A silent auction to preserve our painted history

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The profits from a silent auction at the Fine Line Art Gallery on Scott Street will help keep the gallery open and preserve the painted history of a small town for years to come.

The Fine Line Art Gallery currently houses 13 local artists who pay a small monthly membership fee which allows them to display and sell their works in the gallery that attracts both local and foreign interest. All the profits from art purchases go directly to the artist—an arrangement that ensures the artists are rewarded for their work.

For artists not on a monthly membership plan, they can pay a small one-time fee and provide a sales commission of 20 per cent to display and sell their work. The gallery has supported local artists for almost 30 years.

Vivid colors and careful paint strokes portray the interests and livelihood of a scenic, small town in many of the paintings displayed at the gallery. In addition, laser photography, stained glass, sculptures, and many more art forms are presented.

The mission of the gallery is to nurture the visual arts rather than make a large amount of profit. But to keep the doors open, small expenses must be maintained.

At this year’s silent auction, running only until November 18, local artists have donated their artwork and dedicated all their profits to help keep the gallery open.

“We’re on a bit of a shoestring budget,” said Emily Hyatt, one of 13 members of the gallery who has been an active volunteer at the auction.

“The funds are going to help keep the building open. We’re a small gallery. We sell [art] there, but we also promote art within the community. That’s the reason for us to be there, just to have a pleasant place for people to go where they see art and enjoy.”

“And we get a lot of people from out of town as well that stop in because a lot of people are traveling, they’d like to see a local gallery. It’s a place where they can get to know the area and get to know the people.”

Bidders are welcomed to assess a variety of art forms and silently place bids in writing. There is no auctioneer present, hence the name “silent auction.”

Those interested can place a bid during the gallery’s opening hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

Hyatt has donated her stained glass art in the auction, and other local artists who have donated their works include Hal Gerson, Jean Richards, Sheila Shaw, Bob McDonald, and Ryan Daw, to name a few.

Hyatt said that people have donated more than just art work in the auction. One of the items up for grabs is a decorated Christmas tree.

“It’s handy because sometimes people are new in the community, you know, and it’s just an opportunity for them to have a tree that’s totally ready to go,” she said.

Jean Richards, whom Hyatt described as “our inspiration and our go-getter,” founded Fine Line Art Gallery almost 30 years ago. She had been a member of a small gallery in Manitoba and wanted to create one for Fort Frances. She recalled one woman in the community who helped pay for her monthly rent when she heard about Richards’ financial situation when first opening the gallery.

“When I first started, we had eight members. And I had one woman who I got to know, she always gave me $50 every month to help pay the rent because she knew that we were only eight [members] and we were really pinching pennies to keep it going.”

“I was up to 17 members at one time and that was great. But then a couple passed away and four or five of them moved. And now we’ve got 13. But I think we’re going to lose one or two maybe. So we need new members.”

“There’s a lot of artists in town but they don’t feel that joining a gallery is going to benefit them… As soon as you tell them they have to pay by the month, it almost scares them away. You know, I don’t think there’s one person that’s a member that doesn’t sell enough to pay a month’s rent. Everybody sells something. You may not sell $85 every month, but most months you do.”

She reflected on one woman who visited the gallery and then left because the gallery was not busy like other businesses in town. Richards noted that most galleries were like that, including galleries in bigger cities, which rarely attract large crowds on regular days.

In regards to her gallery, Richards views things with optimism. “I’m sure we’ll manage,” she said.

Richards said that the popular phrase “the struggling artist” is true, because artists create paintings that don’t sell until much later on. “And we always laugh when I say, ‘Oh, I guess I’ll be rich after I die.’ That’s a common joke among artists.”

“Sometimes I say, ‘Oh, I’m gonna paint this,’ and then you paint it and then you think, ‘Who’s gonna want that?’ But you know, most times, no matter what it is, it eventually sells. It may not sell immediately, but it will sell. Because everybody has different tastes and different likes. You just have to get the right person to like what you did. Not everybody likes the same thing.”

Two of her paintings are in this year’s auctions—a painting of laundry called “Blowing in the Wind” and a box of 20 assorted cards of both original and printed paintings.

“Blowing in the Wind” is one painting out of a series made to show laundry from all over the world.

“I didn’t do all the traveling. I did some, but then my sister was in Portugal and then she was in Africa. Some of the others I did [travel to] like I was in St. Kitts and the local areas here,” Richards said, noting that the laundry painting from Africa has already been sold but the one from Portugal is still available for now.

“I’ve had a very interesting art life,” Richards said.

Her most memorable moment is starting Fine Line Art Gallery, she said.

“I mean, opening the gallery and making it work for this long is wonderful. How many people can stick it out as long as I did? Because there were times where I was, ‘Oh, why did I do this? Is this gonna work out?’ But then you just go through it.”

On September 16, a day she will never forget, Richards was hit by a car on the corner by the post office, enduring multiple injuries and weeks of physiotherapy. Despite taking time away from the gallery to recover, she said with confidence that as long as she’s still around the gallery will stay open.