CANAV says farewell to one of its original artists

60 Years cover

Larry Milberry remembers: Back in 1984 Tom Bjarnason illustrated the cover for Sixty Years. I recall visiting his studio in Yorkville in uptown Toronto and watching him at work on this piece. It was especially amazing seeing him hand-lettering the RCAF emblem. With some 20,000 copies of Sixty Years in print over the decades, Tom’s cover is one of the best-known pieces of Canadian aviation art.

CANAV’s great pal and supporter, artist Tom Bjarnason, has left us. Over the decades, Tom created the world-class cover art for our books Sixty Years, Air Transport in Canada, and De Havilland in Canada. He also painted a lovely piece for The Canadair North Star — the British Midland Airways Argonaut.

Tom was all things wonderful, a genuine friend and a solid Canadian if ever there was one. His CV is a wonder to behold, one of his more recent honours having been betowed by the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto.

Artist Tom Bjarnason give Kate Milberry a tour of his Port Hope studio in 1998.

Artist Tom Bjarnason gives Kate Milberry a tour of his Port Hope studio in 1998. Read Jennifer Morse’s top-notch retrospective about Tom and his unique work in Legion Magazine of November 27, 2008.

This item about Tom comes from the Windsor Star of August 26.

Illustrator known for military art dies at age 84

By Star Staff, The Windsor Star, August 26, 2009

When Joanna Corless remembers her uncle, Tom Bjarnason, she thinks of a trench coat, cowboy boots that almost reached his knees and a really big hat. “That was how he was, he didn’t care how he looked,” she said. Bjarnason, an artist known for his military art, died of pneumonia on Aug. 18 at the age of 84.


Bjarnason worked as an illustrator for Readers Digest, Star Weekly and Air Transport in Canada. Many of his pieces involved planes. “He always loved planes, as far back as I can remember,” said Corless, 72. “He wanted to go into the air force, because he wore glasses or something to do with his eyes, they wouldn’t take him.”

The set-up at Tom Bjarnason's funeral service in Windsor on August 31. The painting is an original portrait of "Bjarni" that his pal Tom McNeely, another renowned Canadian illustrator, did in the 1970s. Bjarni was honoured and hailed this day by his family -- dozens of fabulous nieces and nephews of various generations. The Royal Canadian Legion - Windsor Veterans Memorial Committee attended to put on a wonderful service with honour guard, Padre Stan Fraser officiating. Tom was ushered out in real class, as was perfectly appropriate. (Larry Milberry)

Bjarnason, a Second World War vet, was born in Winnipeg and moved to Windsor to study art in Detroit. He later moved to Toronto, and ended up travelling the world. But he always came back to visit. “My most memorable parts of his visits would be how he would laugh,” Corless, who lives in Woodslee, said. “He just made everything so funny. We would laugh and laugh. It was great.”


His last major projects were sculptures, which he made with old junk yard scraps like computer parts. “Undeniably, he had a great talent,” Corless said.

See Legion Magazine for a nice profile of Tom, including some great samples of his work.

2 responses to “CANAV says farewell to one of its original artists

  1. Not only was Uncle Tom a great artist , he was a great uncle too. I will always remember his yearly visits to Winnipeg. I don’t know who enjoyed playing with all our new toys…. Uncle Tom or me. When he would leave and we give him a hug good bye. He would tickle our cheeks with his mustache. Back in 2003 I went to visit him in Port Hope, and I enjoyed getting to know more about him and going to the Blue Jays game with him. I could see how much he reminds of my dad in many ways.

  2. Thanks Lisa and I can only concur about what a fine fellow Tom was. We met long ago as aviation fans. Tom painted the covers for 3 of my books, and I have other of his great works. Larry Milberry

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