Five Island Art Gallery celebrates decade of operation

Joan Sullivan
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Open house goes 1-5 p.m. today at Tors Cove facility

Five Island Art Gallery is celebrating its 10th birthday this weekend. Not bad for a business that, as owner Bill Coultas explains, “in essence, came about in a bit of serendipity.”

His wife Frances (Ennis) is a rughooker, and his daughter Sheila a painter. They had just shown their work together in a successful exhibition at the MUN Botanical Garden.

“And we had this building (Tors Cove’s former two-room schoolhouse), which we’ve kept as a heritage building. And my other daughter, Laura, said we should start a gallery, and she drew up a business plan.”

Five Island’s name is inspired by the local topography. “Our daughter Sheila came up with the idea of that one,” Coultas said. “I said, ‘there’s only four islands off Tors Cove.’ She said, ‘you’re standing on the fifth one.’”

Its purpose is to feature Newfoundland art by Newfoundland artists. Some, such as Ilse Hughes, have international reputations, but others are building their visual art career.

“It just seems like a lot of people out there are really good artists, and they’ve been painting for 20 or 30 years, but most of them don’t make a living solely from their art.”

Most of the artists in the gallery are painters, but there’s also a strong showing of rughooking and textiles. Examples of work found there could include Terri Leonard’s pinwheeling row houses and floral bouquets, Renee Butler-Harnum’s expressive ponies and Randy Blundon’s light-infused landscapes.

The works are generally representational, but not strictly so. Five Island is interested in much more than any visual cliches of lobster pots on a wharf, and likes to encourage its artists to “let loose.”

The gallery has also organized exhibitions around themes like the cod moratorium. (And in terms of the craft-versus-art debate around rughooking, they come down firmly on the art side.)

Initially the clientele was largely tourists. “The industry has built up enormously along the southern shore.” But more and more the balance is shifting to Newfoundlanders, especially visitors from St. John’s. “We get a lot of people out on a Sunday drive. It’s really nice to see them,” Coultas said.

Five Island is open May to October. They did experiment with a year-round, St. John’s-based expansion a few years ago, setting up on the corner of Water and Prescott streets. Business was good, but running the second space “proved to be very demanding. It’s a family operation.”

So they decided to focus on their Tors Cove operation. It doesn’t overwhelm their time and keeps them excited about their artists and their shows. It seems the right decision as the gallery is now a decade along.

Saturday’s festivities include demonstrations by three painters — Sheila Coultas, George Jarvis, and Leonard — as well as rug hooking and felting.

Visual artist Gerry Squires, who officially cut the ribbon on the gallery 10 years ago, will be present. There’s a space just outside the gallery where kids can paint. And there will be music, “And I’m going to sing, but maybe that’s not a good idea.”

Five Island’s open house runs from 1-5 p.m. today. The gallery can is located at 7 Cove Rd. in Tors Cove.

Organizations: MUN Botanical Garden

Geographic location: Tors Cove, Newfoundland

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