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The Muse

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The Muse

Art on display at the Muse - Lake of Woods Museum and the Douglas Family Art Centre. Photo: The Muse

Lake of the Woods Museum and the Douglas Family Art Centre

The Muse is the umbrella name for the Lake of the Woods Museum and the newly constructed Douglas Family Art Centre, which combine to form a cultural oasis in downtown Kenora.



The Muse —the umbrella name for a long-established, award-winning cultural institution, the Lake of the Woods Museum, and the newly constructed Douglas Family Art Centre—sits in the very heart of downtown Kenora, forming a vibrant cultural campus.

These two significant cultural facilities have blossomed from a seed planted many years ago by the citizens of Kenora , who understood the value of preserving the community’s history and presenting its unique culture. It was 1964 when Kenora Town Council established the museum.

Originally housed in the town’s former land registry office, the Lake of the Woods Museum flourished in those early years, growing its collection, cultivating community support, and establishing high standards in exhibition work. Within 15 years, the existing premises became insufficient and a new home was sought. In 1986, a larger facility was constructed right across the park from the original museum building. It provided a better-suited space for the impressive collection, for more actively engaging the community, and for future growth.

The award-winning Lake of the Woods Museum (the other half of The Muse) has been called “one of the coolest little museums in Canada."

Some 30 years later, another growth opportunity presented itself. 

In 2015, long-time summer residents Nicki and Bryce Douglas approached the museum with a potential donation. For 30 years, the Douglases had been collecting the Lake of the Woods works of Canadian artist Walter J. Phillips. The works in the collection included watercolours, colour woodcuts, and wood engravings, and provide a gentle and nuanced interpretation of Lake of the Woods captured by Phillips during his family’s summer vacations at the lake from the 1910s until the late 1920s. Phillips, a master watercolourist, is also recognized as the pioneer of the colour woodblock in Canada. Among his best-known and most-loved images are those of Lake of the Woods.

Flying Island, one of Walter J. Phillips coloured woodcut prints. This is one of over 60 pieces in the Douglas Family Art Centre’s foundational collection.

This was an amazing offer of a unique and valued collection, but the museum's limited gallery space of the Lake of the Woods Museum presented a challenge. Luckily, a solution was close at hand. 

Right across the park was the original museum facility, a lovely heritage building, with great potential to be used for studio space and administrative offices. Add to that a purpose-built space with two galleries, public areas, and full environmental controls, and the dream of a dynamic and active art centre could be realized.

The Gift of Art was one of three opening exhibitions at the new Art Centre. It included the Douglases’ entire collection of Walter J. Phillips’ Lake of the Woods works.

In 2017, applications were made to provincial and federal grant programs, and a capital campaign was launched to raise the private sector funds for the $4 million project. The creation of a “cultural campus” in the heart of downtown Kenora, with the Museum and Art Centre framing the City’s cenotaph in Memorial Park, gained traction as the capital campaign was launched that summer.

With the support of Canadian Heritage’s Cultural Spaces program, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation’s Strategic Economic Infrastructure Program, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, half the funds for the project were in place. The other half came from the generosity of local and lake residents (current and former).

By early 2018, construction began on the 7,000-square-foot addition. Designed by Kenora architectural firm, Nelson Architecture, and constructed by local contracting firm, Solid Construction, the building began to take shape in the summer of that year. Adding onto a heritage building is no easy feat, but it has been done with respect and skill, leaving exposed brick and stonework at the transition and providing a modern interpretation in the new building of architectural features in the existing building.

The Douglas Family Art Centre officially opened to the public in December 2019. Its opening marks the fulfillment of a dream of Nicki and Bryce Douglas and of the Lake of the Woods Museum to create a dynamic art space.

Nicki and Bryce Douglas cut the ribbon on Kenora’s newest cultural facility, the Douglas Family Art Centre, in late 2019.

Since opening, the Art Centre has been actively programmed with a variety of exhibitions and multi-week or one-off arts workshops for all ages. Family Crafternoons encourage the whole family to create pinecone critters or make faux stained glass. Toddler Tuesdays have presented little ones and their caregivers a chance to explore sensory art or winter crafts. Teens and adults have had the opportunity to study subjects over several weeks including colour theory, watercolours, and abstract art. Guest artists have provided instruction in print-making, beading, fused glass, and even beginner knitting. There have also been film screenings and Curator Talks.

As we look ahead to the spring and summer for both the Lake of the Woods Museum and the Douglas Family Art Centre, this is what you can expect:

* Due to the uncertainty of Covid-19, please double-check the Muse's Facebook page or website or call them at 807-467-2105 or email them to make sure they are open. 

At the Lake of the Woods Museum:

April 16 - June 11

Dakobinaawaswaan (baby in a cradle board) - An exhibit of over 70 cradle boards from across North America, on loan from Shirley Stevens and organized by the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

June 16 - July 18

Lake of the Woods Quilters Guild Annual Exhibit - A show featuring the amazing work of the local quilters guild which has been completed in the last year. Bed quilts, wall-hangings, and clothing are all included.

July 23 - October 24

The History of Ukrainians in Kenora - This exhibit will look at Kenora’s Ukrainian population and how they have shaped, and been shaped, by the city and region. The exhibit development is being led by a community committee.

At the Douglas Family Art Centre:

April 2 - May 30

Nindinawemaaganag: My Relations by Cassandra Cochrane - A collection of various mediums of work dedicated to the artist’s friends, family, and spouse with themes of love, growth, resilience, history, and identity.

April 23 - May 1

Kenora District Festival of the Arts Visual Arts Competition - An adjudicated exhibition celebrating the talented visual artists from Kenora, Dryden and Lake of the Woods communities.

June 4 - August 15

Phillips Interpreted by QA5 Quilters - QA5, a local art quilting group, has created over 25 textile artworks inspired by the art of Walter J. Phillips. Their works and Phillips’ will be featured in this exhibition.

May 28 - August 18

Beads of Truth by Ruth Cuthand - Featuring the artist’s quill and beadwork of enlarged microscopic views of some of the beautiful and yet deadly viruses and bacteria that were “traded” to the Indigenous people of Canada. Cuthand was recently awarded the Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts.

August 23 - December 5

Finding Phillips by Melissa Jean and selected works by W.J. Phillips - Local artist Melissa Jean’s newest series of paintings depict her hunt to discover the locations of Walter J. Phillips’ Lake of the Woods artworks.

September 3 - December 24

21 Pillows by Cheryl Wilson Smith - This interactive exhibition represents the ancient glacial remains of Red Lake, Ontario. The 21 pillows and over 10,000 handmade glass rocks are invitations to visitors to hold and place, creating your own wilderness.

For a variety of programming opportunities, whether it be speakers, tours or art creation, please visit: themusekenora.ca for the most up-to-date information.

All photos courtesy of The Muse.

How to contact The Muse - LOWS Museum and Douglas Family Art Centre:

Website: themusekenora.ca

Lake of the Woods Museum Phone: 807-467-2105

Douglas Family Art Centre Phone: 807-467-2201

Instagram: @themusekenora

Twitter: @themusekenora

YouTube: TheMuseKenora

Location (See map here): 

Lake of the Woods Museum: 300 Main Street S, Kenora

Douglas Family Art Centre: 224 Main Street S, Kenora

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