Robert Amos: Local art a fine choice for Christmas

robertamos.jpgDear Diary: It’s the distracted time of the year, when almost every gallery is offering the widest variety in the smallest size at the lowest price.

There is nowhere better to start than Eclectic (2170 Oak Bay Ave., 250-590-8095). The walls there are paved with little panel paintings, in this gallery with a specialty in semi-precious stones and the jewelry made from them. If your taste runs to the masters of West Coast ceramics, this is the place to nab a fine piece by Robin Hopper, Wayne Ngan or the late Walter Dexter.

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Personally, I admire the painted wood carvings of Hermann Edler. Formerly a top commercial artist in Austria, Edler rediscovered the folk art roots of his native land after moving to Victoria. He carves and paints lots of motifs, but the best is The Edler Horse, a timeless classic — for $38.

Up the street, Winchester Galleries is providing a marvellous exhibition of sculptures by Joe Fafard, a national treasure from the prairies north of Regina (2260 Oak Bay Ave., 250-595-2777, until Dec. 23). Fafard’s cattle, and the metre-tall men he has created, are just about everything I could want in a sculpture. The artist models these figures in a somewhat impressionist manner, based on a wonderful familiarity with his subjects, and his poet’s soul infuses them with a poignant life. Fafard casts the clay originals in bronze, which he then paints to a very satisfying effect.

And the scale! Outside on the plaza is a larger-than-life cow, and inside the front door stands a very beautiful, and life-sized, calf. Further within the gallery are Fafard’s well-nigh-irresistible table-top models. Once again, Winchester brings Victoria the experience of fine art.

The Gage Gallery (2031 Oak Bay Ave., 250-592-2760, until Jan. 7) has one of those “group show for Christmas” events, and as I toured the room I came to a halt at a piece by Martina Edmondson. It’s a sort of miniature bustier, made of cheesecloth and set in a little shadow-box.

I took out my glasses to get a better look, and discovered that the gauzy material was printed over with words — letters to her sister, as I learned. The front of the tiny bodice is pinned together with porcupine quills. Edmondson is a recent graduate of Toronto’s Ontario College of Art, and those sharp little quills carry a memory of her life “back East.”

Published in the past year, Etched in Time is a memoir by Victoria printmaker Jo Manning (Etched inTime, friesenpress.com, 2016, 182 pp.). Manning was born in Sidney in 1923, but her family left for Ontario almost immediately. The story is ripe with detail of Toronto’s art life in the mid-20th century, and the fight for recognition for “original prints.” It seems so long ago, and so far away. Manning did her last etching in 1980, and arrived in Victoria in 1997. While her exhibiting days are past, she remains am important part of her James Bay neighbourhood.

So much can depend on a word. Two weeks ago I wrote about the end of Leonard Clarke’s Pacific Antiques (829 Fort St., 250-388-5311) and noted that during December he would be selling everything in his shop at 50 per cent off. Clarke has asked me to clarify that, instead of the “proceeds,” as I had said, the “profits” will be donated to the soup kitchen at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.

“I expect to lose on 90 per cent of the articles and, hopefully, make a profit on 10 per cent,” he concluded. Your timely purchase of a rare antique will benefit the hungry.

Moira Stewart of Duncan has brought to my attention a display of contemporary art work by established Syrian artists, which was brought out of that country with considerable difficulty. Stewart wrote: “While we can’t save Aleppo, maybe a few more people will see some fine art from this beseiged country, and learn of the deep humanity of most Syrians.” The exhibit will be presented in the Ross Centre Atrium of Brentwood College School in Mill Bay, until Dec. 17, during the evenings only — 7 to 9 p.m.

Last week, I reviewed the new biography, The Life and Art of Mary Filer (Christina Johnson-Dean, Mother Tongue Publishing, Salt Spring Island, 142 pp., $35.95). Phyllis Reeve of Gabriola Island wrote to me: “I was pleased to see Mary’s book featured in your column, but sorry when I read it that you had not ‘warmed’ to Mary. My experiences with her, and her work, have been very warm …

“I met her when I was eight and she was teaching art at the school where my mother was nurse. She could not make me into an artist, but she did introduce me to art outside the lines, very messy and lovely.”

Reeve sent along a photo of a small glass sculpture by Filer called Pinnacle, which graces her mantelpiece.

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