WINDSOR, N.S. — In life and in death, Larry Loomer has managed to remain an enigma.
Described by a close friend as a ‘serious, stodgy guy that never smiles,’ Loomer was a prominent figure in downtown Windsor’s business scene for decades. He owned a bookstore from the 1960s until 1995.
He had an air of academia about him; always dressed in a suit, always professional.
What most people didn’t know was that he had an artistic eye and a love of painting, researching and writing that, as close friends would say, rivalled some of Nova Scotia’s greatest contributors.
A Hants County artist is now hoping to shed some light on the secret life of Loomer, who died in 2003 at the age of 73.
David Howells was a co-executor of Loomer’s will and has long wanted to hold an exhibit for his late friend. When he met Windsor businessman David Hunter earlier this year, the stars aligned and the pair began to plan an art show to introduce the world to Loomer’s work.
“Larry left over 1,200 paintings,” said Howells, noting the majority of which are nine-by-12 inch watercolours.
“In Larry’s life, I pushed him two or three times to have a major show,” said Howells, adding Loomer always offered up a reason why he couldn’t host such an exhibit, usually citing the costs associated with framing his work.
“I’ve always wanted to do it; I’ve never known how it would happen.”
But, thanks to a chance meeting with Hunter, that show is happening this October in Windsor.
When Howells met Hunter at his antique store, they almost immediately hit it off. As Hunter learned more about Loomer’s artwork and the mountains of research he did over the years, the pair began planning a show to let the public know more about the man’s quiet accomplishments.
The exhibit will be held at the Cedar Centre in Windsor from Oct. 4-18. Intermixed with paintings will be ‘secrets’ — little tidbits of information that most people wouldn’t know about Loomer. The hope is to present the public with a glimpse into Loomer’s life, and by doing so, place him alongside some of Windsor’s most notable historical figures.
“There are a lot of famous people that come from Windsor and I think Larry went under the radar. He died in 2003 just a forgotten person,” said Hunter.
Understanding the artist
Leslie ‘Larry’ Sinclair Loomer was born in 1930 and attended at Windsor Academy, King’s College School, Acadia University and Boston University.
He worked as an art teacher, as a writer and an editor at various publications in New Brunswick. For the last 29 years of his business career, he was a dealer of used books.
“As a little fellow going into his bookstore, he was always sitting down in the back by his desk, with his glasses over his nose, smoking a cigarette. In those days, you could smoke wherever you wanted,” recalled Hunter. “I remember going into the store... looking around, take a book off the shelf and he’d kind of look over his glasses at you and he’d say ‘don’t touch the books.’”
Hunter said he grew to know Loomer a bit better as he matured, but said he always seemed dry. He, like many people from Windsor, didn’t know about Loomer’s extensive hobbies.
“He was a historian, a researcher, and he passed the information on, and he didn’t stand outside with a flag waving ‘hey, I did this.’ He didn’t do that. He just went about his business,” said Hunter.
Howells spent countless hours in Loomer’s bookstore when he was growing up. When he turned 19 and discovered an interest in the arts, the pair really connected, often taking trips together to paint. Howells, a world-renowned artist in his own right, credits Loomer with helping him understand composition.
“His work was very colourful, very happy, and I would say anybody that knew him, including me, it seemed to be at odds with him. If somebody is really serious or quiet, you think their work would be, I don’t know, a lot more serious and less playful, less colourful,” said Howells.
Loomer spent the vast majority of his artwork documenting the landscape of Windsor, namely, the places he could walk to. Dozens of paintings feature landmarks like Fort Edward Hill, the old textile plant, and flowering shrubs and bushes located along the riverbed and in the community.
Howells said the watercolours are truly exquisite, and he hopes people will attend the exhibit to not only appreciate the artwork but take a moment to reflect on Loomer’s life.
“It’s to see an extensive exhibition of artwork that has never been seen, by a man who was prolific in four different areas that most people in Windsor never knew anything about — not the painting or any of his other accomplishments,” said Howells.
“What he did was staggering.”
Aside from his artistic talent, Loomer was a well-published author and was frequently hired to do research and genealogy.
“To me, it’s so extraordinary for anybody to do what Larry did; the range of things he did and the extent to which he did them,” said Howells.
“With his short stories, articles, and academic papers, he’s done more writing than most writers will ever do. This is what I came to learn,” he said.
“He was doing research for people outside the country, for other archives; he did paid genealogy,” said Howells.
“The amount of research that he did was so great, and writing... how did he have time to do 1,200 paintings?”
Loomer wrote books on a wide variety of topics, including one on artist Helen Allingham, a commemorative piece for the bicentennial of King’s-Edgehill School, and a historical one on Jewish settlements in Nova Scotia from 1600-1800.
A hand-typed and stapled copy of his book Print Techniques in Canada: A Background Survey of Methods in History in Pictorial Reproduction from 1575 is still housed at some universities. He created 55 copies of this book.
Loomer also published numerous plays and manuscripts, articles, and letters to the editor.
Loomer wrote and researched during a time when the only way to uncover the information was to do the legwork by reading books and newspapers and taking notes.
When he died, his home was filled with files and books and oddities. He kept carbon copies of every letter he typed between 1967 and 1995, and all of the correspondence he received over the years. He even kept a diary, one that detailed the hours leading up to his heart attack.
“I was one of his best friends and I didn’t know this: Larry was responsible for the Nova Scotia entries in the Encyclopedia Britannica Books of the Year in the early 1950s. On Larry’s recommendation, Shirley Elliott succeeded him,” said Howells.
Howells said no one fully got to know Loomer, himself included. That just adds to Loomer’s mystique.
“The playful side, the business side — everybody has that. Larry was different. He was quiet, he was more guarded. He didn’t waste a word. As I describe it, he was compartmentalized,” said Howells.
He said every person who interacted with Loomer had a different experience.
“It’s unique to the person, what they got to know, what they got told and how much of the man they got to see,” said Howells.
“Even with everything I know, he’s such a mystery.”
If you go
What: The Secret Life of Larry Loomer — A retrospective exhibition of never before seen paintings by Windsor’s Larry Loomer
When: Oct. 4-18; with the opening taking place on Oct. 4 from 7-9 p.m. Regular exhibit hours will be Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.
Where: 69 Cedar St. in Windsor