Interview by Trevor Crowe
Written by Jan Davies
Gallery Photography by Daniel Vaughan
There’s a buzz on Main Street, Picton this summer as new restaurants and shops appear and old shops get face lifts. Even our bronze John A. MacDonald has moved to a new spot to make room for a public gathering space in front of the renovated Armoury Building. The buzz is music to the ears of Jim Turner and Craig Daniel, proprietors of the new 2gallery, although Jim says candidly, “Picton was not our first choice. We looked for months in Bloomfield and Wellington because we thought of Picton as the place to go to get things done, buy groceries, pick up a book at Books & Company. Not a place where people stroll and browse and eat and shop. I’m delighted to say we were wrong.”
Gallery Photography by Daniel Vaughan
“I’m the creative guy,” says Jim and Craig nods agreement. “I work with the artists and the clientele, while Craig handles the business end, from social media to banking. We are partners, and we’ve been together 23 years, but this is the first time we’ve actually worked together.” Before opening the gallery, Jim ran a boutique marketing and communications firm in Toronto specializing in live corporate events. “I had a great business partner who still runs it,” he says. “And we were the small agency with big clients like CIBC, Wood Gundy, McDonald’s and Export Development Canada. We put on corporate shows all over the world. I was Creative Director and loved it, but it was high pressure. It’s stressful to be on the other side of the world, working with new local teams, knowing 2,000 people would be sitting in a theatre looking forward to the event at 9 o’clock tomorrow so it had all better work perfectly. After 30 years of that kind of work I was ready to dial it down.”
Craig worked in human resources, in systems implementation. “It was similar pressure, in that we had external clients to please,” he says. “While Jim had his audiences, I had whole departments waiting impatiently for the tools I was working on. Hard work, very rewarding, but I was ready for a change, too.” Jim got antsy for a change before he did, but Craig was not at all averse to the idea. He laughs, “Moving to The County was not a hard sell!”
They’d first visited 20 years ago, when it was quieter, and they loved it. When friends bought a place here they visited more often and in 2011 bought themselves a piece of land. “We thought we’d build a weekend place and use it as a retreat until we retired,” says Jim. “But after a bit we realized, wait a minute, we can make it sooner. We don’t have to wait and put up with stress and strain any more. We can do it now. We finished with our old jobs, rented a house here and started building our dream house last year with the help of Loyalist Contractors.”
They still have apron strings attaching them to the city, family and friends and an elderly parent each, so they do pop in and out, but, “Our life in The County is much more sympatico with who we are now,” says Craig. “These days when we have to go to the city, we think, oh bleaugh. really? We enjoy visiting but look forward to coming home.”
Jim has been deeply interested in art since he was a child, encouraged by his parents. “My mother loved opera, my dad was an antiquarian book dealer who took me to museums and places like the McMichael gallery and Canadian art auctions, so I knew a lot about Canadian art long before I formally studied it. I started collecting when I was 16 and I still have my first painting,” he says. “It’s really awful, but I keep it to remind myself how tastes can change!” Craig’s art appreciation began when he met Jim and they’ve been collecting together ever since. Neither of them ever put brush to canvas, but Jim has been creative every day of his working life. “As a Creative Director I worked with wonderful graphic designers, multimedia designers, set designers, lighting and audio people, song composers,” he says. “I wrote lyrics and designed costumes and sets, but, no, I am not an artist. I’m more turned on by working with artists.” Like the colleague from his past life, Kathy McKechnie, who created their logo and branding. “She’s a fabulous designer. I felt like we almost share a brain,” he says. “I could ramble about how I wanted something to look, she turned it into reality. I love working with artists and now I am representing them, too.”
