George Cocayne  (1906-1986)      Folk Artist, carver


George Cockayne was born in England in 1906 and he came to Canada as an orphan in the early 1920s under the Dr. Bernardo program.   He worked on farms and in lumber camps until the late 1930s when he bought a small farmOntario.  In his old age,  he retired to the Deloro Nursing home,  where he died.


Pee Wee  c. 1932

A primitive artist. George Cocayne worked with ‘as found’ materials and colors. He made spirit masks, highly colored and carved as well as animals and figures. He was very collectible during his life time and well shown in galleries and collections and publications. (A good reference – with a biography and catalogue of works is: Steven Inglis; Something Out of Nothing, Pub. of  Nat. Mus. Canada, 1983. With artist interviews.)

The wind always blew his large barn door shut, he explained, and so he adapted the top of a cedar tree as a convenient doorstop. Its shape reminded him of the torso of a woman, and eventually he carved and painted clothes for her. A lifelong bachelor, Mr. Cockayne remarked dryly, "It's nice to have a woman to come home to." George Cockayne produced many rough-hewn figures, heads and animals throughout his life. Although his eyesight deteriorated over the years, he continued to carve his strange and wonderful creations. They preserved his memories of the past and his life on the farm with his Great Dane and ferret Pee Wee.

Museum of Civilization

Museum of George Cockayne’s carvings are at the margin of what is usually considered folk art; yet he shares with many little-known and untrained artists an awesome creative skill and imagination. This carving was done while he was a farmhand and logger, living on an island in the Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario. He trained a ferret, which he named "Peewee," to assist him and his Great Dane to hunt rabbits, whose meat supplemented his meagre diet. As we see here, "When the ferret goes snooping around in the hole, the rabbit pops out." All the important details of this period of Mr. Cockayne’s life are present in the composition--his dog, the ferret cage, his cabin and rowboat, and, surmounting the whole composition, his ferret.

His work is found not only in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization,  but in many corporate and private art collections.
Ref: National Museum of Man, From the Heart Folk Art in Canada (1983); Kobayashi/Bird, A Compendium of Canadian Folk Artists (1985); Philip Tilney, Bill Richardson, This Other Eden: Canadian Folk Art Outdoors (1999); Blake McKendry, An Illustrated Companion to Canadian Folk Art (1999); National Museum of Man, National Museums of Canada,  Something Out of Nothing: The Work of George Cockayne(1983)by Stephen Inglis