Art might not be the first thing you associate with Whistler, a small mountain village with a big Olympic legacy. A telltale marker of a creatively inspiring locale is the number of resident artists, galleries and studios that blossom there. And in Whistler, homegrown artists thrive as feverishly as the wildflowers that blanket its high altitude meadows.
Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane
It goes without saying that the relationship between an artist and his or her environment has a great bearing on resulting artwork and creations.
Whistler's natural environment is one that offers inspiration in abundance. Artists find it in placid lakes, glacial creeks, lonely summits, in old growth forest and in all four seasons.
If you’ve only seen Whistler through ski or beer goggles, you're long overdue to admire it through the artist's lens.
1. View Collections of Art
Admiring art in curated collections in an obvious place to start!
Audain Art Museum
As I approach Audain Art Museum I’m not quite sure what I'm looking at. It’s obscured by a stand of Englemann and Sitka spruce, but I know it’s here somewhere. It's just that I can’t quite make it out quite yet.
I cross the suspended walkway that stretches from Blackcomb Way to the museum’s cavernous entrance. Mid-span and mid-canopy, I pause. I feel as if I'm entering a futuristic treehouse. My imagination runs wild and I'm distinctly reminded of a Star Wars hideout. Designed by Vancouver-based Patkau architects, John Patkau remarks of his masterpiece: “The feeling is that the museum will be quietly inserted into a void within the forest.”
The timber frame structure is an architectural wonder that demands admiration itself. Patkau’s execution is sublime; the juxtaposition of a new construct shrouded by mature forest harmoniously marries angular modern design with the warm textures of nature. I'm impressed and I haven’t even inspected the museum's contents.
A friendly volunteer welcomes me, remarking on the ongoing construction. Then, as if reading my mind, she tells me that the schoolchildren who have visited in recent weeks think the museum looks like a spaceship. I nod in silent agreement.
Audain Art Museum opened rather recently to the public, back in March 2016. It is the vision of home builder, philanthropist and art collector Micheal Audain. The permanent collection housed here includes over 200 pieces of art from coastal British Columbia. The museum also hosts up to three temporary exhibits each year, produced in-house or received on loan from other institutions.
In the first gallery I am greeted by a splendid collection of Northwest Coast First Nations masks. Skillfully carved, they are decorated with accents of shaved wood, human hair and sea lion whiskers.
Next I admire the broad and fluid brush strokes of Emily Carr, drawn to their earthy and emerald hues. I pass through to the next gallery and discover E.J. Hughes’ handsome portraits of B.C. life, landscapes that connect me with my childhood on Vancouver Island.
The rooms that follow contain photography, modern works (including Butterfly Transformation Theme, a six-panel Jack Shadbolt painting), First Nations sculpture and textiles. It's a fine collection that offers a balanced introduction to Canadian art, sure to be appreciated by aficionados and tourists alike.
Plan your visit
Address: 4350 Blackcomb Way Whistler V0N 1B4
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. open until 9 p.m. on Thursday & Friday; closed Tuesdays.
Admission: Adults $18, youth 16 and under are free
Visit Whistler's Galleries & Studios
Audain Art Museum is hardly the only place to view art in Whistler. Here are 17 more collections that deserve admiration:
Adele Campbell Fine Art Gallery
Art Junction Gallery & Framing Studio
Black Tusk Gallery
The Canada Gallery - Ron Smid Collection
Crystal Lodge Art Gallery
Fathom Stone Art Gallery
Four Seasons Whistler
The Gallery (at Maury Young Arts Centre)
Howe Sound Arts Association
Mark Richards Gallery
The Plaza Galleries
The Point Artist-Run Centre
Suzanne Johnston Studio Gallery
Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre
Upper Vision Gallery
Whistler Contemporary Gallery
2. Make Your Own Art
Inspired by Whistler's alpine beauty? Sign up for a class and free your inner artist. Whether you have the artistic ability of a finger painter or you're looking to sharpen a technique, there are plenty of hands-on, artist-led workshops to choose from. Funny, the painting class that calls to me most is the one that involves wine...
Crystal Lodge Art Gallery
See yourself through Picasso’s abstract lens, painting a self-portrait at a Crystal Lodge Picasso Portrait Party. Learn about the Spanish painter and his distinct style before transforming your own visage into a colourful portrait under the guidance of a gallery artist. $55 fee includes all materials.
Facebook - The Crystal Lodge Art Gallery
Sip fine wine and stimulate your creative juices at a Wine about Art class, hosted and led by gallery artists. Pick up a paintbrush, share some laughs and take your masterpiece home with you at the end of the night. Classes run about two hours, and the $75 fee includes all materials and wine. 19+
Prefer craft beer to wine? Get your hands dirty and sculpt your own clay bear at a Beer and Bears class. Again, gallery artists will lead budding sculptors through fundamental techniques. Classes run two hours and the $75 fee includes all materials and beer. 19+
Find registration information here: crystallodgeartgallery.com/ongoing-events
Mike Crane / Tourism Whistler
Carve your own necklace, ornament, decorative Inukshuk or bear from local B.C. soap stone under the helpful guidance of an artist. Have a different design in mind? BYOI (bring-your-own-inspiration) and freestyle carve your vision. Drop in any time between noon and 6 p.m. Parents are welcome to drop off their kids; prices vary by design. Find complete details here: fathomstone.com/Art_Classes
Art on the Lake
Find endless inspiration lakeside at the Alta Lake Station House, no matter which medium you prefer to express yourself in. Workshops run through the summer and are led by talented artists. Classes vary in length and suit different skill levels, with focuses in sculpting, drawing, oil portraits, acrylic painting and silk screening. More details available here: artswhistler.com/classes/art-on-the-lake
3. Walk To, From and Between Art
Who says admiring art has to come in the form of silently shuffling between gallery rooms? Here are three ways to stretch your legs, chat with artists and see art come to life, literally.
Art Tours Whistler
Tourism Whistler/Justa Jeskova
Walk and talk on a guided tour of Whistler’s best hotel art collections, some unsanctioned (but totally rad) street art and public art installations. Three hours in length, participants will learn all about Whistler’s community of artists, be treated to some local lore and hear the intriguing stories lurking behind the public works pieces. It’s a great way to get some fresh air, familiarize yourself with Whistler Village and meet a few resident artists. $55.00 per person. artwalktours.com
Tourism Whistler / Mike Crane
From September 1st through November 30th the artists of Whistler will showcase their talents to roaming art admirers. Tour pop up galleries, boutique and hotel galleries, and watch artists painting and sketching in public spaces throughout Whistler Village. Admire art, meet the artists and shop local creations. More information found at artswhistler.com/artwalk
Whistler Culture Connector
Mike Crane / Tourism WhistlerPrefer to explore independently or at your own pace? Follow the suggested highlights of Whistler's Cultural Connector at your leisure. Print the map: artswhistler.com/cultural-connector
Related content on Canadian Traveller