Rocking camel by B.C. painter/author Jim Willer

Bumpety Camel by Jim Willer

I grew up with this psychedelic rocking camel, handmade in the late 60s/early 70s by B.C. artist/novelist Jim Willer. He called these “Bumpity Camels” and ours was one of a series—our cousins had one too. When we were kids it used to have a blue wooden knocker on a wire that hung inside and clip-clopped when you rocked (even though camels are silent), but the noise drove us crazy so we removed it, and so did our cousins. [Update; we found the knocker in April of 2013 and I’ve re-attached it.] As you can maybe deduce from the small hole in the centre of the eye, Willer used a nail and string to make a simple compass with which he drew the concentric circles (they radiate out from the eye, quite accurately). The flanks, neck, head and rear are plwood, while all the rounded parts of the seat and rear are cedar. The rockers seem to be Douglas fir planks. The Flickr set is here if you want to see how it’s made. It’s forty years old and in amazing condition considering the abuse it suffered. Very well made.

Jim Willer, mainly a painter, also wrote a sci-fi novel titled Paramind which you can still sometimes find on Abebooks or Amazon. See the dust jacket below. From BC Bookworld: “A professional painter, Jim Willer’s anti-Utopian science fiction novel about ‘electric government’, Paramind, was a co-recipient of a $33,000 literary prize offered by the Imperial Tobacco Company for Canada’s centennial. Willer was born in Winnipeg [sic: actually born in England] in 1921, toured Western Canada on a painting expedition with Joe Plaskett and studied for two years in Europe under Bohemian conditions. He came to teach at the Vancouver School of Art at the invitation of painter Tak Tanabe in 1964.”

Thanks to my cousin-in-law David for transporting the camel from my mother’s house, where it had been taking up an entire closet for more than a decade. “Do you want Bumpity Camel? It’s going to your place or I’m putting out on the street.” So it’s at my place.

A friend said recently “this camel is the yardstick by which all other cool things must be measured.”

Bumpety Camel by Jim Willer - head

Bumpety Camel by Jim Willer - stirrup

Bumpety Camel by Jim Willer - tail

Bumpety Camel by Jim Willerl - eye

Bumpity Camel on Saltspring Island
This one belongs to our cousins. It has been outdoors on Saltspring Island for decades. I’m actually surprised it’s in relatively decent condition, considering.

Book jacket for Paramind by Jim Willer

23 comments on "Rocking camel by B.C. painter/author Jim Willer"

  1. Hi There,

    Thanks for submitting this blog! I always wondered what happened to all those bumpity camels. Jim Willer was my dad. The only camel my sister Xanthe and I can locate is a baby one, navy blue. When I moved to the U.S. Bumpity camel didn’t exactly fit in the suitcase! I have a photo of myself on another bumpity camel when I was three years old. He made an all silver one, a Pierre E. Trudeau tribute, which was even bigger than the pink circular ones. The only part of the blog that is not correct, is that he was born in England in 1921. I’d be curious to know what your mother’s name was, because I probably know her (and I may even know you!!) Have a great day! Warmest regards, Sophie

    1. Sophie, How amazing! And how great to hear from you. I’m going to email you too, but just wanted to say I’d love to see the silver and blue Bumpity camels (I’ve been spelling Bumpity wrong and am going to correct my post). I am going to get my cousin to photograph her camel so that you and I can both see it. It’s currently on Saltspring Island and would have been bought by her mother, Lisa Lloyd. I have loved these camels since early childhood. It’s funny, I thought I remembered that your dad was English but I found his publisher’s bio and it claimed he was born in Winnipeg, which surprised me. Thanks for the correction! Do you have any photos of other camels? I’d love to see them. I will also send you a photo of a painting of Jim’s currently owned by my mother, Alix, and my aunt Vicky has one too, I believe. More via email. Lindsay

  2. Hello Sophie,
    You will not remember me but I remember you. I had the great honour of working with your father around 1973. I just recently bought his book Paramind on the internet. It seems to me he had just been writing this book at the time I knew him. Please contact me if you would like.

