Owner Wayne Hooks has confirmed the Ethel Curry Gallery will be closing its Haliburton doors Oct. 20.
Hooks said he sent a letter to artists July 26 announcing the decision.
He told them, and The Highlander, he is doing so with a “heavy heart and deep personal and professional disappointment” he can no longer, single-handedly, finance the day-to-day operations.
This decision is excruciatingly hard for me to have to make,” he added.
The gallery was created by Ethel Curry’s nephew, Peter Curry, and his wife Jody, along with Hooks. They all saw the wild beauty inherent in the Highlands. Jody Curry was involved until 2008 when Hooks took it over. It has been a Haliburton institution for 28 years.
Hooks said his resources are depleted and the gallery “is apparently out of customers. The reason for the lack of sales and the decline in customers are numerous, relatively understandable, and entirely beyond my control.”
During a chat Aug. 6 with blues playing from his computer, Hooks said, “there’s nothing in here anyone has to have. We’re selling lots of earrings and snowflakes but you have to sell those (he points to a large painting on a wall) to keep the doors open.
“I think the general doom and gloom that’s descended over the planet for various reasons plays a big part in it.”
He talks about the economy and interest rates. “As everyone’s aware, every time you go to the grocery store, whatever it was last week is up a buck, and so people are just not comfortable buying what we have to sell.”
He emphasized they are a privately-owned, privately-run gallery so do not get council grants such as the Agnes Jamieson Gallery in Minden, or Rails End Gallery in Haliburton.
Hooks said the books made the decision for him in the spring.
“We had a poorer than average year last year, and a poorer than average summer, and the summer is when I have to build up the bank account for the winter and it didn’t happen. So, starting in January, I was paying all the bills myself and about March, when you could see that this cloud was not going to be lifting any time soon, I realized I couldn’t go on.”
The pending closure is bittersweet, Hooks conceded.
Over the years, they’ve represented and helped more than 250 artists, which Hooks said is significant. The gallery started out local but expanded to mostly Ontario artists, with a few others from across Canada.
“Young artists, established artists, older artists who’ve retired and are trying their hand at it. And I would say we’ve never had a better group, never had better art, in our whole history,” he said.
He is particularly proud of the gallery’s relationship with A.J. VanDrie, recalling, “one of the staff walked in with A.J. in the middle of the summer about 15 years ago. He was standing there with a painting and I said, ‘you’re in.’ He’s a good friend of mine. When he comes up, he paints on my deck. He’s painted me personal paintings. And we’ve sold over 250 and I know people who have 10 of his. And he is one that I’m pretty proud of.”
He added, “if it wasn’t for Brian Atyeo, that whole wall is Brian Atyeo, this gallery wouldn’t be here. He’s internationally known. He used to live outside of Haliburton, with his wife Peggy. Peggy worked here.”
He’ll miss the relationships with artists and chin-wagging with people dropping in. “That is irreplaceable. That I’m going to miss. It has been a wonderful voyage. I don’t regret a minute of it.”
Hooks said over the years, visitors have told him the Ethel Curry is a destination. “Many people mention one of the reasons they come to Haliburton is to come to the gallery.” The public has reacted with “universal disappointment and sadness,” he said.
Hooks added about half of the artists had replied to his letter, and all had been very understanding.
“The quote I use with the reply is usually, ‘well, as Dylan wrote, The Times They Are A-Changin’.”