On the afternoon of Sunday, September 21, 2008, with a wine and cheese reception, the Taras Shevchenko Museum in Toronto opened a display of art by Jerry Prociw called "Inspiration of a Free Spirit".

Those who knew Jerry Prociw retain an image of a restless, energetic, multi-talented AUUC activist who tragically died too soon.

He was a man with many gifts. He was an athlete and gymnast who, for many years, together with his wife Marie, taught youngsters the discipline and joy of gymnastics at the old Ukrainian Labour Temple at 300 Bathurst Street in Toronto.

He possessed a melodic singing voice and was a soloist with the Shevchenko Male Chorus. His lyrical, warm tenor was featured on some of their past recordings.

A successful commercial artist, he designed many logos, magazine and book covers, and graphics for advertising campaigns, winning acclaim and awards. But it is his works as a sensitive and imaginative artist who transferred his deep emotions to canvas that grace the upstairs gallery at the Taras Shevchenko Museum.

Entering the room, one is a bit dazzled by the vivid colours of some of the two dozen paintings that encircle the display space. Nor are they all oil paintings - there are charcoal and fine prints on view, as Jerry worked in a variety of artistic forms with equal success.

I can't pretend to offer a learned judgement on the exhibit, but even an untrained eye can appreciate the skill and insight found in Jerry's art. Most of the display could be called "modern" or "avant-garde", but because Jerry was always closely involved in the social and political life of our community, the images are rooted in real life and real people. Such works as "Springhill Coal Mine Disaster" and "Kennedy Assassination" depict tragic events with all their frenzy and turmoil.

Other pieces capture subjects in their normal routines, including "Vibrant Dancer", "Kiko in Red", "The Bull Fighter", and "Ukrainian Dancer".

One feels that Jerry, restless as ever, was not entirely satisfied, and continued striving to reach his full artistic potential. Unfortunately, this was not to be.

Eavesdropping a bit amid the many viewers at the exhibit, one heard expressions of delight and appreciation. A common refrain heard over and over was, "I'd love to buy this."

One viewer told me, "At first I was somewhat bewildered, but as I looked closely, the images took shape and I saw clearly what Jerry created. I love it."

The formalities of the afternoon were begun by Bill Harasym, President of the Museum Board, who bade those attending welcome and introduced Taras Shevchenko Museum Director Lyudmyla Pogoryelov and Marie Prociw. The large, friendly turnout enlivened the evening, but made it difficult to move around the exhibit. I know that I am not the only viewer planning to make a second visit at a quieter time.

Jerry Prociw's art was on display for the balance of September and for the entire month of October.

- Bill Hrynchak