Westmount Gallery Judy Smith’s Legacy

by Christopher George, Arabella Magazine, 2013 Spring Awakenings issue
Link to article excerpt

Westmount4The first thing you might notice when coming upon the Westmount Gallery, is its curious location, just off Islington and south of Bloor in west Toronto. Nestled comfortably among bakeries, antique shops and flooring stores is the large art emporium. The gallery is a cultural oasis, announced casually by a small, unobtrusive sign as well as a giant bronze sculpture of a towering grizzly bear standing totem-like, creating a landmark and beckoning you in.

Unlike art gallery clusters in major urban settings, parking here is plentiful and free. This important perquisite entices visitors to take their time inside, allowing them to get lost in a sea of solitude surrounded by an ocean of paintings.

With over 7000 square feet of area, the halls and walls are covered in painted works that span the genres from high realism to abstraction. Westmount is replete with paintings, large and small, as well as sculpture and objets d’art. The raison d’etre is great art with possibility for everyone to buy at an affordable price. The real attraction is that there is something for everyone, whatever their taste.

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The congenial owner, Judy Smith, is driven to help both artists and collectors; she serves as the catalyst that puts the two groups together. Now in her 37th year of business in the Toronto area, she graciously retains the same drive and verve with which she began. Her loyal customers continue to support her gallery, based on their respect for her delightful sense of humour.

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Of particular interest to Judy are the youthful collectors; the ones who love art but are afraid of the entrance level costs. Many people, the young especially, feel that original art is out of their reach. There is also a perception cultivated, unwisely by some, that ownership of art is only for the cognoscenti; galleries can thus become intimidating arenas.

On your first visit to the Westmount, you’ll find you feel right at home. You are free to wander about, lingering as long as you wish and never far from someone who will happily answer your questions. In this gallery, a simple creed exists: a great collection begins with a single work and grows one painting at a time.

Another benefit of having the business away form the downtown crowds is that the prices for works ar not driven by the high rents so common to urban galleries. What this means is that your buying dollar goes a long way at Westmount. Those who feel they can’t aford a work often find that ownership is easy through the individual payment schedule that Judy is happy to personalize. The artist, though, is not left with monthly payments. Smith pays him/her in full up on the agreement of purchase, thus assuming the financial obligation herself.

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Westmount is well-supplied with work by gifted contemporary Canadian artists, such as Peter Colbert, Karola Steinbrecher, Dick Marvin, Robert Amirault, Anthony Batten, Johannes Boots, Vadim Dolgov, Douglas Edwards, C.A. Henry, John Joy, Moustafa Keyhani, Douglas Laird, Lorenzo Fracchetti, Wayne Mondok, Alan Sakhavarz, Olaf Schneider, Gerry Sevier, Momo Simic, Richard Stanley, Edward Xu and the now internationally famous, Mian Situ.

A good number of the artists Judy represents have come through her door as new Canadians, looking for assistance in getting a start. Blessed with a trained eye for talent, Judy has taken on painters who had the ability but few other options.

Artist Mian Situ’s story has been repeated over and again at Westmount. Enabled by Smith’s generosity and willingness to take a chance on a talented but unconnected newcomer, Situ’s success became a reality. A Chinese immigrant who arrived in Vancouver, Situ moved to Toronto after he got his start with Judy. His paintings, which depict life in rural China and capture the beauty and dignity of the people, sold well enough for him to prosper.