By Vivian Collings
A piece of Haliburton history will be shutting its glass door and locking up, indefinitely, in just two months.
The era of the Ethel Curry Gallery is coming to an end on Oct. 20, despite the heartache of owner Wayne Hooks, fellow employees, and community members.
“The writing was on the wall last year, and it was chiseled into the wall by March of this year,” said woodworker. “We don’t want to close it, but it’s just at an unsustainable point.”
Hooks said the gallery isn’t making enough income to stay open. As a privately owned, privately funded gallery, the direct cause is “not selling enough paintings on the walls.”
“I think art is really important to community, and I think it’s really sad and awful that this gallery isn’t going to be here anymore. To have something that has been part of the community for 28 years, to have people coming in and say, ‘see you next summer,’ and then we have to tell them they won’t, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s a signal of something way bigger happening,” said Poet Ever, employee of the Ethel Curry Gallery.
Ethel Curry was a pioneer of Haliburton.
Born in 1902, “A descendant of generations of exploring timber men, Ethel had been preceded by a history of creative endeavors and strong independent minds,” reads the gallery website.
She became one of the first women to study at Ontario College of Art and Design and studied art under members of the Group of Seven “including A.E.H. MacDonald, Franz Johnson, Lauren Harris and A.Y. Jackson. She was hired by Arthur Lismer to teach art at the Toronto Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Ontario). Ethel was recognized by her instructors at OCA as painting like Tom Thomson long before she met or worked with any of the Group of Seven.”
Despite worldwide endeavours, she always found her way back home to Haliburton.
The gallery was first opened in 1996 when Hooks, a woodworker who had just moved to the area, was approached by Peter and Jody Curry.
Nephew of Ethel, Peter asked Hooks if he would like to be involved in opening a store for local artists.
“At first, it was all local artists, maybe eight or 10. And then over the years, it grew so that our policy is the artists have to be Canadian. Right now as it stands, 40 per cent are local, 90 per cent are from Ontario, and we have between 80 and 100,” Hooks said.
Although the world has only recently emerged from a global pandemic, Hooks said he doesn’t think COVID-19 is to blame.
“Part of the reality is that this is a small market. In July and August, the market expands, but the other 10 months of the year, it’s a small market,” he said. “Market saturation is one thing, but it’s high interest rates, perhaps a recession, but I think it also has a lot to do with I call it the global cloud. There’s nothing in here anyone has to buy. I think that’s why we’ve hit the cement block at the end of the road.”
He said the closure was not a chosen decision for himself or any of the employees.
“It’s basically arithmetic and numbers. Last year was a poor year for us. There’s no one factor, but I think it all ate away at the tiny margin we have. It’s a reflection of the times,” Hooks said.
He said this is not a reflection of Haliburton itself, and the arts community is very much still alive and thriving.
“There’s very few small towns in Canada that have as good of an art scene as us. And I think that’s still flourishing, but on the financial side, it was never strong,” Hooks said.
In his letter to all the artists that showcase their work at the gallery, it is “Disappointing and sad, but understandable.”
In total, the gallery has housed the work of 250 artists.
“The gallery’s had a huge impact on my life, and I’ve been able to make a lot of connections with different people, and I’ve learned so much,” Poet said.