Fonds SC570 - Karl Spreitz fonds

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Karl Spreitz fonds

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  • Moving images
  • Graphic material
  • Textual record

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on contents of the fonds.

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  • 1926 - 2016 (Creation)

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Physical description

7.98 m of textual records other materials.

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Karl Spreitz was born in Graz an der Mur, Austria. During his childhood, he experienced primarily folk art and films, rather than fine art in museums and galleries. As Robin Skelton wrote, “it was in Austria that he encountered that world of illusion and comedy, and of disciplined fantasy,” which forms the foundation of much of his later artistic works.

In 1944, Spreitz was a member of the Youth Corps sent to Hamburg, however he escaped and fled Germany. After European liberation at the end of the Second World War, Spreitz entered Graz University to study Physical Education after his application to an art school was declined. At Graz University he was appointed Assistant Coach to the Women’s Olympic Team of Austria. During this time, Spreitz acquired a 16 millimeter movie camera with which he filmed European track and field events in Brussels; by doing so, taught himself the skills of film-making.

Spreitz immigrated to Canada in 1952 and married Olympic bronze medalist Ina Schäffer (later Mayer von Bojan) in 1953, who he had met while coaching. He worked at a rubber factory in Ontario before going on to attend the Brooks School of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, graduating in 1957. Spreitz spent the next year in Prince George as a photographer for a local newspaper. He and Ina moved to Victoria in 1959, where Spreitz worked as a staff photographer for Beautiful British Columbia Magazine (1965 - 1968), a cameraman for CTV (1968 - 1972), interspersed with work for CHEK-TV and CBC-TV.

Spreitz began establishing his artistic career in Victoria during the 1960s and developed close relationships with many local artists. He was one of the original members of the Society of Limners, formed in 1971 by Maxwell Bates. He frequently collaborated with fellow Limners members for films and other projects. Through these connections, Spreitz developed his skills in film and photography, as well as painting, drawing, and collage. His best-known photography depicted environmental subjects or artworks for publication. However, Spreitz also created a significant amount of portraiture, notably in collaboration with Myfanwy Pavelić. While his most renowned films were his cultural, historical, and environmental documentaries, he also created artist spotlights for some of the Limners, worked in the experimental film genre, and produced numerous commercials throughout his career. His artworks, encouraged and influenced particularly by Maxwell Bates and Herbert Siebner, are expressionist in form. Through drawing, painting, photo-collage, and later through digital media, Spreitz explored the human figure in unique ways, often combining figures with geometric shapes or mechanical imagery.

Spreitz’s film debut was in 1964 at the first International Film Festival in Victoria, where he won first prize in the British Columbia category for his film Steelhead River, created in collaboration with fellow Austrian-Canadian artist Richard Ciccimarra. He also began working as a freelancer during this time— as a photographer for various local newspapers including Look, Star Weekly, The Globe and Mail, the Victoria Daily Times, and the Victoria Daily Colonist, and producing films for the National Film Board, CBC, the BC Provincial Museum, and the BC Department of Travel Industry. He continued to photograph for the Beautiful British Columbia Magazine, including their fall 1986 issue on the Expo in Vancouver and their spring 1988 issue on Vancouver Island.

Spreitz won numerous awards throughout his career, from winning the best-of award in the Buffalo Evening News 1956 Amateur Snapshot Contest, to the “National Outdoor – Travel, Film Festival, “Teddy” Award” in 1968 for Steelhead River. Beautiful British Columbia has received both local and international recognition, including a book Spreitz designed—Wildlife—that won a Regional Publishers Association (RPA) award in 1992 in the Special Publications category.

Along with his contributions to Beautiful British Columbia, Spreitz’s publications include: Beautiful British Columbia Wildlife: The Living Landscape (1991), co-authored with Anne Mayhew; Vancouver: Visions of a City (1992), co-authored with Paul Grescoe; and Songs from the Wild (Beautiful British Columbia) (1992).

A reoccurring topic amongst these records is a tension between Spreitz and Pavelić, apparently with regards the perceived lack of credit given to Spreitz’s part of their collaboration in her portraiture. However, their relationship seems positive prior to her exhibition “Relationships” as evidenced by their continued collaborations, including Spreitz’s film A Portrait of Myfanwy.

Custodial history

Gift of the Estate of Karl Spreitz, 2016. Film reels transferred from Legacy Art Gallery, 2018.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of film reels and videocassettes featuring artists Maxwell Bates, Ricki Ciccimarra, Leon Erickson, Jan and Helga Grove, Elza Mayhew, Myfanwy Pavelic, and Godfrey Stevens. The fonds also includes footage from the 1983 film "Ninstints" about the 1957 removal and preservation of totem poles from Anthony Island in the Queen Charlottes. Fonds also includes materials from Karl Spreitz’s professional and personal life, including a substantial number of records regarding the work and collaborations of fellow Limners and other artists.

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2016-026, 2018-036, 2019-002

Physical description

Also includes 71 film reels, seven 3/4 inch videocassettes, and one 3/4 inch video tape.

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Created by JF, August 1, 2018.
Revised by JF, February 23, 2021.

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