January 11, 2022 | Alumni
How U of T alum Jeff Sprang gives back through watercolour portraits
Jeff Sprang's hockey-themed watercolour portraits will be auctioned off individually in support of a nutrition program for Toronto children.
“It is such a lovely surprise when people from my undergraduate days reach out to say, ‘hello,’” says Jeff Sprang (BA 1977 VIC) thinking back fondly to his time at the University of Toronto's Victoria College. “I’m happy to be connected to the Vic community as we are a caring and progressive lot.” After studying English literature at Vic, Sprang found success in the world of public relations. “I am so grateful for the education I received and how it led me to a career in communications,” says Sprang.
Sprang took art courses at OCAD after attending Vic. He always had an artistic side and enjoyed perfecting his use of watercolours. As he pursued his career in PR for the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, he had the rare opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela in 1990 at Toronto’s Central Technical School. Sprang was moved by Mandela’s message. With the help of photos he had taken of Mandela, Sprang was inspired to paint the hero’s portrait. Mandela generously signed a selection of the prints and thus began Sprang’s foray into philanthropy through fine art. All money made from the sale of this print went to help Black students in South Africa.
I really love painting portraits of people I admire
“I really love painting portraits of people I admire,” says Sprang. “Portraiture is a real challenge—to create a likeness of someone else. I love the process and am often pleasantly surprised by the end result.”
As a past student of Northrop Frye (BA 1933 VIC, Hon DLitt 1977), Sprang felt the draw to paint the famous, literary scholar. In 2005 he donated his portrait of Frye to Victoria University with proceeds from prints of the portrait, The Conspectus of Genres, supporting undergraduate students.
Later in 2005, Sprang donated his portrait of Stephen Lewis to the Peel District School Board. This time, proceeds earned from prints went to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to support funding for community-based organizations for people suffering from HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
I am going to auction off the portraits to support nutrition programs... I have witnessed first hand the importance of good food in schools
In addition to painting world figures, Sprang has painted many famous Canadians including Drake, Gord Downie, Penny Oleksiak, Leonard Cohen and Tanya Talaga (BA 1993 VIC). A print of his portrait of Talaga hangs in the Vic residence, Annesley Hall, and forms part of a recent installation concerning Vic alumnae who have made their mark on the world. When asked about his favourite portrait to date, Sprang is quick to say, “My favourite is always the next one!”
His most recent project came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I began watching a lot of hockey during the lockdowns,” says Sprang. “I chose to do a portrait of Auston Matthews, captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Before I knew it, I had built momentum and completed 12 portraits. I am going to auction off the portraits this spring to support the Toronto Education Opportunity Fund (TEOF), an organization that brings nutrition programs to 6,000 students in priority neighbourhoods. I have witnessed first hand the importance of the availability of good food in schools.”
Sprang was awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 in recognition of his artistry and philanthropy.