Cover photo for John George Collias's Obituary

John George Collias

John George Collias



J ohn was born on June 12, 1918 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Greek immigrants George and Georgia Collias. He died of natural causes in Boise on March 29, 2017 at age 98, surrounded by his family and the artwork he spent a lifetime creating.

The oldest of five children, John grew up playing cowboys and indians with his brothers or hanging out in the family restaurant and pool hall. He also began creating artwork at such a young age that he couldn’t recall not making art.

As a child, John sketched faces in the dark at the movies, and began submitting pin-up style covers to the Saturday Evening Post at age 12. He received dozens of rejection letters, and a few encouraging notes, which he took to heart. He attended the University of Ohio art program briefly in the 1930s, but soon found himself back in Fort Wayne painting signs on windows at the family business.

During World War II, he and his brother Nick enlisted in the Army Air Corps and were sent to Gowen Field airbase in Boise. On the base, they painted outbuildings and cigarette butt cans, and they carved out a niche as staff artists at the Gowen Field Beacon newspaper. John also met a young Greek girl in Boise, Lily Kepros, and painted her portrait under her parents’ watchful eyes. The two exchanged regular letters after he shipped off to a small airbase in England.

After the war, John proposed to Lily and the pair moved to Chicago for John to attend the American Academy of Art. There, he perfected his distinctive portraiture style, which he could create on a moment’s notice with any medium: oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor, pen-and-ink, or his favorite—grease pencil on textured coquille illustration board. After moving back to Boise in the early 1950s, he quickly put his skills to work, creating a weekly hand-illustrated newscast in the Idaho Statesman titled “Round About the Boise Valley.”

When the Statesman canceled the evening edition in which the “Round About the Boise Valley.” ran, John moved back to Chicago to look for illustration work. But as his family grew to include three boys, John turned to factory and shift work—until he returned to Boise in 1963 and ran into Idaho Statesman publisher Jim Brown on the street.

For the next 30 years, John was the artist behind the “Portrait of a Distinguished Citizen,” a weekly feature that took up half of the Sunday editorial page. He created over 1,000 such features, covering a cross-section of the local community. Each one also functioned as an advertisement for his services. Anyone wanting to track him down needed only to open a phone book or to ask around downtown, where he was usually having a doughnut and coffee or buying art supplies.

“Painting was what I got called for,” he said in his later years. This “calling” was literally a telephone ringing in his kitchen. “I’m through with one, and somebody calls for the next. And I just piece them together.”

Over the course of 50 years, John embraced any and all work. He painted governors and leaders of industry, but also pets and children, families and the recently deceased. A saloon in Garden City hired him to draw a cartoon of their regulars. He was the choice for companies that wanted to honor a retiree, a president, or an award-winner. His pen-and-ink portraits still populate the walls-of-honor at the Boise Chamber of Commerce, the Boise State University presidents gallery, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the athletic halls of fame for Boise State and the College of Idaho. In 2008, he received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, and in 2015, he received a Mayor’s Awards in Arts and History’s for Lifetime Achievement.

In John’s free time, he also painted vivid landscapes of whatever caught his eye in parks, the mountains, or just along the road. Many of these were gathered in John’s retrospective book Round About the Boise Valley: An Artist’s Journey Through Idaho History .

John was also Boise’s preeminent artist-about-town. He gave classes at local colleges, dropped in at high schools, and passed along painting advice to anyone who asked. He knew everybody making art in Boise, and most of the people who weren’t. He was a living directory of faces and names to the end of his life, and always had time to check in with a friend or make a new one, whether on the street, over lunch, or on the bus.

Along with his passion for art, family was John’s highest priority throughout his life—and the combination of family and food was even better. As his clan grew to include 7 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren, he remained a constant presence in all of their lives, in addition to his vast network of other relatives and friends. His phone calls were as regular and dependable as the sunrise, and he was endlessly positive and supportive, always lively and full of good conversation.

He is survived by Lily, his wife of 70 years; his sons George, Tim, and Steve, and their wives Paulette, Dawn Marie, and Elsa; his grandchildren John, Diane and her husband Dagan, Greta and her husband Michael, Nick and his wife Colleen, Madeline and her husband Brian; and great-grandchildren Ava, Augie, Dermot, and Leo.

John wanted to extend a special thanks to the staff of Willow Park Senior Living, who cared for him and laughed with him for the last 8 months of his life.

A celebration of John’s long and rich life will be held at 6:30 pm on Sunday, April 2, at Alden-Waggoner Funeral Chapel, 5400 W. Fairview Ave., Boise, ID 83706. On April 3 at 1:30 [CC1] pm, a service will be held at St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral, 518 N 8th St, Boise, ID 83702, where John and Lily were married in 1946.

Those wishing to remember John with memorials may send them to the John & Lily Collias Family Athletic Endowed Scholarship through the Bronco Athletic Association, 1910 University Drive, Boise, ID 83725.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of John George Collias, please visit our flower store.

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