Art collectors seek to shed light on island’s forgotten artists – CBC.ca | Candle Made Easy

Joe Martell says he and his partner Rick Smith have always been collectors.

But it was only in the last few years during the pandemic that they started to take it seriously.

It all started when they stumbled on Relaxing Bay, a painting by renowned PEI artist Henry Purdy. It features Herring Cove, a fishing village in Purdy’s native Nova Scotia.

“The lady who put it up for sale was from New Jersey,” Martell said. “Their claim to the painting was that it was the first painting Henry Purdy had ever sold as a professional artist.

“After it arrived here in the mail, Henry Purdy himself confirmed to us that the story behind the painting is…true, that it was the first painting he ever sold, in 1958.”

When they got this one, Martell said, they thought, “Well, maybe there are other paintings out there that we could bring back to PEI as well.”

Martell and Smith have now collected about a hundred paintings, mostly by PEI artists. You are one of the few but dedicated collectors specializing in island art.

“The number of art collectors on the island … is pretty small in my opinion,” said Aubrey Bell, co-owner of Gallery 18, which sells art, antiques and other PEI-related items. “But those who collect are quite keen .”

Charles Bentley, Ken Brammer, Emily Durant, Scott O’Neill, Maurice Bernard, Lowell Huestis, Ron Leitch and Helen Hubley are some of the artists featured on this wall. There are also paintings by Martell. (Submitted by Rick Smith)

Bell, whose gallery has carried works by some of the biggest names in the island’s art history – including some of the 19th-century portrait painter Robert Harris – said few PEI artists are so prominent that most people consider their work to be ” Collectibles”.

“Often people collect art because they know the artist, or they knew the artist, or they know something about the artist,” he said. “Some of our best clients for some artists are usually descendants of the artist.”

Pastoral Scenes

Martell and Smith have lived in Charlottetown for 30 years. Both families are from PEI

Martell said her goal for the collection is to have broad representation of artists, living or deceased, who are also from the island.

The collection includes a wide range of paintings created at different times and in different styles, which change depending on the art trends that were fashionable at the time.

Helen Haszard’s Lake of Shining. (Submitted by Rick Smith)

A common theme is landscapes and seascapes, which Bell says are always in high demand.

Martell said the paintings typically cost $2,000, although he said that on incredibly rare occasions, some “could be found somewhere online for $10.”

He said some of the paintings they collected were made by artists whose names were all but forgotten even on PEI

“A lot of the pieces we’ve come across don’t have any information about the artist at all,” Martell said. “You would have a signature on the front. Perhaps you would have written her name and possibly an address on the back. But that’s it.”

A spotlight on forgotten artists

Martell and Smith have compiled biographical information for some of the artists in their collection by combing through old newspapers, gallery websites, collectors’ sites, and auction listings.

“It’s nice that when you’re looking at a painting, you can also read something that also gives you a little bit of history about the artist,” Martell said.

“Ric [collects] all these tidbits of information, I do my best to piece this together into some sort of readable narrative that gives the reader a glimpse into the artist’s life.”

Recently they have started posting some of their findings on social media.

“Quite often we get a message from someone who owns a painting and they admit they didn’t know about the artist until they saw one of Rick’s posts online and they’re excited to learn more about the artist” , said Martell. “Others are just really grateful for the effort, you know? ‘Hey, great story. Yeah, I didn’t know that.’”

Bell said such efforts could increase the public’s appreciation of the artists and give them the confidence to purchase some of the paintings themselves.

Joe Martell and Rick Smith began sharing some of the biographical information they had gathered about PEI artists via social media. (Submitted by Rick Smith)

“We need more of this. It is very important [for] People who might not have had an art education,” he said.

For Martell and Smith, it’s about putting the spotlight on some artists that most people wouldn’t know about.

“The more we look into this, the more we realize just how much artistic talent has been nurtured in this province throughout its history,” Martell said.

“We could be talking about thousands of islanders over the past 100 or 150 years, and a lot of that talent is easily forgotten over time.”

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