The Rollin Art Centre in Port Alberni will kick off the 2021 exhibition season with a display about its own art.
Not many people realize the Rollin Art Centre has a permanent collection of artwork, including works from Canada’s famed Group of Seven artists.
“The collection is amazing,” says Melissa Martin, who oversees the Rollin Art Centre for the Community Arts Council of the Alberni Valley.
The collection was bolstered in 1995 when the late Robert Aller donated 20 works of art, including four of his own paintings, to the Rollin. It remains the largest personal donation of Canadian paintings to the centre.
Aller was one of the founding members of the arts council along with the late George Clutesi, and they brought together arts organizations from around the region to one central council. Aller started collecting artwork when he was a student in 1946, and some of his pieces now in the Rollin collection include those from Clutesi and Arthur Lismer, one of the Group of Seven.
(The Group of Seven were Canadian landscape painters of note that first exhibited as a group in 1919. They are credited with creating a new painting style that broke from European tradition: featuring bright, bold colours and techniques.)
The late Aller’s work has been well documented of late: he saved artwork students created in his classes at the Alberni Indian Residential School, where he taught from 1959–1966. This artwork has been repatriated to the students, and exhibited at the Alberni Valley Museum among other places.
Visitors to the Rollin Art Centre can expect to see some of Aller’s own work, including portraits he painted of some of his students. The exhibit will also include pieces from his original collection, as well as others that have been gifted to the Rollin over the years. These include prints from the late E.J. Hughes and Norval Morrisseau—who some consider to be the grandfather of contemporary Indigenous art.
The Rollin’s permanent collection has only seen the light of day a couple of times since the premiere showing in 1995, and that has been for art appraisals, Martin said. It is time for people to view and enjoy at least a small part of the collection, she added.
“It’s not only a legacy for Robert Aller, it’s a legacy for our community,” she said. “I’ve always said it’s important for not only our community and Canada but for the world to see what we have here. With Aller’s work with the First Nations…it puts another importance on art.
“Art is what is going to connect us.”
It is Martin’s dream to one day be able to display Aller’s work and those pieces contained in the permanent collection. “My goal was to build an extension on the Rollin Art Centre where we could display this permanently,” she said.
Initial plans for the extension have been pushed back as the City of Port Alberni is advocating for a licensed childcare facility to be built adjacent to the Rollin Art Centre, where a permanent exhibit space might have gone.
First things first, though: Martin would like to create a climate controlled storage facility so the collection can be preserved appropriately. She also wishes a benefactor of the arts would come forward and help pay to frame some of the pieces properly for display.
Some pieces aren’t gallery ready—they need framing, or their frames need updating or proper wiring for display. The Rollin has storage drawers filled with matted originals and prints just waiting to be framed. That costs money though, and for the past few years the arts council has focused on fundraising for the Rollin Art Centre and grounds, not its collection.
Martin hopes by bringing some of these important pieces of artwork into the public eye, that will change.
The Rollin Art Centre gallery is located at 3061 Eighth Avenue at Argyle Street and will reopen Feb. 2 following an extended Christmas closure. Regular hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with COVID-19 measures in place. Masks are mandatory. For more information, please call 250-724-3412 once the gallery re-opens.
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