Every beautiful painting ever created, from the Mona Lisa to Starry Night, needed three things to help bring it to fruition: a medium (like acrylics), a tool such as a brush, and lots of inspiration. And according to local fine artists and painters, Castlegar provides three similar things in order to allow art to thrive here: a strong community, places in which to display art, and lots of inspiration.
It’s well known that Castlegar is the Sculpture Capital of Canada but the artistic offerings of the city go well beyond statues, casts and carvings – there’s a flourishing painting scene too. “There are magical places in the world and we’re one of them,” says Mirja Vahala, an instructor with Selkirk College’s Continuing Education program and the owner of her namesake art studio on Broadwater Road. “We’re unique here. There’s an openness and generosity. It’s a very supportive community and people are more comfortable being friendly here. Plus the visuals are spectacular.” Vahala (seen in the photo below) moved to the area from the Lower Mainland in 2007 and left behind her graphic design business to take up fine art; she now prefers working with acrylics. “I get a lot of inspiration from being outdoors,” she continues. “I love hiking the local trails and seeing the connections around us from the tree roots to the waterways.”
Sandra Donohue (who’s work can be seen below) agrees that the natural surroundings of Castlegar are truly inspiring. She moved to the area in 1975, discovered watercolours 25 years later, and says she loves painting outdoors because “you’re not in control, nature is.” She also derives inspiration from, “capturing light, the way it backlights flowers…I love painting still life and making something ordinary extraordinary [and] putting some humour in my work.” When asked why Castlegar has such a thriving artistic scene, Donohue credits the Doukhobors who “incorporate so much music and visual arts into their culture.”
And there is no shortage of encouragement out there for up-and-coming artists. Rita Wege (seen in the top photo) is an abstract painter living in Shoreacres and she credits Maggie Shirley, the curator at the Kootenay Gallery of Art, for inspiring her to show her work. Donohue says the West Kootenay Chapter of the Federation of Artists is an invaluable resource for local artists and Vahala recommends Selkirk College and the team behind the Castlegar Art Walk as further inspiration. Below are the main locales where these artists recommend you see fine art paintings in Castlegar.
Where To Enjoy Fine Art Paintings In Castlegar
Kootenay Gallery of Art
The Kootenay Gallery of Art, History and Science is the best public art gallery in Castlegar. It features a variety of exhibitions and public programming and is one of 28 original centres built during the 1970s to allow rural people to enjoy great works of art, sourced regionally, nationally and internationally as well as provide a professional venue for regional artists to show and sell their work. More info: kootenaygallery.com
Castlegar Art Walk
Castlegar’s annual Art Walk runs from late June to mid-September and is a partnership between local businesses and the arts community. Locals and visitors alike are encouraged to take in the works by various artists by touring the businesses involved. More info: castlegarculture.com
Yes Please is an art boutique in downtown Castlegar that showcases work by local artists and craftspeople. Located near the library, the gallery features fine art paintings as well as glassware, pottery and more. More info: yesplease.indiemade.com
Castlegar & District Public Library
The Castlegar Library has always supported the arts by making space in the library for artists to display their work, developing an excellent section of art books, and offering readings by local authors. More info: castlegar.bc.libraries.coop
The Kootenay Festival
Held annually at Millennium Park near downtown Castlegar, the Kootenay Festival offers everything from music and food to displays and demonstrations by local artists and artisans, including painters. More info: kootenayfestival.com