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The Winchester Galleries in Victoria

By Robert Amos October 13, 2003

} The Winchester Galleries in Victoria Thanks to the Winchester Galleries, I don’t have to listen to that whining anymore. Whining about how impossible it is to succeed in the art game in Victoria. Gunter Heinrich and his partner, Anthony Sam, have proved it can be done. The Grand Opening Exhibition of their new, purpose-built headquarters on Oak Bay Avenue will be held this Saturday. The new Winchester is located next to the Blethering Place on Oak Bay Avenue at Monterey. The owners have developed two duplexes on Oak Bay Avenue, adding landscaping which is impressive in its own right. The eastern building is the new home of Ottavio’s Bakery and Deli - with indoor seating for 20. Joining the two is a patio, with gracious plantings, fountains and terraces just made for summer Sunday mornings. Big bronze sculptures - outdoors!- by Wayne Ngan and Elza Mayhew enhance the spaces between. The new gallery is on three floors, with wheelchair access to the first two. Entering off Monterey, an open, helical staircase leads from the Italian marble tiles of the ground floor, up into a main floor which is accessible from the parking lot at the back. The third floor is a skylit loft at the top, especially suitable for more contemporary art. Jack Shadbolt "Granville Street at Night" 1946 Watercolour 31 x 23 inches on show at the Winchester Galleries, 2260 oak Bay Avenue (595-2310). I sat down across the desk from Gunter Heinrich and asked him about the business. (In any discussion of this, Anthony Sam’s silent presence, crunching numbers in the background, is assumed). I asked about his desk. It’s a reproduction of a Louis XV bureau plat. Surrounded by orchids and fine art, Heinrich seems gleeful and boyish - "like a kid in a candy store," as he says. Without degrees behind his name or experience in the field, Heinrich came to the business from Nanaimo where he worked in the family’s wholesale nursery. "It was a good training," Heinrich assured me. "It’s very competitive and you have to work hard." Apparently, the passion for art is his own. The old address, 1545 Fort Street, saw the rise and fall of Kyle’s Gallery in the late 1970’s. Kyle owed so much to his framer that, after his bankruptcy, Bernie Raffo took over the gallery and renamed it Winchester Galleries. On Raffo’s retirement, Heinrich and Sam launched their careers by taking over the gallery at Fort and Oak Bay junction. From the start these two have positioned themselves in the "national league". To ensure public exposure, they place their ads in the inside front cover of Canadian Art Magazine and every week buy space in the Globe and Mail art section. A barrage of shows, changing every two weeks, is advertised with prompt, colourful invitations. A web-page documenting every work electronically opens the gallery to those who live somewhere else (www.winchestergalleriesltd.com). The gallery is packed for openings of contemporary artists, either local, such as Fenwick Lansdowne and Judy McLaren, or of national and international significance - Joe Plaskett, Claude Tousignant, and Molly Bobak come to mind. Yet the gallery’s success is built on a broader foundation. Heinrich is constantly on the prowl looking for art in the "secondary market". Victoria may be a hard city in which to sell the stuff, but it’s a place to which many people retire and are ready to "downsize" their art collections. Winchester has demonstrated a voracious appetite for Canadian historical art (W. J. Phillips for example), purchased both at auction and through estate sales all across this country. There’s more. Anyone who has studied art history knows that art increases in value after the death of the artist, if in fact the artist has established a reputation. But in this disposable age, living senior artists are often cast aside once their moment passes. There is opportunity in this situation. The clever dealer may represent aged artists of proven reputation, and buy their out-of-date paintings before their elevation to art historical status. After that, the family of the artist is often in need of someone to represent the inheritance. Winchester has worked with the estates of Anne Savage, Andre Bieler, Yves Gaucher, Jean McEwen, Don Jarvis and Jack Shadbolt. Considering the current level of business - the owners are never beyond arm’s length from their cell phones - it’s inevitable that the gallery will be handling more than Canadian art. The first floor is dedicated to European art and will undoubtedly be a growth area at the new premises. Heinrich showed me transparencies of three Van Gogh paintings he’s trying to find a buyer for. Much of Winchester’s income comes from selling things that never appear in the gallery. I asked Heinrich what he really likes. While he avers to a fondness for Canadian painter David Milne, he didn’t hesitate to take a goblet from the top shelf of the vitrine beside his desk. A tall conical cup of coloured glass was affixed to a dragon, whose purple tongue stuck out. "Salviati Family," he reverently murmured. "Venice, about 1900." There are three similar goblets on his shelf. In preparation for the Grand Opening, the gallery at 2260 Oak Bay Avenue will be closed Thursday and Friday. Preview is Saturday, gala opening Sunday, September 28, from 1 - 5 pm. Winchester Galleries downtown shop at 1010 Broad Street remains open. ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2003 Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B. C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at www.robertamos.com