After decades of autographing his artwork for adoring fans, Robert Bateman is well-aware of his capacity for signing mountains of prints, books and other memorabilia.
“I wouldn’t have known when I was a 12-year-old or 15-year-old that I’d be spending so much time doing this,” the 92-old-year said with a wide smile. “I can sign ‘Robert Bateman’ a thousand times every two-and-a-half hours, I’m told.
“We timed it once.”
Bateman and his wife, Birgit Freybe Bateman, were at his eponymous art gallery for a signing session Saturday — the final day of operation after 10 years at the CPR Steamship Terminal in Victoria. A long line of people extended down a hallway and into another room, waiting for a chance to see the celebrated artist and naturalist.
“I had no idea until I stepped off the elevator there was going to be a queue, as they say in England,” Bateman quipped.
Over 200 people visited the gallery in just the first two hours of its 10 a.m.-4 p.m. farewell gathering.
Bateman said the word that came to mind for the gallery’s final day was “bittersweet.”
“I feel I’ve had such wonderful supporters going above and beyond and giving with their hearts, as well as just their hours,” he said. “That’s been the main thing, is the dedication.”
Bateman Foundation chair David Schneider has tied the gallery’s closing to factors like funding cuts and limited government support — which he said are common in the arts-and-culture sector.
The foundation will continue to function.
Bateman said there is a possibility of re-opening somewhere else for the gallery, which has attracted about 15,000 visitors and 2,000 students each year.
“We’ve got our eyes on a few destinations.”
Plans to move to the current location of the Maritime Museum of B.C. in the footprint of the Victoria Conference Centre were called off for financial reasons.
As for museum officials, they are looking to move into the Bateman Gallery’s spot and finally get the waterfront home they have sought for some time.
Saturday’s gallery crowd included Janet Stephens, who was waiting patiently for a chance to get Bateman’s signature on a number of items, including a print for her son-in-law’s birthday and books for her grandchildren.
She said she is a big fan of Bateman’s art, and in particular his concern for the environment.
“I think the fact that he focuses on nature and that we can learn so much from nature gets lost.”
The gallery’s executive director, Sara Theophilus, said there is a lot of pride in what has been accomplished over the past decade, like having over 20,000 people take part in such programs as NatureSketch.
There is hope that the course, which takes place in regional parks, will continue, she said.
Sue Macartney, one of the instructors, said people taking part have ranged in age from five to 95, with lessons being held in a range of natural settings.
“Each place would be a different ecosystem, and then I taught them art basics,” she said.