Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bob Hinitt, Community Artist

I was saddened to learn that Bob Hinitt passed away on Saturday, November 12, but as I reflected on his life, I realized that he had left me, and many others who knew him, with some valuable gifts.

French, a living language
Bob was my French teacher at Aden Bowman Collegiate for four years. Memorizing and singing French songs were a central feature of the classes, and I realize now how important that was. Singing taught me the rhythm of the French language and helped me to realize that it was a living language, not just a classroom exercise.

As a university student, I worked and studied in France for two and a half years, and I’m sure that Bob’s French classes were part of my motivation. I certainly remember singing some of the songs he taught us as I tried to help my young charges to fall asleep.

Express your creativity
Bob was a genius at turning sheets of cardboard into elaborate stage sets. And he didn’t believe in half measures. Cardboard was twisted and turned into three-dimensional buildings. The school auditorium was transformed for high school graduation with European architecture and landmarks that went from floor to ceiling on all four sides of the auditorium.

I can still remember my mother cursing as she sewed an elaborate, extremely authentic Beefeater costume so that I could serve at the graduation banquet.

Share with your community
Christmas wasn’t complete until we visited Bob Hinitt’s house to view the elaborate display set up on his lawn. There were giant cartoon characters, carousels and dancing animals, music and so much more. It was an amazing sight and different every year. The money raised went to UNICEF.

Bob was ahead of his time as he didn’t own a car, and he cycled everywhere.

Bob’s art never hung in an art gallery, but it was a significant contribution to our community. A few years ago, I wrote an article comparing Bob to another Saskatonian who created art through his shop window displays. I reprint it here in honour of Bob and of his predecessor. Thank you, Bob. We’ll miss you.

Thanksgiving window display stops traffic
For many, many Saskatonians, Christmas would not be complete without visiting Bob Hinitt’s Christmas lawn exhibit at his home on Wiggins Avenue. (Mr. Hinitt is a former teacher and theatre director who has been building an elaborate display with buildings, moving pieces and figurines each Christmas for many, many years.) Harold Parr, who lived in Saskatoon from 1913 to 1970, had a similar gift for creating eye-catching displays. In fact, his Thanksgiving display stopped traffic on 2nd Avenue.

Harold Parr created window displays for stores in downtown Saskatoon. His 1913 Thanksgiving display for the front window of Fawcett’s Hardware started out quite simply. He recreated a dining room scene with wallpaper, carpet, fireplace and a heavily-loaded dining room table. But then a young employee of Fawcett’s dared Parr to eat his Thanksgiving dinner in the window. And Parr accepted the bet.

The idea snowballed. Eventually, Parr and five acquaintances would dine in the window dressed in tuxedos loaned by Dunn’s clothing store. Mr. Abell of Abell’s Dairy Lunch Restaurant on 21st Street cooked an elaborate meal which included oysters, halibut, prime rib, turkey and three choices of dessert, and it was served by a waiter from his restaurant. The meal concluded at 10:45 pm with coffee and cigars and Harold Parr declared that it was the best Thanksgiving dinner he had ever had.

The public thoroughly enjoyed the display as well. So many people came to watch the group eating dinner that the sidewalk was impassable, despite the best efforts of two policemen to try and maintain a clear passageway for pedestrians. Traffic on 2nd Avenue almost came to a standstill.

Harold Parr believed that eye-catching window displays were cheap advertising. There was no need to purchase a newspaper ad if the newspaper was already knocking on your door to find out more about the current display. “Whenever I plan a window I strive to put in something original, something the people have not seen before, and it sure does catch them. Every week the question is asked: ‘What has Fawcett got in his window?’” wrote Parr in an article about his advertising techniques.

Parr’s displays certainly were remarkable. A display of bathroom fixtures included a bathtub with a running shower. Two playful young bear cubs were the centre of attention in another display. Baseball fans kept track of the score and the players’ positions in a championship game in Moose Jaw by watching the display in the window of Fawcett’s Hardware.

We don’t ordinarily consider window displays as art. And yet, Parr’s window displays, just like Bob Hinitt’s Christmas displays, were exceptional for their creativity and impeccable attention to detail. Parr created works of art with mundane objects in a very ordinary setting. And they were unforgettable.

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