the Coos Bay Museum of Art in Oregon—one of the most prestigious maritime art shows in the United States—for a work he created in 2009.
“I was stunned just to get juried into the competition from all of the artists entered. I applied because my brother lives in Gold Beach and I thought that this was a good excuse to go see him,” said Freedman, chuckling.
“This was the first time I had entered an American maritime competition.”
The winning painting, titled “Shortening Up,” is a rainy, almost gloomy portrait of a small tugboat with a lone figure on its deck assisting a larger barge, late in the evening.
The stark, dark nature of the work is indicative of a lot of Freedman’s maritime art. He says he tries to present the reality of the hard, industrial environment of life on these kinds of vessels—far from the conventional, romantic maritime art—think blue-clad captains saving wooden ships on the high seas—that dominate the genre.
“I want people to smell the diesel, or feel the rust and metal of that world, capture the hectic pace. I hope people can feel the rain on the back of their neck,” added Freedman.
“And within that, find the balance and show the beauty.”
Freedman isn’t the only one winning acclaim at his house.
Marilyn Norry begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, Freedman’s wife of 11 years, won this year’s Lorena Gale Woman of Distinction Award—named after the Canadian actress who died of cancer in 2009— from the Union of B.C. Performers (UBCP) just a day after her husband took home his prize.
A veteran actor of television, stage and film for over 30 years, Norry won the award for My Mother’s Story—a project she started in 2004 where women write the story of their mom’s life in 2000 words.
She put the call out to women actors around the Lower Mainland and the project began to pick up steam. Now, six years later, My Mother’s Story has developed into a perennially sold out Mother’s Day show, spawned a radio and film documentary, and fostered community workshops where women come to tell their stories.
“It all started with a woman telling me her mom’s story at a wedding. I realized there is so little in the way of women’s history. And as an actor, there are so few great women characters.”
Norry now hopes to take the project to communities across the country—and possibly even further—to collect more memories, hear more tales.
“The project is all about the evolution of honouring our mothers,” added Norry.
“And we always want to search out some more.”
A new SoHo?
Beyond the personal accolades they’ve been enjoying over the past month or so, the couple says they’re looking forward to being a part of the artistic renaissance happening in the Royal City.
“When we first got here [in 2002] people were always looking at the good old days, not what was actually here,” said Norry.
“But New West is undergoing an interesting evolution. It’s a small town in a big city, away from distractions where we can get some work done. And, it’s still pretty funky.”
“This has become SoHo,” he added, with a smile, referring to the New York neighbourhood known for its vibrant arts community.
“Artists are drawn here and I have to give a real shout out to the city for all the work they’re doing to promote that.”