The Assiniboia Gallery is 23 years old this year. So is its new owner Mary Weimer, who took over from the founders John and Monica Kurtz, in September.
Running one of the city’s best-known, established art galleries was hardly what Mary had in mind when her mother called her one day in 1998, while she was working at the YMCA, to tell her about a tiny ad in the newspaper seeking someone to work at an unspecified gallery.
Mary, who had just graduated from university and had worked at the Y throughout high school and university, planned to continue working there a while longer. But, she thought, “If it’s the Assiniboia Gallery, I’ll apply,” because her parents knew the gallery and its owners welll.
It was the Assiniboia, she applied, and she got the job ahead of a hundred other applicants.
She started on the sales side of things, dealing with customers on a day-to-day basis, but she soon expanded her role, taking over more and more of the tasks of getting ready for shows.
“Right from the start I knew I liked it,” she says, and the thing she liked most was talking to people. “Everyone who comes in comes in for a good reason,” whether it’s buying a painting as a gift for someone else or for themselves, Mary says. Buying art, she says, is “a happy thing.”
When Mary started, the Kurtzes were beginning to look ahead and plan for the day when they would either have to hand over the gallery to someone else or close its doors. They didn’t want to close it, and Mary recognized, and seized, the tremendous opportunity.
It’s an opportunity she’s making the most of. She’s trying to broaden the base of customers for the two galleries (one in Regina, at 2429 11th Ave., the other in the Hotel Bessborough in Saskatoon) with a new Web site, at www.assiniboia.com, and by the time-honored method of word of mouth. Keeping current customers informed of shows that interest them not only brings them back over and over, it also encourages them to tell others about the gallery.
Long-time customers have reacted very positively to the new ownership, Mary says. “A lot of people think it’s great it’s going to keep going.” And it’s not as if the Kurtzes have dropped out of sight: they continue to manage Allen Sapp, one of the Assiniboia Gallery’s best-known artists, and so are still at the gallery at least part of almost every day.
The Assiniboia represents numerous artists, each of which gets a turn every two or three years for a solo show. In addition to framing and hanging the work, the gallery must organize and publicize the show’s opening. “It’s like a tidal wave,” Mary says, that builds and builds until the opening. “Saturday night after the opening is the most relaxing time of the month, we just crash.” But the week after that, work begins on the next show.
The Assiniboia primarily represents contemporary Canadian painters, although it does show a few three-dimensional pieces–sculptures and pottery. The work tends to be representational, though sometimes with surprising twists, exemplified by the unique work of Erica Grimm-Vance and the deceptively simple paintings of Sara Genn. The latter two appeal to Mary personally, who expects that her own taste will color the work that appears in the gallery more as the years go by, but who also understands the importance of providing work that appeals to her long-time customers.
When a new artist approaches the gallery, she says, she has to ask questions like, “Is it similar to what we already have? How does it fit into the flow of what we do?”
“It’s hard to say no,” Mary admits, but she firmly feels that somewhere there is a gallery for every serious artist.
The people who buy art from the Assiniboia, Mary says, are looking for art that communicates something to them, and will in turn communicate something of their own personality to those who see it when it’s hanging in their home.
In other words, Mary says, they buy a piece of art “because they love it.”
Which, oddly enough, is the same reason Mary owns the Assiniboia Gallery.