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House Beautiful: A peek inside Government House

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria house tour has been a Victoria tradition for 65 years, raising close to $600,000 for gallery programs and projects.

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria house tour has been a Victoria tradition for 65 years, raising close to $600,000 for gallery programs and projects.

This year’s tour features a variety of homes filled with personality and unique design elements, ranging from a contemporary home on Dallas Road to a century-old residence in Cook Street Village and an art-filled heritage house in Rockland.

But the jewel in the crown is the treasure-filled and history-packed Government House, with its 15 hectares of formal gardens and natural pathways, waiting to be explored.

“We are always trying to bring more people into the house,” said Lt. Gov. Janet Austin, who recently invited a group of teen mothers from the YWCA to take cooking lessons given by the house chef.

Austin is delighted to have another chance to invite the public inside the ceremonial home of all British Columbians — to enjoy its ambience, history and especially its art.

“We are privileged to have so much wonderful art here, both owned by the house and on loan from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Legacy Gallery of the University of Victoria.”

When guests enter the home on Sunday, Sept. 22, they will see a “healing pole” in the foyer, standing beside one of two sweeping staircases that curve up to the royal apartments and the lieutenant-governor’s private suite (not on the tour).

The pole was carved by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston shortly after Stephen Point became British Columbia’s first Indigenous lieutenant-governor. To commemorate his installation, a call for submissions went out via the First People’s Cultural Council.

“The idea was to commission several new, original pieces from B.C. artists,” said Jerymy Brownridge, private secretary to the lieutenant-governor. “This pole was one of five ultimately acquired and placed on display.

“It was originally to go outside, but Steven Point felt the pole would be a wonderful addition to the foyer, so after the unveiling in 2009, that’s where it has stayed.”

The home showcases the work of dozens of Canadian artists, including Myfanwy Pavelic, Carole Sabiston, Arthur Vickers, Robert Bateman, David Goatley, Bill Reid and Robin Hopper.

On the mezzanine level is a show of recent acquisitions and donations — oils, acrylics, lithographs, watercolours, glass and ceramics — curated by Martin Segger. As a special highlight for the house tour only, six renowned local artists will exhibit their techniques in the ballroom. 

As visitors tour the main-floor ballroom, dining room, grand foyer, and small and large drawing rooms, they should remember to gaze upward, so they can admire the chandeliers. Winches hidden in the attic lower those in the ballroom for cleaning or repair.

Government House also brims with stained glass, antique furniture, silverware, crystal and unique pieces, such as an ornate gilded piano that dates to the 1840s and was made for a Paris exposition.

House tour raises funds for gallery

What: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria House Tour

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22

Where: Five homes in Fairfield and Oak Bay

Tickets: $35 at the gallery or online (the latter must be picked up at the gallery before 5 p.m. Sept. 21). Also available at GardenWorks (Oak Bay, Saanich, Colwood) Munro’s Books on Government Street, Ivy’s Bookshop on Oak Bay Avenue and Dig this (Broadmead and in Sidney).

The art gallery house tour raises funds for exhibitions, art acquisition, programs and special projects.

“And each year I am amazed by it,” said gallery director Jon Tupper. “I’m amazed by the generosity of the homeowners who open their doors to us and amazed by the volunteers who work year round to make it a special event for the community.”

He is also delighted that this year’s tour will feature this city’s most famous home.

“The gallery has developed a very good relationship with Government House and the Honourable Janet Austin, OBC, has agreed to open up her official home…

“Visitors might see some familiar works from the AGGV collection on the walls. Her honour has great taste in artwork.”

He noted that more artists than ever will be displaying their talents in the tour homes, along with many of this city’s keenest floral designers.

Six local artists to set up in ballroom

Six local artists will demonstrate their talents and creativity in the ballroom during the tour:

• First Nations artist Arthur Vickers is celebrated for contemporary works that are inspired by his heritage. Collected by art lovers around the world, his art celebrates the reverence he has for his culture and the teachings of his ancestors.

• South African-born Deon and Kathy Venter, who live on Salt Spring Island, will bring examples of their artworks, including her life-sized ceramic sculptures and his giant paintings. Both have piqued the interest of collectors and critics on this continent as well as in Europe and Africa.

• Victoria urban landscape specialist Robert Amos will display his vivid watercolours and acrylics, and perhaps some of his calligraphic interpretations of the writings of James Joyce. The author of numerous art books, including Artists in their Studios and studies of E. J. Hughes and Harold Mortimer-Lamb, Amos is a chatty art historian.

• Guernsey-born Judy McLaren, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art, has illustrated several children’s books and done many portrait commissions. The painter, who was artist-in-residence at the Empress Hotel for seven months, focuses on figurative works and portraits.

• Lou-ann Neel, an artist and illustrator for more than four decades, draws on her Kwakwaka’wakw roots for her creative inspiration. She comes from a family of artists, has a degree from Emily Carr University and works in digital design, textiles, jewellery, painting and woodcarving.