Lambton County gallery benefits from Imperial Oil’s $6-million nation-wide art donation campaign
Assistant curator Sonya Blazek describes a York Wilson cartoon at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery Thursday. Imperial Oil donated a collection of sketches and cartoons from the famed Canadian muralist to the downtown Sarnia art gallery. (Barbara Simpson/Sarnia Observer/March 23)
A collection of York Wilson art celebrating scientific advancements has come rightfully to the birthplace of the oil industry.
Officials with Imperial Oil announced Thursday a donation of six Wilson sketches and two large cartoons to the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery.
Wilson, a famed Canadian painter and muralist, made these sketches as part of his process of designing a mural for the new Imperial Oil headquarters in Toronto in the 1950s.
Gallery officials say the mural is “one of the best examples of a Canadian mural and a pivotal moment in York Wilson’s career.”
That mural – which features a gusher, a hand holding atoms and the Avro Arrow spread out over two panels – is still on the lobby walls of the former Imperial Oil headquarters located at 111 St. Clair Ave. W. in Toronto.
“The entire story of oil in Canada is represented in these two panels,” said Sonya Blazek, assistant curator with the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery.
Sarnia’s Imperial Oil research lab is believed to have had a hand in creating the mural by testing out dry pigments on Wilson’s behalf for use in the mural.
Local officials with Imperial Oil formally announced the donation of the mural sketches Thursday – which are also the subject of a new gallery exhibit – on the same day 14 other Canadian galleries received art donations from the petroleum company.
Imperial Oil has been collecting art for more than 70 years, said Dave Luecke, its Sarnia chemical plant manager.
In 2015, Imperial Oil lent one of its Lawren S. Harris paintings to a highly-publicized exhibit co-curated by comedian and actor Steve Martin, a well-known fan of the Group of Seven painter’s work.
Over the last few years, Luecke said Imperial Oil has been in the process of downsizing its art collection after building a new Calgary headquarters.
“The few offices are open concept and not with a lot of walls, so we had too few walls and too much art,” Luecke said.
In 2014 and 2015, Imperial Oil held an online auction of some of its work, raising $750,000 for the United Way. About $125,000 of that came to the United Way in Sarnia-Lambton.
In total, about $6 million worth of Imperial Oil art and sale proceeds have been donated through this initiative to various Canadian museums, galleries and the United Way.
“We all live in the community,” Luecke said. “We want to see a vibrant community and I think a vibrant arts scene is part of that community.”
Lambton County Warden Bill Weber said Thursday the timing of the donation is perfect with the Fairbank Oil properties and the Oil Museum of Canada attempting to secure a World Heritage Site designation.
“It’s the perfect time for us to honour the oil industry in the county,” Weber said.
Donations like the one made by Imperial Oil are “critical to building a wonderful permanent collection” for the gallery, Daniels noted.
In 2015 and 2016 alone, the Judith & Norman Alix Gallery received 40 donations of artwork – some of which have yet to be publicly announced.
Gallery officials are now preparing to pull back the curtains this summer with a new exhibit series called Share the Passion: Gifts of Art.
Daniels said the series – which includes the current exhibit, York Wilson: The Story of Oil – A Partnership Between Art & Industry – will celebrate donations that have been made to the gallery’s permanent collection.
She hinted Thursday that two new Emily Carr paintings will be featured in one of the upcoming Share the Passion exhibits.
York Wilson: The Story of Oil – A Partnership Between Art & Industry runs until April 23. The exhibit features all eight mural works, as well as video footage of Wilson painting the mural.
On April 7, members of the local committee behind the World Heritage Site application will be on hand at the gallery as part of First Friday festivities.
Share the Passion: Gifts of Art exhibit series runs until Aug. 12.