Peter Blais, born in Ottawa in 1949, graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1970. By the mid ‘70’s, he was establishing himself in Toronto as an emerging fibre artist – with solo shows at the Tradewinds fine craft gallery in Yorkville and at the St Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts.
In 1977 he was invited to participate in a group show featuring five other fibre artists at the newly opened Harbourfront Gallery on the Toronto waterfront. ‘Architectural Hangings’, curated by Anita Aarons, gallery director, also featured the work of Charlotte Lindgren, (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia collection), Helen Frances Gregor (permanent collection, National Gallery), Aiko Suzuki who had just completed the fibre installation for the main entrance to the new Toronto Metro Library, master weaver Tamara Jaworska and Susan Watson, architect and environmental designer. Blais was billed as ‘theatre designer and weaver of fantasies and collectively, the artists were described as master weavers and innovators from other disciplines. The show was opened by Toronto architect Raymond Moryama.
In partnership with Toronto photographer Stephen Fine, a gallery show titled ‘Lear: An Approach To Theatre Design’ was mounted at two Toronto galleries – Galerie Scollard in Yorkville and the Metro Library Gallery. That same year ‘Lear’ was also installed at the Brampton Library Gallery and at the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara to inaugurate their new art show series.
The previous year, 1976, Blais had been awarded a Canada Council Explorations grant to pursue new approaches to fibre and its application to theatre design. In 1977, he created the fibre costume designs for an ambitious production of King Lear, directed by John Wood and staged at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax. Subsequently, Blais was invited to be a guest instructor at the Nova Scotia College Of Art And Design.
By 1980, Blais’s fibre work had evolved to include polymers and resin and in 1981, he was given a solo show at the newly opened Ashcroft- Munro Gallery on Yorkville Avenue in Toronto.
During that decade Blais created a number of commissioned works in both fibre and fiberglass – most notably for the Ontario Science Centre, The City of Toronto, King World Productions of New York, the Hal Roach Studios of Toronto and the Ramada Inn, Toronto airport.
From 1981 to 1995, Blais created a number of theatre designs for the Toronto premieres of the work of playwright George F. Walker – for both Factory Theatre and Livent productions. Blais’s designs now form part of the permanent theatre archive at the University of Guelph, Ontario.
In 1984 Blais was commissioned by the Crime Writers Of Canada to create the prototype design for the Arthur Ellis Book Award, given out each year for the best in Canadian crime writing.
In addition to his work as a visual artist and stage designer, Blais has had a 35 year parallel career as an actor – in radio, theatre, film and television. He was twice nominated as Best Actor for the Dora Award in Toronto and in 1999, was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Supporting Actor in a continuing role in a television series. In 1998 he won the Best Actor Award at the Yorkton Film Festival for his role in The Wager.
In 1997 Blais moved to Nova Scotia and established in partnership with Tom Alway, The Maritime Painted Saltbox Gallery.
Blais’s focus has switched to painting in acrylic on canvas. An artist owned and operated gallery, the Painted Saltbox features the studio work of artists Tom Alway and Peter Blais. The gallery is located in Petite Riviere, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia about an hour from Halifax.