Bent Reinert’s Exemplary Retirement

My home office is my Zoom room. I prefer to let participants in my calls, especially students, see into my world. On the wall directly behind me is a large (17 by 29 inch) watercolour of three lobster boats at anchor. The sea is relatively calm, with small waves. The boats are perpendicular to the waves and are positioned to form a triangle. The vanishing point is in the upper left corner of the painting, beyond the smallest boat. The waves are a muted green, and the boats white, grey, and green. For me, the painting creates a sense of calm. That’s how I want to feel when working in my office and how I want people to feel when interacting with me.

The artist is Bent Reinert, a watercolourist who lived in the Peterborough area. I met Reinert at the Buckhorn Arts Festival or Whetung Gallery. Unlike many other artists who paced nervously or gestured excitedly, Reinert sat calmly and smoked his pipe. The person and the paintings reflect one another. I liked the man and the work.

One of his other paintings that I purchased is a smaller watercolour (7 x 10 inches) of a country road running over hills and through fields and forests. The dark pine in the foreground grabs your attention as the road ambles to the horizon. With yellows, greens, whites, and blues, this painting is more colourful than the one of the lobster boats. When we had a cottage in the Peterborough area, I frequently bicycled on these hilly roads and the painting evokes those memories.

Who was Bent Reinert?

Unlike John Piper and other artists I have written about, Bent Reinert wasn’t famous. The main source of information about him is Drawn from Memory, a book he self-published in 1998. Reinert wrote columns – essentially his memoirs – and published them in The Millbrook Times, a weekly community newspaper that is still in operation.

Reinert was born in 1924 in Denmark and immigrated to Canada with his parents in 1928. His father was a brush salesman, so making a living in the Depression was a challenge. Reinert studied commercial art in high school and admits that he was not one of the best students, but with the help of a recommendation from the Group of Seven artist A.J. Casson, started his career in the advertising department at Loblaws. He served as an aircraft technician in the RCAF, based in Prince Edward Island. After the war, he worked in a small advertising display company for thirty years and retired in 1976 at the early age of 52. In his lengthy retirement Reinert painted watercolours, wrote his column, and delivered Meals on Wheels in the Millbrook-Cavan area. He was busy and productive until late in life. The paintings and the book are the results of what I consider an exemplary retirement.

Drawn from Memory

Drawn from Memory provides insight into many aspects of Reinert’s life, including the struggles of newly arrived immigrants; a war spent doing hard work safely behind the front lines, which provided opportunities to meet local families (and young women); his family ties with his relatives in Denmark; and his parents’ aging. From his painting and his writing, Reinert strikes me as relaxed, even-tempered, and even whimsical.

About his sketching in PEI during the war, he writes

“I seldom started out with a particular destination in mind but most often would find myself in some quaint fishing harbour or on the bright windswept beaches along the north shore. Most of the sketches I produced have long since been lost or have ended up in the hands of relatives and friends and that, in itself, is no great loss. The real product of the exercise was the peace of mind and tranquility gained form occupying myself with something diametrically opposed to my daily work. My warmest memories are of the contact with the uncomplicated, small town, farm folk, fishermen and lighthouse keepers who saw my arrival in their midst as an opportunity to offer friendship and hospitality to a total stranger.”

I think the painting of Reinert’s in my office was “drawn from memory” of his time in PEI. It reflects the peace of mind and tranquility that he sought and that, through it, I try to cultivate.

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