“Richardson and I, as directors of a kind of David and Goliath situation gallery on each side of the river, became very close professional associates and friends and he was very supportive. [….] We had some tough times even buying light bulbs in those days, but they were very, very helpful in a very practical kind of way. That continues to this day." (Kenneth Saltmarche, WPL, 1980.)
Art, Music and Literature
The AGW has historically partnered with other cultural institutions, organizations and individuals to animate and complement the gallery’s exhibitions and the permanent collection. The Library Board, which originally oversaw the art gallery, believed books could be enhanced by paintings, music, musical and speech recordings, films, talks, discussion groups and the radio.
At its opening ceremony in 1943, the art gallery blended art, music and literature while sharing a cultural space. In addition to the donation of the first art work to the permanent collection, the celebration also included a musical demonstration and the showing of an art film based on noted Canadian painter, Tom Thomson.
The activities held at Willistead by the art gallery were catalysts for the exchange of ideas and understanding and appreciation of the visual arts in the community and generated other cultural activities. Many social and community groups including the Windsor Handicraft Guild, the May Court Club and the Local Council of Women of Windsor regularly used Willistead as their meeting place.
When the Carling building was being retrofitted into an art gallery in the early 1970s, the design included a theatre in which films of exhibiting artists could be shown and a combination auditorium and gallery with a stage and projection screen where visual arts as well as other artistic expression could be portrayed.
Over the years, the AGW has collaborated numerous times with St. Clair College, the University of Windsor’s Schools of Visual Arts and Music and the Windsor Symphony Orchestra to examine and consider the vibrant relationship between visual arts and dance, music and literature. For example, Alone + Together was a recent visiting artists series presented in collaboration with the University of Windsor’s School of Visual Arts and the AGW
The AGW is also a popular meeting space that has served as a venue for hosting receptions, special events, social events and festivals, including Bookfest Windsor, a yearly festival showcasing our regions literary talent, and the Windsor International Film Festival, a weekend of screenings, exhibitions and activities to celebrate the magic of cinema.
The Red Bull Air Race events also provided an opportunity for the AGW to showcase a photo exhibition of the air race, featuring a flight simulator, photo booths and stunning views of the air race from the gallery.
These partnerships have provided the AGW with an opportunity to introduce new audiences to the gallery, ensuring that the gallery is an exciting destination for our community and tourists. The AGW became a window to Windsor when it hosted national media for the 2009 TVO Kids “Don’t Sit Still” tour and CBC with Peter Mansbridge broadcasting the evening news offering stunning views from the art gallery to the country.
The Art Gallery of Windsor is the place to view significant works of art by regional, national international artists. Art allows people to take pride in their own cultural identity while gaining knowledge, appreciation and respect for the art of other cultures. The Windsor and Essex County region is home to Canada’s fourth most ethnically diverse city and the permanent collection and touring exhibitions offered at the AGW reflect the region and the country’s multiculturalism.
Many exhibits have focused on artworks from First Nations peoples, the Francophone community and women artists as well. Important pieces in the permanent collection include Karoo Ashevak’s Untitled Inuit figure, Claude Tousignant’s Chromatic Transformer and Emily Carr’s Yan Mortuary Poles.
Detroit and Windsor
Just a short distance from Windsor, Detroit is home the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), a major American art museum with diverse international collections of art. While truly a magnificent art museum, the DIA does not offer the remarkable and unique art work accessible at the AGW: a collection dominantly reflecting the diversity of art practice in Canada.
Edward Chandler Walker and his family were great patrons of the arts. Edward, along with Willis Walker and their father Hiram Walker were founding members of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). More than patrons, the Walkers collected many important pieces of art work from the United States and Europe. An indication of the importance of the arts for the family is revealed in the plans for Willistead Manor. Built for Edward Chandler Walker and his wife Mary in Walkerville in 1906, it incorporated detailed plans to the interior of the home for the display of their sizeable art collection. At the time of Edward Walker’s death in 1915, he had given a total of 10 masterpieces to the DIA including priceless paintings by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Cassatt.
The relationship with the AGW and other cultural institutions in Detroit has historically been mutually supportive. When the Windsor Art Association held its inaugural meeting in 1936, Edgar Richardson who was the educational secretary and later became the director of the DIA, was the guest speaker. At other times, when funding was not available to bring in Canadian lecturers, the DIA generously supplied speakers for AGW lecture series. In the late 1930s, Kenneth Saltmarche, first full time curator at the AGW, took drawing classes in Detroit prior to enrolling at the Ontario College of Art. Detroit, at that time, was also where Windsor area residents would go to take advantage of music performances and art exhibitions. Saltmarche found that the Americans he knew had very little knowledge about Canada or the arts in the Windsor community. When hired as director of the AGW, Saltmarche cultivated a friendly association with the DIA. He felt it important that exhibitions and the permanent collection should be Canadian, acting as a show window for the arts in Canada and often sent the DIA exhibitions of Canadian art.
In a show of this reciprocal relationship, in 1966, on the 100th birthday of Windsor, the DIA presenting the AGW with Lawren Harris’ painting, A Side Street (1919). The AGW has also been gifted other fine art from the DIA, Archives of American Art and other American art institutions. According to Saltmarche, the DIA “willingly lent us everything from masterpieces of European painting to replacements for our burned-out picture-lighting lamps.” (Canadian Art, 1957)
Marking the 100th anniversary of Hiram Walker and Sons Ltd in 1958, an exhibition of the Walker collection was held at the AGW. The large crowd, including many Detroiters, took advantage of the close proximity and were able to view paintings by such masters as Monet and Renoir. The paintings, loaned from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, where they went upon the death of Mary Walker, had not hung on the walls at Willistead for 40 years. Throughout the years, many such loans continued, including from art collectors and enthusiasts from Detroit who were patrons of the Willistead Art Gallery.
International celebrations between Windsor and Detroit over the years have often been marked by an exchange of artwork and other materials. In 2007, when the DIA closed for renovations, Detroiters were encouraged to cross the river and visit the AGW to enjoy the art, a light lunch and even consider the AGW’s art rental program for displaying Canadian art in homes and businesses. Symposiums regarding the cultural geography of Windsor and Detroit between the two cities are common with our American neighbours joining in debates and discussions at the AGW. International events such as the Detroit Auto Show or the Red Bull Air Races have spurned exhibits that provide a variety of perspectives from both countries.
The AGW Biennial, an exhibition of diverse and innovative contemporary artworks includes artists from Southwestern Ontario and the Detroit region. In 2012 the AGW hosted Made in America, 1900-1950: Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada. In addition to the exhibit, panel discussions and lectures brought artists art enthusiast and experts together to engage with some key works in this exhibition from diverse perspectives to examine the discourse on photography today.