Kenora’s New Art Centre

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Reprinted from “Build It” magazine 2019-2020, Kenora Construction Association

The donation of a treasured collection of watercolours and woodblock prints to the Lake of the Woods Museum presented a rare and exciting opportunity to the community of Kenora, Ontario — to create an art centre that would not only be home to this collection but also host local and national exhibits and provide a unique community gathering place.

For years, long-time summer residents Nicki and Bryce Douglas have been collecting works by renowned Canadian artist Walter J. Phillips, especially images that depict Phillips’ family vacations on Lake of the Woods from the mid 1910s to the late 1920s. It is this nationally recognized collection that forms the foundational collection for Kenora’s new Art Centre.

The Centre combines the century-old Museum Annex (the former Land Titles building) and a new addition adjoining it on its east side. The design of the 6,000 sq. ft. building by local architect Nelson Architecture was inspired by the work of Phillips himself. Many of Phillips’ paintings of buildings reflect compositionally a “community of buildings”. Phillips appeared to be attracted to ad hoc groupings of buildings with simple and traditional shed and gable forms. The design team took this notion of a “community of archetypal forms” and applied it to the development of an addition to the Museum Annex which itself is archetypal in form. The new addition is an assemblage of these archetypal forms but it transforms them in a way which is undeniably modern.

The design of the addition attempts to acknowledge the cultural importance of the Annex but does so in a way that is not a modern-day imitation, but is clearly indicative of our time and the state of building arts today. It closely approximates the Annex in horizontal and vertical dimensions. It is a two-storey structure that matches the height of the single-storey Annex, allowing both a lower and upper gallery. Both galleries are 850 sq. ft. offering 137 lineal feet of wall space each. They provide a temperature and humidity controlled environment for the display and viewing of art.

The Art Centre includes upper and lower lobbies and lounges, exterior garden space and a collection management area. Lobbies may be used for orientation for tour groups, short-term displays, gallery receptions, retail space and rental opportunities for private and corporate functions.

The existing Museum Annex provides more than 1,400 sq. ft. of studio and programming space as well as space for administrative functions. Many of the heritage features of the Annex, such as the iron shutters, the vault doors and the millwork, are retained in the studio setting.

The limestone sills and lintels of the Annex are echoed in the new addition’s exterior cladding of Tyndall stone from the Gillis Quarries in Manitoba. The building also respects the nature of Memorial Park. The park was developed at the turn of the 20th century and exhibits a formal axial symmetry with the Cenotaph and the Courthouse entry. The addition extends no further into Memorial Park than the existing Annex, and its angled wall creates a symmetry with the existing museum around the same axis. The new Art Centre will be a part of a cultural campus right in the heart of historic downtown Kenora. The Museum, the Art Centre and the Cenotaph, set among heritage buildings like the Courthouse and St. Alban’s Cathedral, will be a strong statement of the importance of arts and culture in our community.

[The art centre has now been named the Douglas Family Art Centre in honour of Nicki and Bryce Douglas.]

[The building was constructed by Kenora contractors Solid Construction, AK & Company, Bowman Electric and Kenora Masonry.]