KAGAWONG – Even before they opened their art gallery, Richard and Barbara Edwards knew that Kagawong was the place for them to live and work. This year, the couple is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Edwards Art Studios Gallery and Custom Framing and are looking forward to the years ahead.
“In 1976 Barb and I had been invited by Manitoulin Secondary School art teacher Jacquie Gordon,” said Mr. Edwards. He had met Ms. Gordon at an art show in southern Ontario and she had invited him to lead a silk-screening demonstration workshop at the school. “While we were there we met a lot of people. We stayed in Mindemoya and we really liked the Island and the people.” This was the first taste of Manitoulin for the couple. He said they were later invited here on a camping trip and this was one of several the couple took over the next couple of years.
After their initial visit, “A couple of years later we found this place in Kagawong to live, and we felt we couldn’t keep imposing on friends to have a place to stay when we visited the Island,” said Mr. Edwards. “So we found this place just outside Kagawong and I mentioned that it would be a good place to get work done.”
Both Richard and Barbara are from the Wiarton area, and Mr. Edwards had owned had his work displayed in many art galleries across the country.
“In 1983 we built our home studio in Kagawong,” said Mr. Edwards, noting that they became permanent residents 10 years later. “I would plan on coming up for summers to work, and Barbara really liked it here in Kagawong and the Island. She was very enthusiastic about moving here.”
“In 1996 we were approached by the (Billings) township economic development committee about opening a gallery in the Old Mill building,” said Ms. Edwards. The historical society had installed new windows and the transformation it created showed its potential.
“They had asked if we wanted to move into the upstairs area of the Old Mill building,” said Mr. Edwards. “And eventually, in 1996, we decided the upstairs area would be a good place to have a nice art gallery. We knew it would be a lot of work, but we decided to go ahead and do this. And it seemed everyone in the township was excited about our opening this new enterprise, and almost everyone in the township helped us. The support was incredible,” said Ms. Edwards.
Prior to the Edwards taking over the space for an art gallery, the upstairs area of the Old Mill had been abandoned for 30 years. “Originally, we designed everything around the walls in the upstairs gallery area, as this is an historic building and walls are to be kept original. Three years ago we did some renovations on the studio using the old walls and works there and redesigned the area so there was more light and the actual studio space would be larger; now visitors can see the walls and all the work that has been done.”
“We’re really happy with the gallery, everything has been going well,” said Mr. Edwards. He pointed out last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, “we were open for appointments only, to make things safer for our clients and actually it turned out really well. Then this spring it was iffy if we were going to be able to be open at all (they are open Thursday-Sunday, 11 am-5 pm, and Wednesday by appointment 11 am-5 pm).”
“Each day is a new day,” stated Mr. Edwards. “And people who are visiting the gallery are really happy the gallery has been opened. This building is part of the history of Billings, this building used to be the power plant, so we feel this is a nice mix of an old industrial type building with this gallery, especially with all the renovations that have been carried out.”
Mr. Edwards is known for his beautiful watercolour paintings, acrylic on canvas works and serigraphs.
Ms. Edwards is a glass artist. She creates everything from small jewellery, stained glass works and fused glass. The latter technique uses pieces of coloured glass and transforms them using a layering method which is then kiln fired to create plates, wall hangings, ornaments and other beautiful pieces of art.
“Barb also does weaving on a loom making items like shawls and scarves. A lot of the material for this comes from local people, our neighbours have alpacas, and she also gets material from other alpaca farmers on the Island.”
The couple’s son, Morgan, also has his beautiful acrylic paintings at the gallery. “We also have a variety of works on display in the gallery from many artists in this area,” said Mr. Edwards. This includes pottery, wood workers and textiles. He acknowledged, “when we first opened the gallery the biggest fear we had was how would be fill such a large art gallery space. We have a huge variety of artists works on hand as well as our own in the gallery.”
Daughter Kendra Edwards also inherited the artistic gene and has a successful graphic design business, Kendra Edwards Design.
Mr. Edwards noted, “the theme of the art gallery is providing hand-made one-of-a-kind items and pretty much everyone who has work on display here is making their lives on their art. We really enjoy supporting them.”
“We have been fortunate to have made a lot of friends locally over the years,” continued Mr. Edwards. “And clients on their visits to Manitoulin Island will always stop by and say hello. Over the last few weeks it has been amazing the number of people that have come in that we haven’t seen in awhile.”
“We’re very happy with the way things have turned out over the past 25 years,” said Mr. Edwards. “We had our doubts at the beginning, at that time this was a quiet little town. But Kagawong and Billings township is definitely becoming an Ontario hotspot. And absolutely, we are looking forward to another 25 years here.”
For more information you can find the business online at www.edwardsartstudios.com