Ambling through the winding back roads of Oyama in the Okanagan’s Lake Country, more than one barn – derelict or new and in use – dots the landscape.
Only one, however, has the distinction of housing a treasure trove of local, original art. It’s called The Barn Gallery, and it’s located at 4450 Towgood Road. And, while it is a commercial gallery and not a working artist studio, it was different enough that we wanted to showcase it as part of our Artist Studio Tours series.
This week the gallery celebrates its 10th anniversary and the fulfillment of a long time dream of owner Jody LaFontaine’s.
“I’ve always wanted a gallery,” Jody told The Pear Tree during a recent visit. “I’m so inspired by the art here in the Okanagan.”
Jody was the founder and original organizer of Winfield’s popular Art Walk, now operated by the District of Lake Country, when it started 16 years ago. Her mandate, she says, is simply to promote artists and their art, and make it available to those who love it, too.
“I love all forms of art. I love sculpture and I love paintings. Each one has something unique about it.
“I really want artists to be successful themselves. I suppose that’s the mandate or purpose of this gallery. I want artists to be able to continue on with their careers.”
Jody received her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Toronto years ago, and thought she would like to paint, but soon decided that there were others who were so much better. However, she has proved that the presentation of others’ art and the backdrop for doing that can be a work of art in itself.
After looking for venues in town, Jody got the idea for converting her old horse barn and equipment shed into a barn after visiting a gallery called The Red Barn a couple of hours outside New York City. That gallery had been started in the 1930s, and has been run by members of the same family ever since.
Like hers, it is operated on a rural piece of property and is a destination visit.
The Barn Gallery barn, which is just a few yards from Jody’s house, was built in 1940 and was a regular horse barn with stalls along both sides and a trough running down the middle. Upstairs, the hayloft was filled with bales of hay. Attached was a tractor shed.
Jody worked with her son Mark, a carpenter, to gut the structure and rebuild the inside into something worthy of housing fine art.
Little could be salvaged, aside from the deep, stone outside walls, the ceiling with its chunky wooden beams (that still have the bark on one side) and a few inner support posts.
“It was in pretty bad shape,” Jody said. “On a really hot day, it still smells like a horse barn. It had a concrete floor, which the horses peed into and it’s hard to completely eliminate that smell.”
On the other hand, the cozy country structure offers a look and history that compliments the art it shows off.
“I like to think it’s a good pairing because the barn is authentic. Nothing is a façade. Since we only carry original art, it compliments that. When people come here, they get the feeling that everything just fits. Everything works here. You don’t see any disconnect between the art and its surroundings.”
While most vestiges of the old barn are now gone, there are some remaining elements. Behind the closet door is a well that once supplied water to the horses who called the place home.
The tractor shed, featured in the montage above, is floored with boards recycled from a horse fence on Jody’s property. The windows were salvaged from the former Oyama General Store before its destruction.
Three things Jody looks for in design as well as art are colour, form and complexity. And she loves the juxtaposition of abstract and realism.
“It gives that little edge that’s so nice,” she said.
Being surrounded by so much art in such a unique setting, Jody feels, enhances her sense of aesthetics.
“I have something beautiful to be in every day,” she said.
The Barn Gallery is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. between the May long weekend and Thanksgiving. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Words and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier