The Thom Building (also known as the Saks building) is one of downtown Sarnia's most historically and socially significant buildings. Through the creation of the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery, this building is being reclaimed after sitting dormant for many years and falling into great disrepair. The beautiful structure was built in 1893 by local photographer Major John Strathearn Thom to accommodate his photography studio.
Over the years it has been home to a bank, a dental office, and a department store. The building showcased a grand staircase which has been painstakingly restored to its original lustre. The facade has also been retained and restored back to a stable, historically accurate condition. This new facility is purpose-built and features world-class equipment and regulatory systems to ensure our gallery is able to achieve and maintain the strict environmental controls necessitated by world-class artworks.
Dr. J. Telford Biehn, a local eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist, was an active member of the Library Board at the crucial time leading up to the opening of the new Sarnia Public Library and Art Gallery in 1961. As a member of the Board, Dr. Biehn was involved in all of the discussions on the construction of the new facility. Alongside his successful medical practice, Dr. Biehn developed a sincere passion for art. While on the Library Board, he had the opportunity to meet with A.J. Casson, who had been visiting Sarnia to help design the art gallery portion of the Sarnia Public Library and Art Gallery. This was the catalyst Dr. Biehn required to stimulate a personal relationship to art. His art collection soon grew to include works by Casson, Lismer, JEH MacDonald, J. W. Beatty, Carl Schafer, J. S. Hallam and others; all of which enhanced the walls of his family home for 55 years.
During the mid-late 1980's, Dr. J. Telford Biehn donated a number of paintings to the permanent collection, including works by Franklin Carmichael, Arthur Lismer, and J.E.H. Macdonald. His legacy has been honored by the generous dedication of the Permanent Collection Gallery by Dr. Biehn's three children (Judy Craig, Terry Biehn, and John Biehn) as the Dr. J. Telford Biehn Gallery. His children saw this as a fitting way to commemorate their fathers' dedication and passion for Canadian art, and as a way of giving back to a community that they all called home for so many good years.
The Visual Art Research Room provides an opportunity for the public to research and engage with a wide-range of artistic writings and cultural material. Employees of the Corporation of the County of Lambton, from across all divisions and levels of employment, along with County Councillors contributed to this family campaign enabling us to reach our $100,000 family campaign target successfully.
The facility holds a broad range of reference materials including monographs of artists, general interest art books, and series of periodicals that the gallery has maintained subscriptions for, some over the course of decades. Researchers will also have access to exhibition catalogues from approximately 65 Canadian cultural institutions, which are the result of an informal, national catalogue exchange. This will the first time that these materials will be made truly accessible to the public. The library will also hold a number of artist files, featuring newspaper and magazine clippings and other materials related directly to works in our Permanent Collection.
The Visual Art Research Room will be available for basic reference in 2014, by appointment only. If you would like more information about the facility contact Darryn Doull at [email protected] or (519) 336-8127 ext. 3220.