Pynelogs 95th Birthday Article
ARTiculate Magazine, Summer 2009
Pynelogs is 95 years old this year – let’s have a party!
A lovingly restored home and grounds on the shores of Lake Windermere is the showpiece art gallery and administrative centre for the Columbia Valley Arts Council. Pynelogs has had a storied existence, and CV Arts has chosen 2009 as the year to celebrate this building’s amazing history and highlight its current role as a regional arts centre.
In 1914 Robert Randolph Bruce, a Scottish-born CPR surveyor who fell in love with the ‘Happy Valley’, built a magnificent log home on the shores of Lake Windermere for his new bride, Lady Elizabeth Northcote. He called the house and surrounding gardens Pynelogs. Lady Elizabeth passed away before she could move in, but Bruce lived there until his appointment as BC’s Lieutenant Governor in 1926. In 1936 he donated the property to the town of Invermere.
Pynelogs served as the Lady Elizabeth Bruce Memorial Hospital until 1955, housing 11 beds and treating everything from flu epidemics to meningitis. Many of today’s older Invermere residents were born in the 2-bed maternity ward. In 1961 Pynelogs became a seniors home, then a home for the mentally handicapped. By 1989 it was abandoned, decrepit, and reputedly haunted. In the words of one town councillor, “We’d do better to burn it down.”
Some local artists came back from a visit to Mexico impressed and inspired by the sight of town squares serving as the heart of their communities. Town squares provided a space for the arts, cultural celebrations, and public meetings. They realized that Invermere needed such a cultural heart. They took over management of Pynelogs and began hosting musical events, arts cafes and festivals. The community responded, providing volunteer hours and fundraising to bring the old building into serviceable shape.
It was good, but not good enough. By the early 2000’s it was plain that Invermere needed a dedicated arts centre, CV Arts needed a home base, and Pynelogs needed a major facelift. CV Arts spearheaded an unprecedented fundraising campaign, and in 2005 Pynelogs underwent a $530,000 transformation into a 21st century art gallery and administrative hub.
Pynelogs today is a busy building. Over the year it serves as: an art gallery, continuously running professional, amateur and student shows from April to October; a musical and performance venue, offering an intimate stage for everything from chamber music to jazz ensembles to dinner theatre; the facility for several community festivals; an upscale lakeshore café; a home for arts and crafts workshops throughout the summer; a popular rental facility for weddings; and the administrative offices for CV Arts.
The Columbia Valley artistic community has come to rely upon Pynelogs. A community art gallery is an incubator of emerging talent, says Pat Luders, a local sculpture artist who got her start at the CV Arts gallery. “Had Pynelogs not been there when I arrived in the Valley as a new artist, I probably wouldn’t have had the support I needed to open my own studio.” Her initial connection to the arts community, and the public, through Pynelogs shows gave her the courage to continue. Lynne Grillmair, an established Columbia Valley artist and CV Arts jury member, says emerging artists need a place where they can show their work before moving on to commercial galleries. Towns, she says, need a place where culture is fostered and encouraged without the commercial aspect that often goes with it.
Many Valley artists who now exhibit in professional galleries or have their own studios still think of Pynelogs as ‘their gallery’. It’s where they first got to see a full selection of their work on display for the public, received praise and feedback from the public and their peers, and found the encouragement to go on to professional careers. Pynelogs, as a community gallery, gave them the ongoing support and free exposure that launched their art.
Community art galleries encourage a multi-generational growth in the arts. Pynelogs hosts Art From The Heart each year, an exhibition of works from Valley schools. It is one of the gallery’s biggest draws, and many budding artists have built on the confidence given them by that first show. That kind of start is priceless; it has built a legacy of solid artistic talent in the Columbia Valley.
Pynelogs, like all arts organizations, runs on volunteer power. The sheer amount of volunteer and fundraising support that CV Arts has received to keep the heritage building running is a strong indicator of how much Invermere recognizes and honours its cultural institutions. The major renovations in 2004-5 involved $530,000 in fundraising and hundreds of highly-skilled volunteer hours to complete. The result is a fully-modern facility housed within a beautiful Victorian structure. And that kind of local support, says Pat Luders, means a lot to the artistic community.
CV Arts is celebrating the heritage and gift of Pynelogs throughout the 2009 summer arts season. This year’s Art From The Heart school show will have a Pynelogs history theme as inspiration; the second annual Tour Of The Arts in August, where artwork is hosted at studios and venues throughout town, will focus on historic buildings; and in September the Pynelogs Cultural Centre will host a 95th birthday bash, complete with a full Pynelogs-themed art exhibit.
So Pynelogs lives on, quietly fulfilling with grace and beauty its function as the cultural heart of Invermere and the Columbia Valley. Lady Elizabeth is buried close by, on the grounds next to the lakeshore. If Robert Bruce could see the latest use of his gift to Elizabeth and to Invermere, no doubt he would be proud.