Renfrew -- Four Ottawa Valley women are doing something that is truly the envy of several of their peers in the tight-knit artistic community.
Pembroke’s Janos Jaros, Jelly Massee of the Pontiac, Jill Alexander of Renfrew, and Tammy Roggie of Cobden are front and centre of a new art exhibit open to the general public at Renfrew’s Art Factory.
Patrick John Mills, the award-winning Canadian artist who purchased the former foundry in 2016, has transformed the former foundry known for its quality steel manhole covers, into Eastern Ontario’s leader in terms of community art programs and an affordable place for artists and amateurs to purchase supplies to carry on their profession or hobby.
“I wake up each day and imagine a world where people are happy,” Mr. Mills told the Leader. “I imagine a world where people are free to express themselves and for the artists, I want them to excel and be successful. So I figured now is the time to let the world see what it has been missing the last 18 months.
“Everyone has a chance to not only come out and see the creative talent of these amazing women, but they can even support them by purchasing one of their original paintings.”
The exhibit, located in a section of the former warehouse that has a definite industrial look to it, is the home for the next two weeks of the WOWman art show. When it opened on June 25 to a busy reception, Mr. Mills knew the idea would catch on.
“We are respecting all social distancing protocols and attendance is free but masks must be worn while inside the gallery,” he said. “We are going to have new shows coming up throughout the year and every show will have a very distinctive theme and they will all feature local artists.”
The exhibits not only showcase local artists, but allows participants to finally publicly exhibit their works and actually earn an income. It is standard policy in the art world for gallery owners to receive up to 50 per cent of all sales as part of the commission structure. Some also charge a fee for the physical space taken up in a private gallery.
At the Art Factory, the artists keep 100 per cent of all sales, but they are not charged to occupy the space as Mr. Mills donated the gallery and he refuses to take any commission.
The unusual donation comes as no surprise to Jill Alexander. A successful artist who moved to the area about 16 years ago and is nestled on the Ottawa River in Castleford, a few miles outside of Renfrew, she is well known for her portraits of tulips and creation of tulip vases as part of the annual Ottawa Tulip Festival. She said the generosity shown by Mr. Mills is genuine and sincere.
“Patrick has been a Godsend not only for the community of artists, but he has opened up the doors of the art world to everyone when he built the Art Factory,” she said last Saturday at the exhibit. “It has only been one day we have been open and it has been a steady flow of people coming through and the best part is I didn’t know too many of them. That means the Art Factory is attracting visitors and that can only help promote the show.”
Jana Joros of Pembroke said the concept of the all-woman exhibit started more than a year ago.
“It’s a positive experience for the community and now anyone has an opportunity to get out and look at art,” she said. “We were about to go ahead and then the lockdown happened.
“When we first discussed the exhibit, Patrick (Mills) said ‘wow man’ and the name stuck. Today, we are here and WOWman is open.”
The art community is filled with people like Mr. Mills and that is certainly true with these women. Although the guidelines outlining the conditions needed for a business to reopen allowed for an earlier opening of the show, three of the artists agreed they would wait until Jelly Massee could complete the quartette of exhibiters.
“Living in Quebec I had to abide by different guidelines and curfews, and crossing the bridge to showcase my work really doesn’t fit under the category of essential workers,” she said with a smile. “These ladies and Patrick held off so I could be here and that says volumes. I don’t think the average person understands an artist has limited ways to make an income and being part of an exhibit and selling paintings is a huge part of how we make a living and COVID took that away from us for more than a year.”
Ms. Massee said the Art Factory has also been a vital addition to the art community in terms of access to supplies needed for them to carry on their profession.
“Patrick’s store has absolutely everything an artist could possibly need and nobody in Eastern Ontario or the Pontiac comes even close to offering what the Art Factory does,” she said. “Patrick’s prices are lower than the art supply stores in Ottawa or Kingston and shopping here not only saves us money, but it means we are not spending hours driving back and forth to Ottawa to get the exact same thing for a higher cost.”
The women who make up WOWman all come with their own distinctive style. Jill Alexander is inspired by landscapes and nature which she captures from her Ottawa River home. Ms. Massee captures intricate detail of her subjects in a realism mode while Ms. Jaros describes her paintings as figurative art.
Tammy Roggie’s art is best described as abstract and of all the artists she proudly lets everyone know she is a self-taught and has a deep appreciation for the time-honoured expression in abstract art.
Steidel Fine Art, an international, contemporary art gallery and world-leader in art consultancy, describes Ms. Roggie in a very positive way stating “her paintings are brave and bold, raw and unexpected. Many paintings are layered stories and each piece embodies Tammy’s lifestyle of constant flux, the ebb and flow of a layered, empowered woman.”
Perhaps it is because it is the first time Renfrew and surrounding area has featured an art show with four empowered and independent women, or maybe it is the initial novelty of an art exhibit under the shadow of COVID that has made the show so popular so quickly.
No matter the reason, Mr. Mills is thrilled with the initial response and said the Ottawa Valley can look forward to future exhibits in July and August on top of his annual Art Festival in August.
“They are promoting their art and finally making some money,” he said. “The smiles on the faces of the four women only reinforced my commitment to showcasing local art and hosting a large festival in August. We have doubled the number of artists to more than 50 for the festival this year, a big jump from 2020. I suggest if you have guests coming the August 14th weekend, you better book a hotel room early.”
WOWman runs until July 17 at the Art Factory Gallery at 11 Bridge Street in Renfrew. Hours are Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. An artist will be on site each day of the exhibit.
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader