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Art House Gallery keeps community connections close during COVID times

An art sale of the artwork of Ernest and Jill Hall will take place this weekend
Bella Coola Valley Arts Council’s (BCVAC) Ida Eriksen enjoys a full life since retiring to the Bella Coola Valley Coola in 2013. She volunteers for BCVAC and likes to carve out time for art, gardening and hiking. (Photo submitted)

A show and sale of the work of the late Ernest and Jill Hall will be featured at the Art House Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17, and April 23 and 24.

Ida Eriksen, vice-president of the Bella Coola Valley Arts Council (BCVAC) who also runs the gallery shop and serves as the curator for BCVAC art shows, said there will be “bits and pieces” of the couple’s remaining artwork, including pottery and glass work as well as Jill’s Raku ware.

“It’s pretty special,” Eriksen said, noting she has invited local crafters to augment the gallery shop sale with some additional pieces as well.

Eriksen herself moved to the Bella Coola Valley in 2013 from Vancouver Island following her retirement from a 22-year career as a manager of the graphics department for the University of Victoria Students Society, craving a return to her roots and the childhood she enjoyed growing up in nearby Namu, once a thriving fishing village turned ghost town.

“I wanted to return to where I grew up,” Eriksen said, referencing the friendliness of locals in the valley and the natural beauty that surrounds it. “That reminded me of growing up in Namu where everyone waved and said hello.”

Now firmly entrenched in the local arts and crafts scene, Eriksen volunteers as much as she can for BCVAC while balancing her other passions of gardening and hiking the local trails with her dogs.

Eriksen said throughout the year BCVAC usually puts on the annual Christmas arts and crafts fair, gallery showings and brings in films in the winter, all things cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.

“We couldn’t do anything this winter. Everything we usually do involves people gathering. That’s what art wants, it wants an audience.”

With that in mind, members of the art council sought other, unique ways to host an audience, such as offering grants to musicians to do performances online, organizing upcoming socially-distanced arts and crafts teachings at Moose Hall and having youth create short films representing Bella Coola.

“It will be wonderful to see what these kids can do,” she said.

Eriksen, with help from BCVAC treasurer Ray Mallwain and artist Meghan Lewick, who was just featured at the Art House Gallery with her show Mindbombs by Eco Heroes, also just finished putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls at the art gallery, which she is saving for their next artist show, Jade Hanuse.

At just 20 years old, Hanuse is a talented First Nations artist who is tentatively booked for May.

“I wanted it to look really good for her,” she said, noting Hanuse’s art includes carvings and masks.

Eriksen is an artist herself, using oils to paint landscapes, trees, seascapes and portraits. She is also a crafter, designing many things including clothing and aprons which she sells at the gallery shop.

“It’s what sustains me.”

Everything sold at the gallery has to be handmade, using as much local product as possible. She said the shop, which she started as an experiment, is popular with tourists during normal years.

“It’s always nice to have them come in and see them enjoy our area as much as we do.”

Eriksen said she misses the tourists but also feels nervous of the return to busier times due to COVID-19.

For up-to-date information on the efforts of the BCVAC, check out their Facebook page.

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Angie Mindus

About the Author: Angie Mindus

A desire to travel led me to a full-time photographer position at the Williams Lake Tribune in B.C.’s interior.
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