Creative Age Profile: Keith Turnbull


“I think that’s the key to a fulfilling retirement – to pursue your interests, and to continue to build stuff.”


Keith Turnbull hadn’t planned to have a post-retirement career as a sculptor. But he planted the seeds for his current artistic practice well before leaving his job. 


Keith moved back to Edmonton with his wife and three children in 1988 to be the Head of the Main Library for Edmonton Public Library.


Early in his tenure with EPL, Keith was invited to represent the library at the City’s Cultural Futures Project. He found himself amidst the artists and administrators that were building Edmonton’s thriving arts community. 


And via these connections, Keith then found himself taking on board positions with some of Edmonton’s most influential arts organizations – Edmonton International Fringe Festival, Edmonton Arts Council, and Harcourt House, to name a few.


When Keith’s youngest child entered high school (and after many years of supporting the community via board leadership), Keith decided to engage with the arts in a new way. He took a sculpture class through the Department of Extension at the University of Alberta. 


“I’d always been interested in sculpting, and I saw the course advertised, and I thought ‘Why not?’ And I loved it. I loved working with the models, and working with the clay. And I had wonderful teachers.” 


“All the teachers I’ve had were gentle, because they were teaching adults. Adults are there because they want to be, not because they have to be.” 


“Then I realized that Harcourt House had a weekly sculpture drop-in on Monday nights. So I just started going there, and working on my own thing. I was still working at the Library, and doing sculpture, too.”


One class led to another, and to another, and – now retired from his job at the Library – Keith has formed a new career as a respected sculptor, and teaching artist.


“I think you’ve got to do something before you retire, you’ve got to have an interest already. I’d been working for ten years as a sculptor before I retired.”


“After I retired, I started to take it more seriously. I still consider myself to be an emerging artist, but a professional artist none the less.”


In 2008, Keith built a studio in his garage, and began to have a yearly sale to find homes for all the work he’d created. “I set up a studio in my garage, and I had my first show and sale, and I got rid of a lot of stuff.”


Of being a teaching artist, Keith says, “I just love teaching. I love to watch people develop.” 


He also stresses the importance of creating a supportive environment in the classroom. 


“People are afraid, not so much about drawing a picture, or going onstage, but they’re afraid of what people will say about their work. I noticed that particularly with drawing, that people are really worried that they’ll look like amateurs.”


“Some of my students made beautiful work, some not so beautiful. But they all had a good time. We enjoy each other’s company.”


When asked what his sculpting practice means to him, Keith says, “It gives me a social life, and a meditative life as well. I work by myself, but I connect with others in the sculpting community too.” He also speaks fondly about watching his grandchildren interact with his sculptures. 


“Librarians tend to retire very well” Keith observes, “I think because they have a broad interest in the world. They have a lot of curiosity, and have tried a lot of different activities.” 


“And so I think people, before they retire, especially after their kids are gone, should really look at what they’re interested in.” 


“You need to create something, whether it’s writing your family memoirs – if you’re a writer you should keep writing. If you’re a painter, keep painting. If you are a woodworker, keep building things.” 


Find out more about Keith Turnbull and his work here:

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