Assistant Curator at JNAAG Sonya Blazek at unveiling of York Wilson exhibit Mar. 23, 2017 (Photo by Meghan Bond)

Imperial Donation Inspires New Art Gallery Exhibit

A new exhibition was unveiled at Sarnia’s Judith Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG) Thursday featuring York Wilson artwork donated by Imperial Oil in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The six sketches and two cartoons are part of the company’s nationwide initiative to donate about $6-million worth of art and art sale proceeds to museums, galleries and the United Way.

“It’s great to have a history of oil here in Lambton County,” says Imperial Sarnia plant manager Dave Luecke. “We all live in a community, and it makes a stronger community when you can have art for people to see, enrich their lives, and give them a different view on things. We are really pleased to bring home an important piece of Canadian history.”

Imperial has been collecting Canadian art for over 70 years to support the Canadian art community as well as provide visual arts for employees.

The exhibition shows how Wilson created a mural for Imperial Oil headquarters in Toronto, which was painted in 1957. It took two years of preparation and six months to complete using 45 gallons of paint.

Theories also leave many to believe that Sarnia played a role in the process of creating the mural.

“We believe as York Wilson was developing the final formula for the paint, that he partnered with the Imperial research lab to test the pigment to ensure that it could withstand years of wear and also remain vibrant,” explains Sonya Blazek, assistant curator of the JNAAG. “At that time, the Imperial research lab was located in Sarnia. We have no definitive proof yet, but we believe there is a connection.”

Blazek says there is a lot of symbolism within the mural that is 32 ft long and 21 ft high.

“The whole right panel is dedicated to showing the advancement of technology,” she says. “For example, we start off with a hot air balloon which is very basic aviation, then we move into a blimp, then to an Avro Arrow which is a plane.”

Lambton County Warden Bill Weber says the county is honoured to receive the tremendous artistic donation.

“I encourage residents of the county to get here and see this,” says Weber. “I feel what has been given to the gallery is certainly an asset that everyone should enjoy.”

The exhibition called “York Wilson: The Story of Oil-A Partnership Between Art & Industry” opened Thursday and runs until April 23, 2017.

It is the first of four in JNAAGs Share the Passion: Gifts of Art series to be on display until August 17, 2017.

Wilson’s final mural still exists in the former lobby of the Toronto Imperial building, located at 111 St. Clair Ave. W.

-Written by Meghan Bond (Fanshawe College Intern)