My house sits on the same street as the Varley Art Gallery – for 18 years I have lived in this house. The Varley is not just a place I pass by almost every day, but a starting point from which my aspirations of practicing and exhibiting art began.
There are too many things I can say about how the Varley has impacted my art career, my immigrant life, and some of my most rewarding friendships. I remember the first time I visited Main Street Unionville and saw the gallery—the lovely red brick building—and thought, If someday I could live nearby. And every time I walked by the McKay Art Centre I told myself, If someday I could have my own show here. Little did I know these things would happen, and the people I met through the Varley helped me greatly.
I’ve loved art since I was a child but didn’t have the opportunity to practice until later in life, after I moved from Taiwan to Canada and my family settled in Unionville. I took my first art class in Canada at the McKay where I painted my first oil painting. I took my first portrait drawing class at the Varley taught by Laura Higgins, who became a good friend and encouraged me to exhibit my work. Two years later, as a 40th birthday wish for myself, I held my first solo show at the McKay. It meant the world to me. Laura helped me hang up my work.
For years, the Varley Art Gallery provided different courses for me to experiment with oil paint, watercolour, and portrait and life drawing whenever I had time. I strengthened my technical skills and began developing my own style in these classes. More importantly, I met a diverse community of enthusiastic artists and my Canadian life stretched in new directions. With their support I held my second solo exhibition four years after my first, again at the McKay. And the best was yet to come; it was in Neville Clarke’s life drawing class at the Varley that I met my Painters 6 fellows, Lynda, Florica, Vita and Glen (later joined by Sheila). We developed a fun acquaintanceship weaved by our mutual passion for art. Through Vita’s encouragement, some of us enrolled in the Toronto School of Art, and one by one we graduated in the ensuing years – one of my proudest achievements to date. During this time we formed Painters 6 (focused on painting portraits of people in our local community), held three group exhibitions at the McKay, contributed to the Varley’s fundraising activities and Pecha Kucha presentations, and participated in various art activities in Canada. I can’t believe it’s been over 10 years that Painters 6 has been together, and it all started at the Varley.
I have many unforgettable memories of the Varley Art Gallery with the always-welcoming and supportive staff and volunteers. I’ve always appreciated the sense of community the Varley fosters, and for eighteen years I’ve tried not to miss a show there. Sometimes, I think these two galleries were the main reason I chose Unionville as a place to raise my children. After all, my younger daughter volunteered at Neville Clarke’s class when she was in high school, after which she said, Mom, you should go to his class. I never expected so much would happen after signing up and meeting Neville and his other students.
It is my 20th year in Canada this year, and the 20th birthday of Varley Art Gallery. When I think of the Varley, I can’t help but imagine how different my life in Canada would be if I hadn’t come across it.