The Cowichan Valley has always been known for its laid-back culture, Coast Salish roots, and proximity to the great outdoors. What visitors might not expect is that Cowichan is also home to many well-known and emerging artists, from potters, painters, sculptors and performers to Indigenous artists who often focus on storytelling through traditional mediums. As Donovan Rose of The Ou Gallery says, “It seems like every other person we meet [here] is either married to, related to, or is an artist.”
Unlike those of many urban centers, Cowichan’s art scene does not vie for attention. It’s not flashy or disruptive. Like the environment which inspires much of the art created within British Columbia, artists in the Cowichan Valley exemplify a quiet confidence and natural ease.
Here are some places where you can see, explore, and be inspired by art in Cowichan.
ARTHUR VICKERS GALLERY
1719 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC V0R 1N0
The Arthur Vickers Galleryin Cowichan Bay features many hand-pulled, screen printed scenes of varying size and subject matter, and all are best experienced in person. The gallery also includes several works made using layer upon layer of 24 karat gold dust; a natural material that results in beautiful imagery and art pieces that have potential to last for many decades to come.
Whether a visitor has the means to purchase a piece of his work or simply wants to experience them in person, the gallery is open every day, and it is certainly worth the visit. Learn more about Arthur Vickers Gallery here.
Live Edge Design
Wooden Arts and Custom Furniture
5195 Mearns Rd, Duncan, BC V9L 6W3
Live Edge Design is a commercial-scale woodshop in Duncan which utilizes fallen or discarded Western Bigleaf Maple trees from Vancouver Island and turns the pieces into functional household items, or as they call it, “art furniture”. Specializing in large dining and meeting tables, Live Edge uses giant slabs of reclaimed wood to create unique and custom functional furniture, as well as wall-mounted and sculptural art pieces.
Visitors to Live Edge Design can visit the showroom during regular business hours or take part in a guided tour of the shop and workspaces during Cowichan Artisan Studio Tours.
With a rich Indigenous history, Duncan is home to many public art pieces including over forty totem poles; one of the world’s largest outdoor collections of publicly displayed totem poles. Historically, people of the Northwest Coast would have a totem pole which depicted the otherwise oral history of their family, as a way of passing stories down through generations. The skilled carvers are not only treated as artists, but as custodians of this important history whose purpose it is to preserve the cultural heritage of their people through the creation and display of totem poles.
In Duncan, the display of totem poles has become a celebration of the close ties between Indigenous and non-native communities who share the land, as well as a way to beautify the city. Visitors to the area can take part in a self-guided, walking Totems Tour, made even more accessible in recent years by the Centennial Totem Interpretive Project which saw added signage placed at each pole. The signs tell the story of the pole from the carver’s perspective or from the perspective of their families, in order to further preserve the significant cultural history engrained within these public art pieces.
The Ou Gallery
Contemporary Visual Arts Gallery
3091 Agira Rd, Duncan, BC V9L 3Y3
Just a few minutes outside the downtown core of Duncan lies The Ou Gallery. A relatively new contemporary gallery with monthly exhibitions, events and an artist residency program, The Ou aims to showcase emerging arts while fostering a sense of community around the arts in the Cowichan Valley.
Aiming to be ‘more than just a wall space,’ owners Donovan and Barkley have a clear vision for this space as one where everyone is welcome, expectations are left at the door, and curiosity is strongly encouraged. As one of the few contemporary galleries in Cowichan, The Ou encourages artists to submit proposals for exhibitions that include projections, sculptures, and installations.
The Ou Gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 1 pm to 5 pm, and evenings when there are special events. You can find a full calendar of upcoming exhibitions and events on their website.
Round Woman Studio
3103 Agira Road, Duncan, BC, V9L 3Y3
Stepping outside The Ou Gallery and crossing a small, rushing creek on a wooden bridge adorned with twinkling string lights, visitors will find themselves at Round Woman Studio. Owner and resident artist Laurel Hibbert has filled the space from floor to ceiling with her own works, primarily medium to large-scale acrylic paintings and giclee prints.
