Calling all Cowichan Lake artists! Do you recognize this painting?
If so, there’s someone all the way across the country who would like to speak to you.
Earlier this year, Helma Holmes, owner of Garrison Antique and Flea Market in Fort Erie, Ont., was approached by a friend with a painting she was looking to sell.
The woman’s father had recently died, and among the possessions he’d left behind was a large oil painting titled “The Old Floathouse at Coon Creek, Youbou… Cowichan Lake, B.C.”
Finding out the artist could potentially impact the value of the painting, Holmes said she would investigate.
“She was so overwhelmed with the responsibility of cleaning out her dad’s house… I kind of thought what I’ll do is I’ll try to find out for her what I can,” said Holmes. “Artwork is something really hard to trace, particularly if you can’t identify the name. Now, in this instance it was written on the back, but lots of times you’ll just have a signature and you can’t make out anything.”
Holmes has a closet full of artwork she’s yet to put up for sale simply because she hasn’t had time to investigate the origins of each piece.
In the case of the float house painting — which is 24 inches by 36 inches — Holmes didn’t just have a location, she had a name written on the back of the painting. Or at least a partial name.
“The first name is definitely ‘Henry.’ The last name is spelled ‘Perf—’ and I am not certain of the last three letters,” Holmes said in an email. “[It] could be Henry Perfret, or Henry Perfect, or Henry Perfiet.”
The deceased father of Holmes’ friend came to own the art approximately 20 years ago, when he moved into his Fort Erie house. Some of the previous owners belongings had been left behind, and because he liked the Cowichan Lake painting he kept it until his death earlier this year.
In her search for more information about the work’s creator, Holmes contacted the Cowichan Valley Regional District and was put in touch with Loretta Puckrin, an artist in Lake Cowichan and one of the people spearheading the Cowichan Lake Arts and Culture Society.
Puckrin said this is the first time anyone had ever approached her with a query like this. It comes with a lot of challenges.
“In this particular instance, the person could have been a visitor to the area and painted it. Not necessarily a resident. So it’s a moving target,” said Puckrin. “Also there are a lot of art classes [in which] the instructor wants everyone to paint the same scene. So if it’s a photo reference that someone had, and gave it to all the students, everybody would have had very similar works.”
Still, she put the call out to some of the artists she knows who have lived in the area most of their lives, including one of the founding members of the Kaatza Arts Group. Nobody was able to provide more information.
Puckrin, who studied fine arts at the University of Calgary, has extensive training in analysis of paintings and certain details in the work lead her to believe it was done by an amateur painter.
“In most accepted compositional you always [want] the viewer to come into the picture. You don’t block it. The two logs at the righthand side are very bold, graphic elements that lead you out of the picture, and the slanted [position] sort of leads you up and out of the image,” she said, describing the float house as being the work’s focal point, to which the artist should be trying to draw the viewer’s eyes.
She added that “all the rules of art are meant to be broken but just having those various elements there” led her to believe the artist had not received the technical training of a professional.
Puckrin hopes the Cowichan Lake area will eventually become a destination for vacationing artists. However, that doesn’t mean there is any shortage of local talent.
“I would say every second household in these communities has somebody who is creating in some medium. And to me creation doesn’t depend on the medium. So long as you aren’t following a pattern and you’re doing something original, I don’t care if you’re using bottle caps,” she said. “I’d say probably as a percentage of population, we have more creative people here than I’ve seen anywhere else.”
As for the painting in Fort Erie, Holmes said if anyone from the lake has information about the artist or is interested in purchasing it, they can phone her at 905-871-8384.