BUCKHORN — Buckhorn’s Gallery on the Lake will soon close its doors for good after showcasing Canadian talent and nurturing up-and-coming artists for two decades.
The gallery, nestled on the shore of Lower Buckhorn Lake just east of Buckhorn, was bought in November after first being put on the market in 2018.
The 4.5-acre property, which includes the 15,000-square-foot gallery building and a 5,000-square-foot private residence, was purchased for a total of $2.8 million, says Gallery on the Lake president Esther Inglis, who owned the gallery alongside her husband Alan Hitchon.
Operations at the art gallery will officially cease on Jan. 20. The buyer won’t be using the space as a gallery going forward.
Established in 1983 by the late artist Edwin Mathews, the gallery printed and sold works, seeing success through the 1980s and 1990s. Two other owners took the reins before the gallery was eventually closed in 1997.
The site remained vacant until 2000, when Inglis and Hitchon stepped in to purchase and rejuvenate the property.
After extensive renovations — the gallery’s ceiling was redone and new washrooms were installed — the Gallery on the Lake opened in 2002.
In the years that followed, it became one of the country’s largest privately owned retail art galleries, showcasing the works of artists from across Canada while helping to kick start the careers of painters — including Tim Packer — along with sculptors, woodturners, jewellers and glass-blowers.
“We started out with just a few artists and it grew and grew and grew,” Inglis told The Examiner.
She estimates that more than 250 artists were featured at the lakefront gallery during its two-decade run.
With success came challenges.
“(The business is) extraordinarily tough. Because we were retail, we never received a single grant from anyone. But we kept plodding along and we had some very, very good years at the gallery,” Inglis said.
“My husband and I have lasted here 20 years; you can probably count on one hand the galleries that have lasted that long in this general area — they just don’t.”
She credits the gallery’s success and longevity to a “straight forward” business approach and a wide variety of featured artworks.
The pandemic presented a host of new challenges, and the gallery went several months without collecting any revenue, she said. “It was really, really tough. But we managed to get through it.”
Plans to retire, focus on their health and spend more time with their family prompted Inglis and Hitchon to put the gallery up for sale in 2018. Inglis had hoped that the property’s new owner would continue to run a gallery — but that’s not happening.
“We wanted it to stay a gallery for the sake of the community. Clearly, no one had a similar vision. I totally understand that. With COVID, you’re open, you’re closed, you’re open, you’re closed, so I get why people are avoiding retail. It’s tough.”
Inglis said community members are expressing “overwhelming sadness” about the imminent “bittersweet” closure of the Buckhorn “landmark.”
“They’re sad. They’re going to miss it. But there’s also a sense of gratitude. We could not have reopened the gallery all those years ago. Instead, we extended its life by 20 years.”
Friday was the final regular hours day for the gallery. It will remain open by appointment only from Monday to Friday.
An ongoing closing sale is offering discounted prices on artworks from 10 to 50 per cent. For more information visit the gallery’s website at galleryonthelake.com.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner