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Cambridge landmarks captured in detail by Joe Forte

"My belief is if you do it, do it because you love it," said Forte, who began his art career in 1988

Iconic places in Galt, Hespeler and Preston are found within stacks of prints belonging to a local artist.

Joe Forte is a visual artist who uses ink to produce black and white images of landmarks in Cambridge, and cities in other countries around the world. Sometimes, he also dabbles in abstract painting. 

"My belief is if you do it, do it because you love it," said Forte, who began his art career in 1988.

Forte has been drawing all his life, but before becoming an artist, he was in the food business for 28 years. Starting at Loblaws at the age of 15, Forte bought the family grocery store from his father in 1964 and reopened it in 1966. Over time, it went from grocery store to a record and book store in 1975. 

"I had an open air fruit market out on Highway 24 and a market in Preston. Most of my art was painting signs," said Forte.

"I'm good at writing as well, I kind of make an art statement with my writing." 

In 1980, he closed the business and began to draw in 1986. Throughout the late '80s and early '90s, Forte created up to 60 drawings of different places in Cambridge. Residents would recognize some of the prints, including of the former Canada Post Office on Dickson Street or the Central Presbyterian Church, but also of historic homes and giant trees found in West Galt.

"The streets would be so lined with trees that the sun wouldn't get in, but now when you go up there, there's not any of the big trees left," Forte said about a place he frequented as a child.

Often in Forte's prints you will see three birds flying in the distance, representing the holy trinity. Sometimes, more birds are added to represent deceased family members.

"This is my father's home when he was a little boy, in Villa Massa, Italy," said Forte, describing one print he did while travelling in Europe.

Besides Cambridge and Europe, Forte got inspiration from the U.S., making frequent trips to Key West, Florida, and New York City. In three month stints, Forte would sit for 15 hours a day, seven days a week in these cities drawing 20 pieces. 

"When you're in Paris or New York or in Key West, you really get bothered a lot, especially in New York," said Forte, anticipating between 3,000 to 4,000 will walk by him in 10 hours. 

"The thing is, you want to be sitting somewhere with a lot of traffic, because that's how you make money."

New York is also where Forte met celebrities, like James Gandolfini and comedian Jim Carey, while drawing. Forte said Carey is also an artist and goes under the pseudonym Freedom From Concern, or FFC. Forte spent a week in Carey's studio where he produced a custom piece.

"This is Jim Carey's studio and this is Jim sitting here, doing his painting, which is quite large," said Forte about the piece, which Carey bought the original and a watercolor painting of it.

The yearly pilgrimage to the United States came to an end for Forte eight years ago. The pandemic and medical procedures delayed Forte's return to the country, but it hasn't kept him down.

"Thank God for COVID, because I wouldn't have been smart enough to stop and smell the roses even, I would've been just trying to churn away at it," said Forte.  "Between not going to the States and being hit with COVID, we were stuck in the house for two years. That was healing time."

These days, Forte is not doing much art. His focus is on his family and appreciating the time he has with them.

"My kids and my grand kids are the most important things in my life."

Over 2,000 art pieces and 18 books later, and Forte doesn't know what he's going to do with all of it. Some of his work is in storage while other pieces can be found at the Galtview Restaurant and Monigram Coffee Shop. More of Forte's work can be seen on his website.