Art and creativity is in Helena Renwick’s very DNA. Her mother was an artist and her father a potter so she came to her love of art naturally. Her formal arts education began at York University, continued at Ryerson, and culminated with a degree in fine arts and art history from the University of Toronto.
Through everything in her personal and professional life, art has been a constant. So, it was no surprise that when a friend forwarded a link to a story about a little art gallery in Seattle, WA, she wholeheartedly embraced the idea for her Hunters Bay Drive community.
The Seattle gallery followed the concept of www.littlefreelibrary.org, a global literacy initiative with the motto “Take a Book, Leave a Book.” While Renwick believed that the original idea of actually taking a tiny piece of art and leaving one in exchange might work well in a busy, downtown area, she just “wanted to make people smile” as they simply viewed the artworks in her own neighbourhood. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
The pandemic was another driver in Renwick’s desire to spread a little joy via art. “Last year when the pandemic began, I started the ‘Self Isolation Portrait Project’ and painted 75 small portraits of local friends and acquaintances,” she recalls. “I posted them online and the positive response was immediate. I realized that art online was one of the ways we could stay connected while being apart.” When she heard about the “Little Art Gallery” it all came together. She thought, “This is a way to continue with my small paintings and to share a view of them with people walking the neighbourhood.”
A few weeks after the gallery opened, Renwick’s fertile imagination and creativity kicked into high gear and she considered further changes to the concept. “The gallery opened on May 9, 2021. At first, I wanted other artists to be showcased – and that might happen in the future – but for now I’d like to have a little fun with it and present art from around the world and from different periods in art history.”
She smiles, “For example, the next show is coming from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; we have four pieces of Vincent’s work to display. I believe there is a special viewing of the Mona Lisa on loan from the Louvre coming the week after. And there may even be a show of the “Group of Seven” if we can get the McMichael Art Gallery to loan the works. I’m hoping that people might send me their ideas and or requests of their favourite artists.” Of course, all of this is in the name of fun and whimsy and Renwick herself will be painting works of art in the manner of the Old Masters and New World Masters, too.
Miniature reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings (clockwise from left) “Sunflowers”, “Starry Night”, and “Bedroom in Arles” by Helena Renwick
Renwick was approached by the Huntsville Festival of the Arts, which wanted to commission a “Little Art Gallery” for downtown Huntsville. Doug Fairhall built her structure so she connected HFA with Doug and offered to help in any way she could. When asked if the art in the gallery would be for sale, she decided that if someone was truly interested, they could contact her directly and she would come up with a selling price, the proceeds of which she would donate to a local charity.
Renwick concludes with some observations: “During the pandemic it has been very evident that art has played a vital role in keeping people connected and in providing emotional support. So many artists have completely lost their livelihood – there are no concerts, no theatre, no gallery exhibitions – and culinary artists have lost their ability to prepare meals in restaurants.”
She muses, “Yet through all of this adversity, we have witnessed artists rise to the challenge of finding new ways to connect with their audience.”
The beauty of art is that it’s subjective; it allows you to develop your own meaning and connection. Renwick’s Little Art Gallery on Hunters Bay Drive is one artist’s lovely and whimsical contribution to helping us find and maintain meaning and connection – with art and with one another – throughout the pandemic and beyond.
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