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Chemainus mural project visionary Schutz dies

Town booster leaves a lasting legacy with outdoor art gallery project
Karl Schutz helped put Chemainus on the map with the creation of the mural project. (Photo by Art Carlyle)

Karl Schutz always had Chemainus’ best interests at heart.

The man who was a visionary for what murals on the walls around town would mean for the community died at the age of 92 Thursday. He wanted to make Chemainus a primary spot on the global arts map and that’s precisely what happened when the first murals started to go up around town in 1982.

Born in Germany but a longtime resident of Chemainus, Schutz caught on to the mural idea during his travels with wife Betty in Eastern Europe in the 1970s.

Tributes have been pouring in since people have been hearing the news about his death.

“Karl Schutz was the biggest community booster North Cowichan – and particularly Chemainus – has ever had,” praised Municipality of North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring. “The character of Chemainus today – in particular the attraction that the murals have become for visitors from around the world – is a direct result of his vision and passion to improve the community.

“The thing I’ll remember most about Karl was his persuasiveness. Whenever he made a presentation to council, it was almost impossible not to get caught up in his enthusiasm. His legacy will live on for many years, not just in the form of the murals themselves, but also in the example he set in terms of motivating people to improve their community.

“The people of Chemainus, generally speaking, are more engaged in the affairs of North Cowichan than the citizens of any part of our municipality, and I honestly believe this is a direct result of the path blazed by Dr. Schutz when he began his seminal work on the murals project back in the ’80s. He showed us all what’s possible when citizens with a positive vision get involved in their community.”

The mural project became the ideal transition to a tourist-oriented town from mainly industrial after the previous Chemainus sawmill closed in 1983. It prevented Chemainus from becoming a ghost town, drawing visitors from around the world and the current more refined sawmill eventually opened to ensure the town’s diversity for a long time to come.

Huge crowds would gather around the artists to watch each of the murals come to life before their very eyes on building locations.

The Chemainus Festival of Murals Society was established in 1987 after six years as a municipal project and continues to thrive today, with new additions being made to the outdoor art gallery on a regular basis under the community series, historical series, Emily Carr inspired series and sculptures. It’s all part of the phenomenal growth of the project Schutz helped facilitate.

Related story: Chemainus Festival of Murals unveiling and dedication ceremony

“Dr. Karl Schutz believed that Chemainus’ history and heritage deserved to be celebrated, and that Chemainus’ people deserved beautiful public art,” pointed out current Festival of Murals Society vice president Shannon Bellamy and director Peter Collum in a statement.

“His vision, perseverance and dedication led to the creation of the Chemainus mural project. What started with five murals in 1982 has grown to 61 murals today. The project has inspired our community and attracted world-wide attention, and Karl’s promotion of the Chemainus mural project spoke to his determination to make Chemainus a world-renowned tourist destination and Canada’s mural capital.

“The Chemainus Festival of Murals Society is indebted to Karl for his decades-long dedication to, and involvement with, the society. He was a force to be reckoned with and will be greatly missed.”

Former reporter Peter W. Rusland interviewed Schutz many times over the years for articles in the Cowichan News Leader.

“The late, great Karl Schutz embodied what became affectionately known as The Little Town That Did,” noted Rusland. “He tirelessly rallied others, such as then-mayor Graham Bruce, to use arts tourism — namely giant outdoor murals depicting Chemainus’ colourful history — to rejuvenate the mill town’s wilting economy. It worked in spades. Town business folks and civic leaders climbed onboard his shared vision.

“Karl was a true visionary. His prescient ideas helped spawn a mural movement across the continent and beyond, attracting tourists and stimulating local interest in the town’s past. He also created jobs for artists. They flocked to Chemainus to complete imposing, commissioned murals, and later sculpture, as magnets of interest in The Little Town’s unique characters and events.”

Schutz was interviewed last summer for the Still Standing CBC-TV program on Chemainus. The program just aired in February of this year.

Related story: Chemainus depicted in all its glory for Still Standing

Host Jonny Harris joked that he could portray a younger Schutz in a TV special someday. “It’s going to be called, He Schutz, He Scores,” chuckled Harris.

“Karl Schutz was indeed a true original and an inspiration to those who dare to dream big,” summed up Rusland.


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The Pacific Rim Artisan Village was another vision for Chemainus that Karl Schutz had, but it never came to fruition. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Karl Schutz interviewed by Jonny Harris for the Still Standing TV program. (Photo by Chris Armstrong)
Karl Schutz on the last Chemainus Festival of Murals tour in 2018. (File photo by Don Bodger)

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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