Historic Hat Creek Ranch is launching a new venture this season, and is in the process of converting its gift shop — which opened in a purpose-built building in 2017 — into an Artisan Gallery that will showcase the original works of artists and artisans from the local region and throughout B.C.
The project is being guided by artist and photographer Samantha (Sam) Watters, the site’s new Artisan Gallery Coordinator, who is currently based in Quesnel but is looking to move to the area as soon as she finds a suitable place.
“I’ve been involved with art for so long I can’t remember when I wasn’t,” she says. In fact, she heard about the Artisan Gallery Coordinator position from someone she was in school with in Grade 7 in Ontario.
“They saw the ad for the position on Facebook, saying that Hat Creek was looking for an art gallery coordinator, and sent me the ad, saying ‘This is you.’”
Until this year the gift shop — which replaced an earlier shop on the second floor of the building which houses the restaurant — was a store where tourists and campers could buy knick-knacks. Watters says that they’ll be using the existing building and turning it into an art gallery and art display area.
“Most of the work will be for sale. There might be the odd time that we’re doing a feature artist presentation and items won’t be for sale, but most of the art and crafts will be for sale to general public.”
She adds that they’re trying not to make it so that the site features 15 x 20-inch canvases that people can’t easily take home with them.
“We’re looking for pieces that are easy to transport and geared to different budgets. There will be postcards and art cards in the $5 range and prints of paintings. It isn’t going to be pieces worth thousands of dollars, but will be one-of-a-kind artwork that is within normal people’s grasp. And while the plan is to feature a lot of First Nations work, the gallery is open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists alike.
“There will be a large amount of Indigenous work: beadwork, jewellery, moccasins, drums, painted feathers, dreamcatchers. We want to make sure that it’s not just artisans from the Ashcroft/Cache Creek; we will feature artists from all over B.C., with one-of-a-kind artwork in the form of paintings, photography, artwork, sculpture, pottery, stained glass, all handcrafted.
“The mass market things there [until recently] will not be featured, only unique artwork or prints authorized by the artists. If you’re making a purchase, it will be something you can’t find anywhere else.”
Watters says that her vision is to make the artisan gallery a destination for individual and coach tourists, and anyone travelling through the B.C. Interior. She also wants it to be a destination for local people, so that they can come to the gallery for an event or browse through it if they come to the restaurant for a meal.
“Obviously this is brand new, so it’s a learning process for us. We’ll get feedback from customers and artists, and we need to be flexible and patient and work together to see what’s successful.”
The plan is to have a number of artists in the gallery at any one time, because of the need to fill it with different works and have items for the large number of people who come through. “We’d like to have a feature artist once a month to draw people in, perhaps charcuterie and wine nights, or local Indigenous musicians playing on certain days. We have that big beautiful patio now available off the restaurant, so maybe we could have paint nights.”
Watters wants the gallery to become known for being fresh and new and always changing it up.
“I want it to be a destination for locals, not just for the tourists who come through. They’re the money that comes into Hat Creek, but I want it to be a place for locals to go for a special dinner, where they can walk through the site, visit the gallery, and get to the point where they’re looking ahead to see what we’re doing next.”
She says that there was been a lot of interest in the gallery from around the province.
“I’ve heard from artists in Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, and on the Island, as well as from artists in the local area. I was the Art Trail coordinator for Quesnel last year and we had 89 artists participate, so I have a really good network and base to work with.”
The gallery is scheduled to be open from May 1 to Sept. 30, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but once things get going those hours could change.
“We’ll see what the flow of people is and then maybe do evening openings with the restaurant open for meals. After the season ends I’d like to have shorter hours throughout the winter, maybe have the gallery open three days a week.”
The Artisan Gallery will always have a showcase area for Indigenous artists, and will have a historical look in keeping with the rest of the site.
“I don’t want it to be different from the ranch. I want people to realize, when they walk through the doors, that they’re at Hat Creek Ranch, not somewhere else. I want to honour Indigenous history and gold rush history; all the history that’s special to that place.”
She adds that the position at Hat Creek is a dream for her.
“I’m so excited about this, and I have lots of ideas to bring to the table. I definitely want the restaurant and gallery and the rest of the ranch to work together as a team to make this go.”
Any artists or artisans who are interested in having their work at the gallery can contact Watters at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250) 457-9722 (toll free 1-800-782-0922) for more information and an application form.
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