Monday, October 4, 2010

(No.117) Nova Scotia treasures

In comparing the painting of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis with that of Nena Sanchez of Curacao I referred to the role of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) as the place to visit for anyone interested in the life and work of the late Maud Lewis (see "Maud Lewis & Nena Sanchez, Nova Scotia & Curacao", column No. 89 posted April 25, 2010 on RickardsRead.com).

The time is past due for me to highlight a place that Pat and I visit every time we are in Halifax: the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia whose director and CEO is Ray Cronin. There are two connected gallery buildings in downtown Halifax housing the AGNS. They are well laid out and filled with worthwhile art.

The AGNS regularly presents special exhibitions and is currently mounting (until Nov 21) "The Atlantic Long List for 2010" of the Sobey Art Award. It features the work of this year's five Atlantic region nominees for the national Sobey award. The artists include Lucie Chen, Emily Vey Duke & Cooper Battersby, Mario Doucette, Graeme Patterson and Vanessa Paschakarnis. The art presented is diverse and includes video and sculpture.

The permanent installations draw us back to the AGNS. For the visitor they comprise a rewarding collection including historical Canadian works with a special emphasis on artists and subjects in the Atlantic provinces, expecially Nova Scotian.

At the moment there is a fascinating section devoted to the 300 Years of Nova Scotia's Annapolis Royal settlement which flourished in the late 1770s as a major arrival point for thousands of loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. Particularly interesting are the paintings done in 1775 by Richard Williams, a 2nd Lt. in the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers.

A floor of the gallery is devoted to the Folk Art of Nova Scotia, an appropriate allocation of space for the AGNS to make especially since elsewhere in the gallery it displays the tiny house once the home of Maud Lewis. The folk art on display ranges from paintings through ship models to wood sculpture including fish and birds as well as life size figures. It offers an impressive range of creativity including figures of the Obama family.

A particular favourite of mine is the part of the gallery housing the art donated to the AGNS by the Sri Lankan-Canadian businessman, author and philanthropist Sir Christopher Ondaatje. It includes pieces by Canadian artists who are favourites of mine like William Kurelek and Miller Brittain as well as Pat's (Jean Paul Lemieux and Paul Emile Borduas). His donation also bolstered the AGNS's interesting holdings of the Group of Seven.

There are other galleries. For example: the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia rightly devotes special attention to works painted by Wolfville, Nova Scotia resident and well known Canadian artist Alex Colville. The AGNS is currently marking his 90th birthday. This effort and much more make a visit not just interesting but eminently worthwhile.

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While in Nova Scotia on this recent trip we also revisited two other provincial treasures, both near or in Annapolis Royal: the North Hills Museum and the Historic Gardens.

In 1964 retired Bank of Nova Scotia executive Robert Patterson, a dedicated art and antique collector, bought an old home built ca 1764 that was in need of repair and restoration. The home is located on what is sometimes called the oldest road in Canada -- the "Settlement Road" dating back to the 1600s -- not far from the early French settlement of Port Royal, also an attraction of the Annapolis Royal area.

Patterson supervised a lengthy and meticulous restoration of this 200 year old house, then installed throughout the house his extensive collection of mainly Georgian paintings, furniture and furnishings. He lived in the house himself, making it his home for the last eight years of his life (he was a bachelor).

On his death in 1974 he left the house, its contents and a fund for maintenance to the province of Nova Scotia. He also attached a couple of what I regard as wise and clever stipulations to this legacy: the objects in his collection must remain in the house and not be dispersed and they must stay in the rooms where he had placed them.

It is a lovely collection of 18th century art displayed in an interesting and historic structure staffed by well-informed guides, a treasure I suspect is often missed by visitors given its out-of-the-way location. It is well worth a visit to the Annapolis Royal area, especially if combined with other attactions in the area. For example: carry on down "the Settlement Road" to the Port Royal site.

From the Patterson house ( officially - the North Hills Museum) we drove into Annapolis Royal to revisit the Historic Gardens, an extensive 17 acre setting overlooking a tidal river valley and located very near the reconstructed Fort Anne just up George Street. It is a stunningly beautiful horticultural collection reflecting the past and present, operated by the non-profit Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens Society.

The Historic Gardens are divided into more than two dozen theme gardens and sections and include a cafe and shop. Pat's favourite was the lush and colourful Victorian garden, as was mine. Her second favourite was the Rose garden.

For a pleasant meal afterwards we dined at the nearby Garrison House Inn also on George Street. It is located in a restored home built ca 1854.

We regard all of these Nova Scotia places as treasures, each worthy of repeated visits and all ranking among the most interesting we have encountered anywhere in Canada.

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For more information visit these websites:

www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca

www.northhillsmuseum.gov.ns.ca

www.historicgardens.com

www.garrisonhouse.ca

www.annapolisroyal.com

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Alastair Rickard

RickardsRead.com

email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca