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Orillia artist 'keeping it together' amid pandemic through his art

Jimi McKee, an artist for more than 50 years, is not resting on his laurels, creates pandemic-inspired work

Hello Orillia and welcome to Lockdown 2.0…or is it 3.0? Or 4.0? I have lost count.

Regardless, this latest lockdown is not good news for our creatives and anything they have been trying to do in 2021, so far. In-person events and gatherings are cancelled until at least February, and we are told to stay home. Period. I predict lots of art being made in this time of being inside!

Local artist Jimi McKee is one who has not been resting on his laurels, despite being an artist for over 50 years. McKee was born and grew up in Toronto, attending St. Michael’s College School. He had and has many interests, including sports cars, boats, fishing, art, and music.

In 1995, McKee acquired a collection of 218 native totem poles, which he then restored. He figured that all the prominent hotels in Canada would want to display these in their lobbies, but, sadly, the hotels weren’t interested.

Luckily, a friend of his was having an antique show in Port Carling, and let him have some space to set up the totem poles for sale. The totem poles were a huge hit with the Muskoka crowd, and McKee was able to sell them all that day!

McKee and friend Wayne Hill went on to make 225 more totems, for families, neighbourhoods, and institutions such as the Orillia Opera House, the Hospital for Crippled Children in Toronto, and others.

McKee's art doesn’t stop at totems. He paints and does metal sculptural work as well as restoring antique cars. And for 50 years, he went down to the Florida Keys each winter and worked as a commercial fisherman.

Hurricane Irma wiped out McKee’s place in the Keys, but he still goes to Florida each year, as his 1890 house here in Canada isn’t the most comfortable in the winter. This year, getting down to Fort Myers Beach in Florida was more challenging, with having to ship his truck down, and flying down being the only option.  

He usually shows work in a couple of galleries in Florida, but COVID-19 squashed that opportunity this year. With the virus on the rampage down there, bars and restaurants still open, hospitals overflowing, and masks not mandatory, as McKee says, “…we have to be extremely vigilant in our choices of what we do.”

So, he’s been painting a lot in his lanai, and finished these three paintings, pictured, in the last three weeks. Upcoming, he looks forward to getting back to his home on Lake Simcoe when the weather improves, and being in the Images Thanksgiving Tour this fall (fingers crossed!)

The Orillia Museum of Art and History’s online store is open, and its QuarARTine online art auction is ongoing, and can be found here. These are smaller works of art that can be purchased very reasonably, and help support the museum during these pandemic closures. Bid if you can!

Creative Nomad Studios is offering an At Home Art Kit and lessons for kids, on Jan. 18. For lots more information and to sign up, click here.

If you would like to support your local creatives, reach out on Facebook or Instagram about websites, or curbside pick up. Some local galleries are snapping photos of work available and posting it on social media, so check it out there as well.

We will get through this, but it’s definitely going to be a long winter inside. Make it better by purchasing some unique local art to beautify your home.

Take care and stay safe!Send your arts news to by Tuesday at noon to be included in this column.