Maritimes: Birth of an Art Gallery in Campbellton, N.B.
Written in 1973 by Rebert Percival
In 1967 a few people in Campbellton got together and formed the basis of the Restigouche Art Society. Some were practicing artists while others joined because they were interested in some form or other of the arts.The aim of the society at this time was to bring art to the public by means of half a dozen exhibitions a year. It was not the purely selfish pursuit of recognition for its own members, as practiced by so many small art clubs. The objective was clear – ART for the people of Campbellton.To do this, a suitable place was required as a gallery for the intended periodic exhibitions. The Centennial Library in Campbellton had such space, although it left much to be desired from a professional point of view.Undaunted, the Society went ahead with its plans. They received permission from the city council to utilize a certain area of the library, and commenced to schedule a series of exhibitions. Admittedly, such exhibitions at first were of an amateur status by either local artists or anyone else who offered to send their work to Society.Nonetheless, interest grew and the public responded enthusiastically. More people joined the Restigouche Art Society, and many prominent personages of the city began to follow suit. Eventually the membership swelled to 150, including both English and French speaking Canadians. Mayor Bill McRae and his wife took a very active part as did councilors Francis Smith and Gladys Swan and many other people on the City Council.Originally Archie Harper, a local painter of merit at whose art classes the idea for the Society was born, was president for two years, followed by Yvette Bourgoin for a year, until the present President Jeannette McDonald, the wife of ex-Mayor John McDonald, took over three years ago.
There is little doubt that the aims and work of the Society were a great success. People of Campbellton came to look forward to the exhibitions and the local school children were given specially arranged tours of the Gallery. Campbellton was becoming art conscious at last – even if restricted to a certain level of attainment and governed by the number of exhibitions available to a group of people working voluntary, without capital.Expenses were met by sheer initiative and enterprise. Methods of raising money were the main discussion of the Society’s meetings. Anyone offering a large donation at that time would, I imagine, have received the freedom of the City! Such was the enthusiasm.Jeannette McDonald, a vivacious and tireless worker for the Society, shared a dream along with a few others. The dream was to eventually have a real and permanent Art Gallery for the city; an Art Gallery capable of projecting a wider and all-embracing embodiment of Art. This was the new aim.
Dreams don’t readily materialize, as most of us know. At least, not without much hard work and dedication. There was a lot to be done – money to be found, agreements to be made, sanctions given and red tape avoided if possible.The committee members went about it in their own way; they wrote letters, held meetings, discussed problems, approached councils and organizations. They asked, requested, demanded, cajoled, pleaded with anyone remotely interested. They wanted a Gallery – and they got it!
Toward the end of 1971, permission was granted by the Mayor and the City Councilors to have the rear storage area of the Library converted to an Art Museum, or Gallery, to house visiting exhibitions as well as future permanent collection of art for the City of Campbellton.The cost of the project was estimated at approximately $46,000, which would include completely converting the present area, with additional space for book storage in the rear; a sculpture court outside the front doors, workshops and storage area for crates, plus normal gallery fixtures.
The enthusiasm of the Society, their working plans and designs, sparked the necessary incentive required. The City of Campbellton contributed $5,000; the New Brunswick Museum a further $5,000 for the equipment. The Federal Government allotted $7,523, and a large grant was made by the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation.Architect Matthew Stankiewies drew up the finished plans and elevations, and along with his wife, further donated the beautifully carved front door by Jim Boyd of Toronto. By late 1972, the gallery was almost complete. Further gifts materialized in the form of drawings and paintings for the Permanent collection, a solid Canadian maple reception desk by local hardwood business and various other items.The dream – is now a reality. It can take its place as one of the Maritime’s most nicely appointed galleries and it is beginning to function as an important centre in the cultural program of the region. Already, major exhibitions from the N.B. Museum have been presented on a traveling basis, and it is hoped that the gallery may eventually join the Atlantic Provinces Art Circuit as a participatory member.