  3. Hi Robert,

    Good to hear from you. In what capacity did you work with Jim?

    I must admit my older sister Xanthe and I have tried to read Paramind many times, but can’t get past the first few chapters..every other word only has 4 letters (!!) I do regret not reading it before he died, so I could ask him about it, but I left home at 18, and wasn’t mature enough to sit down with him and really “pick his brain” about the work. I did a book report in 5th grade of Paramind, but since it was way above my head, I just asked Dad for a synopsis, and that was that. He really was brilliant and interesting. I hope you enjoy the book. Cheers, Sophie

  4. Hello Sophie,

    Today, my wife was just working round the house doing some dusting and climbed a step ladder to reach the top of a chest of drawers where a plaster sculpture of my father’s head sits gathering dust ! My wife called to me and said ‘lift up the head so that I can dust it’, which I did. Underneath the sculpture I noticed that my mother had stuck a note to remind her children and grandchildren about the origin of this sculpture and this is what she had written: “This clay sculpture of Ireson W. Selman was moulded by Jim Willer, an art student, in the kitchen at 3, Cromwell Ave, Cheshunt, Herts., about 1946 – then done in plaster. Jim later became a well known artist in Winnipeg, Canada.”

    This sculpture has always been treasured by my family because it is so life-like and captured wonderfully my father’s features. What talent at age 25 !

    I decided to check out Jim Willer on the web and found this site and a means of contacting you ! I live in England and was aged 5 at the time your father created this sculpture so I don’t remember him. I would be pleased to hear from you. Best wishes, Tony.

  5. I never saw the camel but I have a number of paintings by Willer done in the ’50s and ’60s. I also have a concrete table he did. In the mid-’50s in Winnipeg I helped him with a bust in zinc of my father. He also did a ocncrete bust which I believe is in the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I have a photo of it. And I well remember his “sun dial” which was at the old Polo Park Shopping Centre in Winnipeg.

  6. I just bought my fourth of your Dad’s paintings. If you ever want images to see what they are like, let me know. I remember the Sundial outside the Sears store at Polo Park from when I was a kid. We used to meet there.

    1. Kevin, that’s amazing. Sophie, and Kevin too, would you be interested in having photos of those paintings added to this blog? My mother and aunt co-own one of Jim’s paintings – it’s always been a favourite of mine. It’s subtle but eerie, a small figure of Charles Darwin standing in an immense, shaded old-growth Pacific rainforest. Really beautiful.

  7. I didn’t know that Jim died. I am very sorry!! Our family was friends with Jim and I think he knew you girls and your mum, too. My last name was Bergeron, and my dad is John Bergeron. My mum Sue Bergeron died a month ago. My parents had great respect for Jim and were in awe of his talent. Jim built us a beautiful family room in the 70’s, and my parents bought lots of his AMAZING paintings.

  8. Hello Sophie,
    I read this blog with great interest as my mother, Marguerite Boux passed away this year and she had one of the concrete tables mentioned by Arthur Drache. Sam Drache, Arthur’s father was a colleage and good friend of my father, as Jim was. I thought I would do some research on Jim before giving the table to my son. It was made at Supercrete, a Winnipeg concrete company owned by my father Joe Boux and his brother John Boux. I believe that the mold for the table was also worked on my my grandfather, who was a plasterer by trade and did some of the plasterwork inside the Manitoba Legislative buildings. I also have a portrait of myself which was painted by Jim. I remember skipping in our front yard for what seemed like hours ( I was about 5 years old at the time). I treasure the painting and will gladly send you a photo.

