Hundreds celebrate Beaverbrook Gallery’s expansion

Several hundred people celebrated the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and its expansion Saturday, Jan. 23 in Fredericton.

The gallery held an Off the Walls event for families in the afternoon, followed by a BRB: Beaverbrook Renovation Blowout party for adults only in the evening.

The festivities helped send the gallery off in style as it is closed to the public until May for renovations.

“[The events] exceeded our expectations,” said Christina Thomson, the gallery’s program director and art educator.

Thomson said families attended Off the Walls and painted, created artwork and took in live entertainment provided by local award-winning children’s band Scotty and the Stars.

Christina Thomson, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery program director and art educator, said the turnout at the recent Off the Wall and BRB: Beaverbrook Renovation Blowout events surpassed expectations. Photo: Nathan DeLong/STU Files
Christina Thomson, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery program director and art educator, said the turnout at the gallery’s recent events surpassed expectations. Photo: Nathan DeLong/STU Files

“We had treats from The Happy Baker,” she said. “We had [American] artist Franz Spohn come and do marble mosaics and recreate The Starry Night by [Vincent] Van Gogh with gumballs, and we had graffiti artist Jason Willcox come and do a graffiti mural.”

Thomson said the events also included face painting, a tattoo artist and a DJ.

Willcox, a local artist, said several people had already gathered outside before the doors even opened.

“The wall was an instant hit,” he said. “Kids grabbed paint markers and went right to it. They had a lot of fun, and I had a lot of fun. I haven’t had this much fun in quite a while.”

The graffiti banner for Off the Walls hung where the renowned Santiago El Grande painting by Salvador Dali has greeted visitors for much of the gallery’s history. For Willcox, that made it even more special to be part of the festivities.

“To actually be able to do something on this wall in particular is going to be a high point for my life,” he said, pointing to the mural. “It’s been a lot of fun. Words can’t describe how much fun it’s been for me and how much I’ve enjoyed this.”

Graffiti artist Jason Willcox said he enjoyed overseeing an activity on the wall where one of the gallery's renowned paintings is normally displayed. Photo: Nathan DeLong/STU Files
Graffiti artist Jason Willcox said he enjoyed overseeing an activity on the wall where one of the gallery’s renowned paintings is normally displayed. Photo: Nathan DeLong/STU Files

Spohn, who travelled from Pennsylvania, said The Starry Night was created using gumballs by inserting them into tubes according to colour-coded tickets explaining the colour sequence.

“One aspect of this whole process I find interesting is you get a bunch of people together to put gum down tubes, and all of a sudden, you get this beautiful picture,” he said before demonstrating the gumball lineup.

“Kids, parents, everybody gets involved and they start putting gumballs down these tubes. As the tubes are completed, they’re put up sequentially so all the pixels line up and you end up with this pretty interesting and collaborative piece that’s been built by the community.”

Franz Spohn
American artist Franz Spohn, who teaches at Edinboro University in Edinboro, Penn., was pleased with the rendition of Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night piece. Photo: Nathan DeLong/STU Files

As for the festivities, Thomson said the turnout was almost twice the number of people the gallery sees at its annual Lord Beaverbrook Day celebrations in May, which celebrate the birth of the late Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook – who funded the building of the gallery.

“We usually have 300 to 400 people show up for that,” said Thomson.

Thomson said the gallery’s exhibits and collections were removed and placed in storage prior to the recent events so that work on raising one of the gallery floors could begin. She said that was done in a way that allowed the project to get ahead of schedule.

The public will not have access to the gallery until sometime in May, but Thomson said gallery staff will still work in the building. She couldn’t pinpoint a reopening date for certain, but she hopes to reopen in time for Lord Beaverbrook Day.

“All our programming for members is happening at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre,” she said. “We do a few classes for members of the gallery, which we’re continuing during the closure here [at the gallery].”

Through a $28-million overall fundraising campaign, the gallery is being expanded to include a café, new gallery spaces and a terrace.

Funds for the campaign have been provided by the provincial and federal governments, the City of Fredericton and private donors.

“It’s not just an expansion of the physical building,” said Thomson. “We’re also expanding our role in the community and the province.”

Slideshow and video report by Nathan DeLong

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