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Robert Newton Hurley was born in London, in March of 1894. He left school at sixteen, and became and farm worker in England. In his 30s he immigrated to Canada, and came west following the itinerant work on the farms, and in mills, and lumber camps of Saskatchewan.

The depression years of the 1930s put an end to readily available work for men like Hurley. In his spare time he began to draw, scrounging for materials : using beet juice, berry juices, and local clays for color. In the early 30s he attended some night school classes in art, and came to the attention of Saskatoon's small art community. Largely self-educated, he had developed a mature sense of colour, space, and light in his uncluttered watercolours.

From 1948 to 1955 Hurley worked at the Dominion Plant Pathology Labratory on campus. Hurley and his family, wife Isabella and children Charles and Alice, moved to Sutherland. It was, at that time, still a largely rural community, with its own elevators, and freight sheds sitting in the middle of wide open fields, and easy access to the broad valley of the South Saskatchewan.

His watercolors were now bringing him repute as an artist. People began seeking him out, and sales of his paintings began to provide a small income. In 1980 the University of Regina conferred an honorary LLD on Hurley in recognition of his contribution to Canadian art.

Although Hurley painted all types of western landscape, the subjects of small towns, elevators, fences, and the countryside's common objects became his trademark.