Born in 1928 in Wichita, Kansas, Virgil Burnett was an artist, writer, book illustrator, Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo, and the founder of the Pasdeloup Press. He received a BA in Fine Arts from Columbia University, did his military service in Germany during the Korean War, and earned an MA in Art History from the University of California at Berkeley. He went to France on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1956, and stayed there until 1961, working with master printer Maurice Darantière, known for typesetting James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). Upon returning to North America, he taught first at Chicago and then at Waterloo. He settled in Stratford, Ontario in 1973, but spent his summers in a small village in France, which became the inspiration for his collection of short stories, Towers at the Edge of A World (1983). Towers was followed by a novella, Comedy of Eros (1984) and another collection of short stories, Farewell Tour (1986), and several other collections of stories and poems. The Pasdeloup Press, founded in the 1960s, published the work of poets such as A.D. Hope, Daryl Hine and Rienzi Cruz, illustrated with Burnett’s drawings, and also produced tributes in word and image to the artists who had most influenced him: A Catafalque for David Hill (1986) memorializes a painter friend from the Paris days, while Edward Melcarth: A Hercynian Memoir was dedicated to the painter and sculptor who had had a profound effect on him as a young man in New York. Burnett illustrated a series of books for the Folio Society, the Limited Editions Club, and other small presses, as well as producing broadsides throughout his career. In the 1990s, he turned to sculpture, specializing in terra cotta renditions of the female form.
Virgil Burnett died June 8, 2012. Until his very last days, he was still drawing.
Tribute to Virgil Burnett
Professor Virgil Burnett joined the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo in the early 1970s. In many ways his practice and pedagogy embraced the scope of the department as it was envisioned by the department’s founder Nancy Lou Patterson: that the practice of Fine Arts transcends media and is grounded in art history. Virgil taught drawing, illustration and art history. He left a rich legacy not only in his own work but in the work of the many students he taught over the years. His passion for the arts and for teaching will continue to resonate within the walls of East Campus Hall as each year a student will be awarded the Virgil Burnett Award. For this, we are very grateful to his family.