A hand-printed sign peered out from among a tangle of blackberry bushes with an arrow pointing toward “Art in the Wash – Open House.” I followed a twisting road lined with apple trees whose boughs hung low with large green apples, reaching a small parking lot. A path led to a wooden shed, the top half of its open stable door revealing the artist, Stan Ogloff, a white goatee and moustache gleaming in the sunshine. Behind him were wooden work benches and shelves full of iron balls and skillfully twisted metal arranged in bizarre shapes. I love visiting Stan and his workshop for his art is unique and, well, often puzzling. How are these balls, cogwheels and bars held together? And what does it mean? “I spend a lot of time in Mexico,” Stan says, “where I get many of the unusual metal pieces.” I wandered around the rolling property, admiring Stan’s iron sculptures set amongst the orchard, and picking a juicy red apple from one of the heritage trees.
Creative Minds and Hands
Stan’s studio is but one of many. The Gulf Islands with their mellow climate and soft coastal terrain have always drawn funky artists like honey bees to pollen. Artists have settled here in droves, churning out cultural masterworks. I was impressed for I could hardly turn a corner without passing a sign announcing a home studio, small gallery or workshop: Benevolent Beast Studio, Ridgeview Studio, Blood Star Gallery, Renaissance Gallery, Tulifanya Studio, Darawoodworks Studio, Art in the Wash and the list goes on and on. Creative minds and hands — there are more than 60 visual artists on Pender Island — have made works that range from little known treasures to well-known pieces gracing the walls of mansions and galleries around the world.
Little wonder the arts thrive, given the rich legacy left by Indigenous Peoples over the past millennia. This is seen at the Community Hall where you are greeted by three imposing First Nations welcome poles consisting of female bears. They were carved by island women, directed by Victor Reece, an indigenous master carver. Today, working in wood continues, including a club of carvers.
Imagining the Artist’s Imagination
Fascinating is that the artists express their ideas in their own unique fashion using a smorgasbord of media including acrylic, oil and water colour paints, clay, photography, metals, ceramics, prints, jewelry and textiles and more.
But what is art, I wonder? My take is that it is the creation of a piece that expresses the author’s imagination and technical skill, and is intended to be appreciated for its beauty or emotional power. Imagination is a major part of creating art, and the final product is intended to stimulate thought and conversation.
Artist and environmentalist Andrea Spalding frees the souls of discarded books, turning them into delightful book art. She also creates collages by embedding discarded items into wax, and makes fantasy furniture from broken items. Her philosophy summarizes the driving force behind most artists, “I always have to be creative. I can’t live without imagination.”
The Pender Island Art Society
Sadly, most artists don’t become rich. Furthermore, they tend to be eccentric and tending toward solitude. They do come together, however, at the Pender Island Art Society, which meets twice monthly. Workshops are held on how to create in different media including acrylic, watercolour, sketching, charcoal, pastel, mixed media, realism, abstract and everything in between. Twice a year, the Society hosts an Art Show & Sale where members get to display their work and revel in the praises of their neighbours.
The Gallery at Ptarmigan Arts, Hope Bay, with curated shows running continuously since 2018, is one of the central art showcases on the island. The Gallery is staffed entirely by volunteers, mostly the artists whose work is on show. Set in a beautiful waterfront location at Hope Bay, the presentations have continued even during covid.
Covid has caused hiccups, with many art shows resorting to virtual presentations, but hopefully everything will return to normality soon. Pre-covid, the Sea Star Winery was an epicentre of the arts with a constant stream of three-day shows in the large tasting room. The shows were always well attended, thanks to excellent wine, live music by local musicians and a picturesque setting with vineyards sloping down to the Salish Sea.
One of the most popular art shows in the region is Art off the Fence which is held at the site of the unconsecrated St. Peter Church on south Pender. Glorious paintings, textiles and wood carvings are exhibited among the trees with the church’s steeple forming a benevolent backdrop.
Art in the Orchard is a one-day show held in an apple orchard with sheep wandering in the adjacent field. How can one not relax when the art is displayed is such verdant surroundings with a band playing and tea served in elegant cups and saucers?
Artists in Action
I love to hobnob with artists and see them in action. At the South Pender Easter Art Walk, held on Easter Sunday, I visit ten galleries and their uber-creative artists. At Blood Star Gallery I meet artists Susan Taylor and Frank Ducote whose work includes folk art, digital art, photographs, drawings and paintings inspired by the Salish Sea. Susan’s impressions of Gulf Island’s nature is stunningly beautiful and moving. Frank’s style is aggressive and bold.
I also enjoy the Port to Starboard Art Show, where I can wander through the studios of eight artists inspecting oil paintings, stone sculptures, ceramic pieces and artsy photographs.
Of course, I can visit galleries at any time I please (but have to phone ahead). One of my favourite artists is Morgan Warren, who paints and displays her evocative watercolours of birds and animals in a yurt. Yes, a yurt! Her paintings and reproductions are found in many collections including those of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and the late HRH Prince Philip. Morgan moved to Pender for the clean, invigorating climate and the glorious seascape.
It is impossible to profile all the incredible artists, for there is an abundance of talent on Pender, as well as the surrounding Gulf Islands.
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We are grateful to live on and visit the Southern Gulf Islands and acknowledge that the lands and waters that encompass these islands have been home to Indigenous peoples since time immemorial, part of the traditional unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, including W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations and Hul’quimi’num Treaty Group.