'The best four years of my life'
October 2, 2012

Unfocused in high school, Tom Anthes became a serious student and excelled at the Nova Scotia College of Art.

Tom Anthes goes way back with NSCAD—back when children’s art classes were held on Saturday mornings at the rambling old building on Argyle Street, now home to the Five Fishermen Restaurant.

The longtime art director at CBC TV says the building felt huge and foreboding to him as a little kid, who nonetheless always found it a thrill to enter. Looking back all these years later, those art classes opened the door to a creative profession and a lifelong passion for painting and drawing. After high school, he entered the college once again (this time it was located in the former St. Andrews United Church Hall on Coburg Road) as a full-fledged student. Despite his unimpressive marks in high school, he convinced his teachers of his passion for art and managed to secure a bursary to attend.

Newly retired from CBC where he worked for 45 years, Tom was in a nostalgic mood as he recalled his days at the art college—“the best four years of my life,” he said. “The people I met became my best friends for life.”

While school was on hiatus over the summer, he and a few friends lived “like Bohemians” in Chester, where they rented a studio and sold their work. He says the studio seemed to double as a daycare centre, as moms would drop off their children to have their portraits painted, and return for them later in the day.

“As soon as we got paid, we’d go off to get groceries and beer,” he says with a laugh. A highlight of those long-ago summers was the day when two carloads of art collectors arrived at their studio and bought up “every second thing that we had. We were practically cleaned out.”

Not only were people paying for his work, Tom was scoring high marks at college and graduated in 1967 at the top of his class. All in the same week, he graduated, got married (to his wife of 45 years Anne), found an apartment and secured a job doing what he loved at CBC. His first assignment was as assistant set designer of Don Messer’s Jubilee, the wildly popular musical variety, produced in Halifax and broadcast nationally from 1957 to 1969.

Starting with Don Messer’s Jubilee and its “sister series” Singalong Jubilee, Tom has put his stamp on every TV series and special produced in the Maritimes, including children’s shows Blizzard Island and Theodore Tugboat and comedy series Codco, The Bette Show, Rideau Hall and This Hour has 22 Minutes. He is especially proud of his work on the East Coast Music Awards, which during the rise of bands like The Rankin Family, Ashley MacIsaac and Sloan, brought east coast music to a national audience much the way the Jubilees did two generations earlier.

Another highlight was creating Theodore Tugboat, the children’s show about the friendly tugboat and his friends, which felt surprisingly like being back at Saturday morning art class again.

“We had so much fun just playing and letting our imaginations go,” says Tom, who worked on the series over five seasons with Fred Allen, also a graduate of the art college. “I remember Fred and I sitting down in a downtown tavern and we were both doodling on napkins. After a few drawings, Fred went away and did his models and I created the harbor setting, complete with bridge, town clock and everything familiar about this incredible city.”

He’s looking forward to settling into retirement so he can pick up a paintbrush again—and perhaps move his stuff out of the dining room and into a real studio again. He’s also open to doing special projects at CBC, but only “if it’s fun and juicy.”

“I can’t wait to experiment again—that’s been on hold for a very long time,” he says. “I’m also curious to see if there’s a market for me just doing my own kind of artwork.”

Read more:Anthes created castles, caves, subs” by Lois Legge in The Chronicle Herald.


As a painter, Tom Anthes is drawn to textured surfaces -- old weathered wood, fields of grass, rocks. This painting, Green Bay, hangs in the office of Andrew Cochrane, CBC's Managing Director for the Maritimes. The two collaborated on Blizzard Island and Theodore Tugboat.