Oeno Gallery at 20 Years of Age

Oenology, the study of wine making, separate from viticulture the agriculture of grapes, is a word of Hellenic origin: ‘oinos’ meaning wine. The science and art of wine making is as old as sculpture, music, painting, and theatre. The appropriately named Oeno Gallery, on the grounds of Huff Estates Winery in Prince Edward County, is now twenty years in the making, through the hard-work of a Dionysian-minded group of art-workers and art-makers, led by owner-curator, Carlyn Moulton with her life-partner Barbara Basille. Carlyn’s approach to their practice is rooted in sustainability and geo-regionalism. How can the business of selling (art) also have its raison d’être based on convergences between geo-regional place-making, eco-feminism, and sustainable development? Let’s have a closer look.


The consumption of wine and experience of art both have sacred and profane roots. It’s about the parts of our (vulnerable) beings, the place where emotion resides, the non-abstracted life of our bodies in real time, living through Eros and Thanatos. In an increasingly left-minded technologically driven civilization, we could use more art, and wine.


What does sustainability look like for Oneo? Sustainability and regional thinking suggest that we must not deplete one place to enhance another. Oeno Gallery, as a culture and community builder in Prince Edward County, not only supports regional artists but also works in tandem with other local makers, institutions, and related businesses that are required to make sculpture, painting, installation, fine-craft and monthly events happen year after year. Starting with host winery, Huff Estates, and extending outward to include other regional institutions like Research Casting International in Trenton, Pallets & More in Bloomfield, the area is rich with resources and talent. During our lengthy conversation Carlyn described the complexity of building community, beyond bricks and mortar, it is about direct action, through collaboration; an ecosystem requires tender balance. While growth is welcome for any business, what is also needed is relational thinking, which Oeno understands and practices. This is the way forward for rural and urban communities to build capacity and retain home-grown talent. In this regard the next twenty years, or more, will show us the fruit of this thinking, as new development arrives in Prince Edward County, I’m thinking of the scale of Base 31. The question is how to balance economic development without depleting the land or the people. Oeno and other players experience the challenge of maintaining a robust balance of diversity. The County is not just a playground for tourists, but also a place to live, in community. After all, community requires young people and elders, entrepreneurs, wise governance, collaboration, sustenance, and a combined aesthetic of beauty.


Looking back to Oeno’s first exhibition, called Light Falls, conceived and hung by Carlyn and Barbara alone, it featured works by several painters including an eighteen-foot long triptych by Toronto artist Marian Wihak. At the beginning, there were no staff to assist, just Barbara and Carlyn ‘trying to figure it out and having fun hanging paintings.” The year before the gallery was established, the two had spent time in San Miguel de Allende, and met Mexican artist Juan Ezcurdia. They exhibited his work in the first year, experiencing for the first time the challenges of shipping internationally. The gallery also showed Susan Collett – print maker and ceramic artist – featured this summer at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. Carlyn recalls a show that featured the work of Quebec ceramic artist Jim Thomson and digital work by Franco Defrancesca, both of whom were inspired by works of the Quebec modernist painter Louis Jacque, and his work created by bisecting images of the cone. The show was sadly his last. Louis Jacque was to have been in attendance, but unfortunately he fell ill and passed away just before the opening. Still, it was exciting for Carlyn, who remembers as an impressionable eleven-year-old, seeing his paintings at the Canadian pavilion at Expo ‘67.



The first outdoor sculpture exhibition, ‘This is Not a Renaissance Garden’, presented a series of works selected by guest curator Anne O’Callaghan, who was also the curator of the Tree Museum in Haliburton. The exhibition featured work by Lois Andison, J. Lynn Campbell, Shayne Dark, E.J.Lightman, Anne O’Callaghan, Orest Tataryn, and Robert Wiens. At the time the gallery was located on the shore of the Bay of Quinte, and some of the work was illuminated, which attracted members of the boating community. Jazz concerts held on the lawn as part of the PEC Jazz Festival, were also popular with boating culture.


At the end of the first year, they hired Chrissy Poitras, now the doyen of Spark Box Studios, and Ronika Dayton, two talented local young women who had just returned from a six week road trip and were looking for new opportunities. ‘We made it up as we went – trying to promote the artists we believed in and whose work we liked, and trying to compliment the other art offerings available locally.’ It wasn’t until Carlyn and Barbara were at their purpose-built Huff Estates location that they started to get into the secondary market. In 2014 and 2015 the gallery hosted significant exhibitions by all members of the Group of Seven.


In 2012, Oeno sold their first Maud Lewis painting, going on to sell many more, and were one of four lenders to the Lewis exhibition at the McMichael. The gallery represents the work of Milly Ristvedt who is still productive. Her 2019 exhibition of highway paintings from the late sixties attracted the attention of the National Gallery of Canada, which purchased three substantial works from the exhibition.


Today, the gallery hosts a stable of Canadian artists, take a look at the website to get a taste. At about 3,000 square feet Oeno is bursting at the seams with half a dozen workstations. Staff actually grew over Covid and more storage is needed to keep up with demand. Oeno shows us that the world does not need more insanely rational, hard-minded, absurdly platonic, non-lateral approaches to culture building. Art can be functional beyond utility. Art can bring people together, employ people directly and indirectly, create conversations, reflect the time, develop parts of the brain to re-create individual and collective balance, and of course all while having fun. Oeno Gallery in The County does all the above, and more.


The sculpture garden at Oeno gallery is the largest commercial retail sculpture offering in Canada and it is even thought to be larger than any in the US, attracting 30000 visitors annually. With significant installations of works in Canada, as well as the US, and many other countries such as Sri Lanka and Australia, Oeno Gallery is taking Canadian sculpture to the world.






Contact Dimitri via theperiphery.ca


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