After 18 months of looking for suitable gallery space, they came back to Picton. “In fact we’d walked past this shopfront many times,” says Craig, “and grumbled why can’t that place be available.” When the For Lease sign appeared, it was as if they’d wished it into being. “It was perfect,” he says. “One big space, it was a martial arts studio before, so it didn’t need tearing apart. It had good light, big windows and a terrific street presence.” Being close to the Royal Hotel, which will surely attract potential clientele when it re-opens, was a bonus, although proximity to Slickers is a whole other thing. Jim laughs, “I think we need a sign that says, Hey, We Love Slickers Too, but no ice cream in the gallery!”
Curating art is like a broad puzzle according to Jim, it takes skill and time to choose works that will show well together. “We had 90 days from securing the space to opening, so our first group show is artists we know and admire, some are in our personal collection, others we’ve just discovered, but I look for people doing something different, things with a little twist.” He also has to keep in mind what will work in this location, in Prince Edward County, because “My job is to sell for my artists.”
Will they show local artists? It’s a question they are asked often. “We don’t want to duplicate what other galleries are doing,” says Jim. “Established galleries like Blizzmax, Arts on Main and Mad Dog do a great job of promoting and selling local work. We’re aiming to create a niche business to dovetail and complement them, and also places like Oeno and Hatch Gallery and Sybil Frank who show artists from across Canada.”
They are eager to know more about the County art scene. “When people come looking for local artists I’d like to be able to say if that’s what you’re looking for, you need to go and see Bob Smith, here’s his address. I hope we’ll attract even more people here to see art, and while they’re here they can discover all the other galleries and studios. The County is already an arts destination – that’s why we’re here! We’re joining a group of artists and gallery owners that we respect, but doing our own thing.” Many local artists have dropped in to scope out 2gallery. They’re curious and the guys are friendly. “We feel welcome here and that’s a nice feeling,” says Craig.
The original plan was to do group shows for the first two years. But listening to gallery visitors they’re hearing interest in solo shows, too. “We have the space,” says Jim. “So we will be using a portion of the gallery to feature single artists.” They have added new work already, and sales are encouraging. “Canada Day surprised us,” says Jim. “With Main Street being closed and it being a family event we weren’t expecting a crowd, but we got one. About 400 people came in that day.”
Of the 20 artists they approached in the run up to opening, only one demurred. “The County has a good reputation,” says Jim. “Other gallerists, like Carlyn, Craig and David did a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of promoting the County as a fine arts destination” he notes. “Going forward we want to move outwards, show Canadian artists from across the country, coast to coast. Right now our artists are from Southern Ontario and Quebec, but there are so many more to discover. Now is our time to learn what people are looking for, and then we’ll move outward, but also inward. This is a big arts community with many open studios, but also artists working quietly, too, who don’t already show locally. We’ll take our time.”
ARTS TRAIL & OTHERS
In talking to people for Build a New Life we often hear how generous the community is. Jim and Craig feel it, too. “Other galleries send people to us,” says Jim. “And the multi-artist galleries here are becoming a stronger force by starting the Prince Edward County Art Dealers Association, PECADA. It launched with a fundraiser for the new hospital that raised $125,000 in one night. Now they’re focused on building awareness of The County as a serious arts destination, emphasizing the professionalism in being an art dealer, as well as being active and involved in the community. We support that idea and want to be involved.” They are thankful to have just managed to squeak into this year’s Arts Trail guide.
“It’s amazing what is going on here,” they repeat. “Not just the arts, not just food, it’s like there is a real brain trust here with writers, architects, people doing fascinating projects and all sorts of creative endeavours. Mix that with entrepreneurs coming here and people who have been here for generations building and preserving the uniqueness of this area. I haven’t seen many other places in Ontario with this rich a mix of the traditional and the new. Such great community spirit is a big draw.”
We finish our conversation talking about local anxiety about holding on to the old things. “I can see why people are concerned about preserving the traditions that make The County special while still embracing the new,” says Craig. “And it’s not really concrete, what makes a place special. It’s kind of ethereal, you can’t put your finger on it. I just know it’s more than geography, more than natural beauty. It’s the people and community and that strong sense of place. Anyway, we’re very happy with our place on Main Street, Picton. We feel very lucky to be here.”
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