The Cranston Gallery in Lunenburg enjoyed a stellar year in 2020, despite, or rather as a result of, the COVID-19 pandemic, and owners Sharon Fox Cranston and her husband Guy Cranston were faced with a dilemma.
How to carry on with original plans to finally step away from their gallery at 251 Lincoln Street and out and into the broader province which they've had little time to explore, while also taking more time for leisurely creativity, when business is booming?
They decided to think outside the box; ironically, their solution lay inside the proverbial box, or rather inside their own gallery that they had run for 11 years.
The two artists are teaming up with two other artists - friends Lyn and Mike Smith - who own the Smith & Smith Gallery next door to them on Lincoln Street. As Sharon puts it, they're "cajoining" the two galleries into the one space at 251 Lincoln.
"It's still Smith & Smith Gallery; it's still Cranston Gallery, but we're sharing space in clearly defined areas," she explained, adding, "We're also sharing the time that we sit the gallery, which was the biggest thing to me."
The arrangement allows the Smiths, who moved to Nova Scotia from Ontario just prior to the pandemic, time to pursue their own interests as well.
"It's not a co-op, and we're not partnering. We're totally separate entities. But we're working for each other to do something that we couldn't do on our own," said Sharon.
Starting April 1, the two couples will be opening the door to their redefined space, with a plan that will see each couple alternating in working one week on and one week off.
To kick-start the new arrangement, the four artists are having a special draw. From April 1 to 18, visitors to the gallery can fill out a ballot to win. Prizes will include a bird sculpture by Guy, art by Mike and Lyn, a painted egg by the late Olympic skater and renowned artist, Toller Cranston - Guy's brother - and a small painting by Sharon, along with copies of her self-published art book, Lunenburg Confined.
Sharon suggests the book, which sells at the gallery, was instrumental in spurring overall sales there.
It grew out of a project she launched last spring. While COVID-19 rendered people isolated in their homes, Sharon began drawing the community together -literally, and one-by-one.
It started at the end of March when she snapped a photo of Guy as he created one of his folk art birds. She then made a sketch of the photograph, posted it on social media, and invited others in the local community to send photos of how they were spending their time amid the pandemic shutdown.
A nurse from Bridgewater promptly sent in hers. Cranston sketched it and it too went onto Facebook.
"I think the fact that the second one was a nurse, it just got so many hits, so many likes, it just sort of got the ball rolling. And from that point people just started sending in their photographs," Cranston told LighthouseNOW at the time.
Within 12 days, she had received about 60 photographs from throughout Lunenburg County. She planned to collate the sketches into a book, which she did, and the first copies became available last summer. Since then, sales have been "phenomenal," reported Sharon, noting that she has only about 50 or 60 copies remaining from the 500 she printed.
"I think that a lot of people who may never have gone into a gallery, or thought about a gallery, got to know who we were and what we did through that book."
The pandemic influenced their art sales in other ways too. Sharon suggested that, amid the pandemic, for most people now "their home is their safe haven." They're redecorating and fixing up their properties. "They're not spending money so much on travelling and going to restaurants and stuff, so they're going out and buying, you know, a piece of art for their house...
"It's been absolutely phenomenal. We've done some things online, but the response that we have gotten from people shopping locally has been absolutely amazing" said Sharon.
She sees no issue or conflict with the four artists selling their creations under one roof, suggesting their work is all different.
According to its website, Cranston Gallery offers a unique collection of artwork by "Artistic Relations....The art gallery displays acrylic, oil, mixed media, sculpture and objects d'art that inspire, excite and activate emotional connections in our diverse clientele."
Sharon is a designated Master Pastelist member of Pastel Artists Canada (MPAC), a Signature member of the Society of Canadian Artists (SCA) and the Pastel Society of America (PSA). Her preferred mediums are acrylic and pastel. An avid plein air painter, her focus is on the texture, colour and rhythms of the rural and urban landscape.
A background in painting and wood turning led Guy to create his distinctive folk-art bird sculptures. "Capturing humour, character, mannerisms and movements, each sculpture has a life of it's own, tells a story, and marks a fleeting moment," notes the website.
The website also references work by Guy's late brother Toller, who soared to great heights as a Canadian Olympic skater, painter, illustrator and lithographer.
The Smiths, who hail originally from southern Africa, suggest their gallery is one that "largely features and explores two streams of contemporary Canadian art."
Mike's New Horizons features lightly abstracted and stylized landscapes in oil on canvas," suggests their website, while Lyn's Rhythm and Hues is motivated "by joyful movement, compelling rhythms and the excitement of colour, a striving for balance between happy occurrence and imposed order."
The Smiths had opened their Lunenburg gallery just weeks before the pandemic hit and the Nova Scotia government instituted a virtual lockdown on the province. In an email to LighthouseNOW, Mike said the couple is looking forward to the new arrangement with the Cranstons, with whom they had been friends in Ontario.
"One of our main reasons is the synergy having all of our very varied styles of art in a single gallery for visitors - and it does indeed cover a broad cross section of work," said the artist.