  9. What a fun discovery, we have the exact same camel! My husband also received this as a gift in the 70’s from his father Jasper Mardon. We have used her at many birthday celebrations and it is always a hit. We are concerned about preservation, have you tried any restoration? We are also in Vancouver and would love to show her off! Best regards, Trina Bester

    1. Trina! That is good news! I would love to see a photo of yours – I can post it here if you send me a copy! (Find my email in the sidebar.) I have not tried any restoration only because I think mine has aged really well and I sort of feel that its signs of wear are part of its history (esp on the footrests). My bumpity camel is so popular – a local journalist came by the other day and said “This camel is the yardstick by which all other cool things must be measured.” Please send photos! Are you on Flickr? That would be another way of showing everyone. I’m sure Jim Willer’s kids would love to see it!

  10. Hi Sophie,

    I am amazed because I accidentally stumbled across this site whilst looking for some stuff about Jim Willer your dad. My dad Tony and Jim were cousins and I was lucky enough to have met Jim though sad it was only a few occasions.I was also very lucky in that Jim sketched my son one evening whilst we were chatting and I treasure the drawing.
    Anyway, last week I was at an art gallery in Norwich UK and a fellow student showed me some Haida pieces by various artists and it stirred a memory in me of some cards that Jim sent me of Totem Poles which were prints of his work.
    I have long regretted that we lost contact and would love to hear from yourself or Xanthe
    Warmest Regards,
    Amanda Leggett

  11. Hi Jimmy,
    Yes, this is from Susan, your god child.
    Mum (Aileen) and I would love to hear from you if you can reply. We talk with May Mary at least once a month and would like to keep her up to date about you as well.
    The Camels look great. I turned out to be a wood carver in sort of a way. I have carved five signs just for fun.
    I tried carving in the round but I’m afraid I am not very good at it. Arthritic hands—takes me too long to take away the proper amount of wood. One should not wait until you are over 60 to try your had at carving, but there is no time until you retire. Is there?
    Would love to hear from you.
    Susan, PS, Brett says Hi too.

  12. I have just been reading the book The Grande Dames of the Cariboo by Julie Fowler, just published this year, in which she mentions Jim Willer’s name. This particularly interested me because back in the early 60’s ? 63 my parents got to know Jim and I remember him well ( for always beating me at ping pong, and for helping making some home made rockets ) and for encouraging me with some early art work. We lost contact after he went to Vancouver, and I have often wondered about his work and life. I would love to see some of his work.

    1. Ray, thanks! Very interesting. I’ll add a scan of a painting by Jim that hangs in my aunt’s house. And if anyone has images of Jim’s other work, please send it to me here and I’ll upload it (or send me links to your online photos).

  13. Hi I have just stumbled upon this website having watched a BBC tv programme here in the UK with a character called Xanthe. It got me wondering about my second cousins Xanthe and Sophie Willer who I met and stayed with for a couple of days in 1986, with my brother Giles. One quick google search and I am delighted to have found a link! The Willer family were so hospitable to us, I will always remember their home that was built around 4 big trees on the Vancouver coast… Sophie, it would be lovely to get in touch. Hope you remember me! I’m Clare, nee Campbell, so my Dad Ian, and your mum are cousins. X

  14. The camels are lovely and the story of Jim Willer and his art is fascinating, but my objective is altogether off the topic, unfortunately, as I am interested in making contact with one of your commenters, Jocelyne Salter, who I believe is an old friend of mine from Winnipeg days, and with whom I would absolutely love to get in touch with after 50 years of trying to find her!! So, Sophie, if you are reading this, or Jocelyn, in person, this is my email address: marsarma at hotmail dot it. If anybody reading this blog can put me in touch with Jocelyne, I would be so grateful. Many thanks! And long may camels try to get through the eye of a needle!!!

  15. I read Paramind when I was in my 20’s after meeting Jim through his daughter Xanthe. Took it out from the West Vancouver library, and read it in view of the Lion’s Gate bridge in a summer afternoon. Loved the book and wish Mr. Willer could have written another. Paramind is in my opinion up there with some of the works of Ray Bradbury. Have lost touch with Xanthe over time, but would love to get back in touch. Thanks for this blog.

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