Laurel sells her original art works, giclee prints and art cards at her studio, which is usually open by appointment only but is open to the public during the Cowichan Artisan Studio Tours.
Mary Fox Pottery
321 3 Ave, Ladysmith, BC, V9G 1A1
When stepping into Mary Fox’s gallery, it’s difficult not to be struck by both the fine quality and sheer variety of work held within the space. The array of colours, textures, and sculptural elements of Mary’s pieces evoke the landscape in which she creates; clay, glass, and local sandstone, to name a few. Distinctive glazes remind the viewer of stormy seas and whitewash, textures of the ocean floor, swirling colours, elements of nature and imperfections.
Mary’s studio is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 11 am to 5 pm. She is available on Sundays and Mondays by chance or by appointment.
Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery
Art Gallery & Shop
610 Oyster Bay Drive, Ladysmith, BC, V9G 1B8
A gallery space, workshop venue and gift shop, the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery is a volunteer-run community gallery with a mandate to support the art in all its forms within Ladysmith. Hosting a program of rotating visual art exhibitions as well as art workshops and classes, the gallery is a space in which art is celebrated, discussed and practiced.
The gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 4 pm. More information on upcoming exhibitions and classes can be found on their website.
Throughout downtown Chemainus
A stop in Chemainus, known as MuralTown, means seeing striking, large-scale, outdoor painted murals on most buildings throughout the downtown core. Subject matter varies from piece to piece, but many of the murals are a celebration of the area’s history. Many of the murals were commissioned and are now protected by the Chemainus Festivals of Murals Society with the intention to beautify the town, encourage art tourism and preserve important cultural history.
Visitors can pick up a brochure from the Visitor Centre which indicates where to find each mural, as well as some back story on each artist and piece. There is also a comprehensive guide to public art in downtown Chemainus (including murals and sculptures) on the MuralTown website.
Performing Arts Venue
9737 Chemainus Rd, Chemainus, BC, V0R 1K0
In the difficult years after Chemainus’ forestry industry began to fail and residents of the area moved elsewhere, it was artists and creative minds who took it upon themselves to revitalize the area. Ultimately a successful initiative, the murals project intended to bring artists to the area to paint, and many of them ended up staying and making Chemainus their home. With a high density of passionate new residents who needed to find more work, the idea of building a theatre was born. Not only would this create jobs, but it would give tourists another reason to visit and spend time in the town.
Several decades later, the Chemainus Theatre is well known as a destination at which to see professional productions. In 2018, the theatre will present Kim’s Convenience, Once, Little Women, Outside Mullingarand Grease. More information on showtimes and dates can be found on the Chemainus Theatre website.
Riot Brewing Co.
Craft Brewery, Performance Venue
101A, 3055 Oak St, Chemainus, BC V0R 1K1
Craft brewery, performance venue, event space, community hub, and all-round good time. That’s Riot Brewing. The lounge at Riot is open, airy, with lots of seating and space to gather with friends. They have board games, takeout menus, a licensed patio, and a kids-and-dogs-welcome policy. There are usually nine different beers on tap; eight of Riot’s and one guest rotator.
The Riot Brewing lounge is open every day of the week. You can find their hours and more info on events on their website.
Westholme Tea Farm
Tea Farm and Ceramic Arts
8350 Richards Trail, Duncan, BC V9L 6B2
Victor and Margit of Westholme Tea Farm have been growing, blending and serving tea in Cowichan for several years and were one of the first tea farms on Vancouver Island. The pair are firm supporters of an intentional, immersive tea service, though the experience at Westholme is not deeply rooted in any one cultural tradition. They point to history as a jumping-off point, honouring some old-school elements of traditional tea services with a modernized approach and exploring new ways to highlight the unique terroir of the Cowichan Valley.
The tearoom at Westholme offers an afternoon tea service (tea of your choice with sweet pairings), as well as a full-service shop for teas, brewing accessories, and Margit’s handmade ceramics. Regular hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm.