How the Feckless Collection Came to Be

Barbara and Don Atkins (Molly Lamb Bobak watercolour) at their home, early 2000s.

Barbara and Don Atkins (Molly Lamb Bobak watercolour) at their home, early 2000s.

 
Don Atkins at his retirement party from Benwell-Atkins near the end of the 1990s (he kept going to the office after he retired...). Behind him, centre standing, is Bob Doull with Leanne Nash. Cut off on the far left is Matthew Petley-Jones.

Don Atkins at his retirement party from Benwell-Atkins near the end of the 1990s (he kept going to the office after he retired...). Behind him, centre standing, is Bob Doull with Leanne Nash. Cut off on the far left is Matthew Petley-Jones.

It happened by chance

Feckless started in the mid-1980s with a chance encounter between a Walter J. Phillips’ print and an empty office. 

Don Atkins had a long-standing interest in printmaking, had studied printmaking, and made prints as a young man. One of those prints, a linocut still life of fruit, proudly hung on his dining room wall for the rest of his life. By the mid-1980s he was President of his family firm, Benwell-Atkins Ltd., a commercial printing and mailing company, then located on Homer Street in Vancouver.

Bob Doull first became interested in printmaking when he was mistakenly given a copy of Phillips’ Dreams of Fort Garry as a corporate Christmas Gift in 1974.  It turned out the gift was actually intended for someone else and Doull was supposed to get a bottle of scotch instead.

In the mid-80’s Doull was living in Whistler publishing a newspaper, the Whistler Question. He went to Vancouver to look for a mailing service and Benwell-Atkins was the first place on his list.  It was there he saw the Phillips’ print of Howe Sound hanging in the empty office.  He asked who owned it and after a search through a rabbit warren of corridors Don Atkins was produced.  That encounter began a lifetime friendship.

Sometime in about 1987 they came up with the idea of starting a small commercial venture to buy and sell prints. This turned out to be an utterly hopeless endeavour.  They could buy but they could not sell.  At this point Don’s wife Barbara became interested in the enterprise.  It was getting hard for her to ignore because the prints were piling up in her basement.  So she became the third pillar of the Feckless Art and Print Co.

The trio was then faced with some hard decisions. Doull: “If we were going to be collectors we couldn’t collect everything.  We didn’t have enough money or enough space.  So we decided to focus on Canadian work only.”  

But even that was massive. The Feckless collectors successively scaled that back to BC and Alberta only, and then BC only, and then BC before 1971 only.  They thought that would be relatively manageable. 

In the beginning they made a list of 52 artists and about 100 works that they determined were necessary to show the entire breadth of BC printmaking.  Unfortunately, Doull says, “We did not know how much we did not know.” 


Today there are more than 1000 works in the collection from roughly 250 artists. Although Don Atkins passed away in 2010,  Barbara Atkins and Bob Doull continue to be engaged with the collection and make new finds.

Over the years the Feckless Art & Print Co. received the assistance of many people who have helped to define and shape the collection.  These include: the private dealer Matthew Petley-Jones; Ian Thom of the Vancouver Art Gallery; Paul Crawford at the Penticton Art Gallery; James P. Delgado, then at the Vancouver Maritime Museum; Greg Bellerby, who was then at the Charles H. Scott Gallery at Emily Carr University; Ann Cowan and Bill Jeffries who were both then at SFU; the Phillips scholar and freelance curator Roger H. Boulet; Gary Sim who was always generous with information from his enormous database of BC Artists; Sandra Hawkes of UBC Press, for research at the UBC Library and Archives. And of course our families who have patiently tolerated this strange obsession.  Along with Leanne Nash and René Mehrer who have asked a million questions, built this website and researched and wrote the biographical information for all of the artists.