Summer or winter, the Okanagan inspires with sparkling sapphire water and warm sandy beaches or brilliant bluebird skies and layers of fresh snow. There’s reason why the region is home to so many skilled artists. Whether it be in arid landscapes captured by sparse brushstrokes or with a collection of hand-thrown pottery, the artistic element can be found in public or private art galleries in the valley from south to north.
Build your own Okanagan art tour and fall in love with the area through the eyes of an artist.
There’s more to many small towns than may appear at first blush, and such is the case with this seasonally sleepy south Okanagan community. The Osoyoos Art Gallery (8713 Main Street, Osoyoos) is mostly operated by volunteers and hosts regular shows featuring local artists. A casual saunter down the street will bring you to the Okanagan Art Gallery (8302 Main Street, Osoyoos), where Oliver area artists have relocated their cooperative space. These two locations focus solely on local artists and are ideal places to find a memento of your visit to the south Okanagan.
A healthy mix of public and private galleries indicates community support for local culture. Despite – or perhaps due to – its moderate size, Penticton has escaped enough of the big city vibe to attract and retain some serious artistic talent, while offering a small but robust art scene.
A public gallery, The Penticton Art Gallery (199 Marina Way) services the entirety of the south Okanagan and is tucked just off the south shore of Lake Okanagan. Housed in a modest structure is a remarkable art collection, its depth and breadth apparent each time you visit. Curator Paul Crawford draws on a vast network of artists and has hosted a diverse series of exhibitions, from chanting Tibetan monks to live skateboarding.
Catch this current exhibition at the Penticton Art Gallery: Embodying Legacy at En’owkin | National Aboriginal Training Program Staff & Alumni (January 22 to March 13, 2016)
A few blocks away is The Lloyd Gallery (18 Front Street), housed in what was once a theatre and retaining much of the original architecture for its storefront. Owned by the Whitteman family and serving the area for more than 30 years, this private gallery has deep roots in the community and represents a range of fine art from the region and province. One of the family is often on hand to direct your attention to something you might have missed. A homey and eclectic place, hours can easily slip away while you take in an extensive collection that includes names like Bob Kebic, Glenn Clark, Erica Hawkes, Rod Charlesworth, and Frances Harris. Art is displayed “salon style”, with every inch of space used efficiently.
Of late, newer art spaces have joined the mix. One such place is the artist run cooperative Tumbleweed Gallery (452 Main Street). This transformed former private art gallery is a supportive creative space; owner Prema Harris made the change three years ago when she moved locations, and she hasn’t looked back since. Local artists like Susan McCarrell, Jenny Long, Carol Munro, and Jesse Dunlop share in running the art gallery while Prema continues to operate a custom framing business. The collaboration has proven fruitful – and inspirational – for all involved in this creative enterprise.
More recently opened is Martin Street Art and Music Gallery (205 Martin Street) with 18 artists and a number of private artist studios including one for sculptor and painter Kindrie Grove. Part rehearsal room and part art gallery, this integrated space hosts events for art lovers of every medium. Also challenging expectations and eschewing tradition is 557 Artist Block (262 Main Street), home to 19 artists and rotating events/workshops. The vibe here is eclectic creative and delightfully refreshing. Look for it on the second floor.
Arguably the largest public gallery in the region, the Kelowna Art Gallery (1315 Water Street) has been part of the community since 1976. Formerly located in the Kelowna Centennial Museum, in 1996 the Gallery moved to a 1,464-square metre (15,758-square foot) contemporary building in the heart of downtown. This newer structure meets national standards for climate control, storage, and security required to receive traveling national exhibitions. The permanent collection consists of more than 800 pieces, which work their way into the regular exhibition roster as fit the subject matter.
Catch this current exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery: The Artist Herself: Self-Portraits by Canadian Historical Women Artists (January 23 to April 3, 2016)
Within an easy walk is Hambleton Galleries (1290 Ellis Street), a private gallery specializing in renowned Canadian art and featuring a select group of regional artists. Originally started in 1963 in a Victorian heritage house, owners Stewart and Tracy Turcotte purchased the gallery in 1999 and relocated it to the clean, modern space it occupies today. Emily Carr, Robert Genn, Tom Thompson, and Ted Harrison are some of the more recognizable names you’ll see on these walls – along with Daphne Odjig, Robyn Lake, and Beverley Binfet.
The small community of Lake Country, just north of Kelowna, boasts a rich art culture unto itself. The Lake Country Art Gallery (10356A Bottom Wood Lake Road) is one of those must-find places. Just off Highway 97 and next to a comfortable coffee shop, this is where the art collector might stumble upon the next generation of Carr or Genn. Strong community ties keep the focus regional and allow for a glimpse into the Okanagan as only an artist sees it.
Our Okanagan art community is large, and this is but a small sample of the exquisite and diverse galleries to explore throughout the region that I have visited personally. Have a favourite? Add it to the comments below and help grow an Okanagan Art Tour for visitors (and locals) who have yet to discover one.
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