The renovations on Walter Morgan’s old workshop and studio down in Willow Point are complete, but what the future holds for the building in terms of community use is still somewhat uncertain.
The grand opening of the studio took place Sept. 20, serving as the unofficial kick-off to last weekend’s Art & Earth Festival.
Walter was the husband of renowned artist and teacher Sybil Andrews, and according to Sandra Parrish, executive director of the Museum at Campbell River, he was an amazing man whose legacy should be celebrated alongside his wife’s. While Sybil is celebrated all over the world – and especially here in Campbell River – Walter has been, in some ways, forgotten by comparison.
“An essential part of any relationship, such as that of Sybil and Walter, is the ability for two people to compliment each other,” Parrish says. “They were a prime example of that. They were, in the truest sense of the word, a couple.”
But Walter, himself, was also an extraordinary man in his own right.
At the ages of 53 and 49, Walter and Sybil left England for British Columbia to start a new life together after the devastation of England during the second world war. After exploring the province, they settled the small cottage in Willow Point, where Walter started Morgan Boatworks and got to work building and selling plywood runabouts.
He also worked for Elk Falls Mill for a number of years, worked collaboratively with his wife on projects like building rocking horses that sold through the Hudson’s Bay Company, renovated the cottage, building his workshop, and making easels for his wife and her students to take with them on their outings to make art. He was a talented musician, and played trumpet for the Campbell River District Band.
And he did this all with only one hand.
Well, not exactly.
“One of the first things that people always mention about Walter is his skill in using his prosthetic as a tool,” she told those gathered for the studio last week. “Well, that and his impressive head of hair.”
Mayor Andy Adams says he is proud that the various facets of the community came together to get this project done. There was a time, not that long ago, that both the shed and the cottage itself, were scheduled for demolition.
But due to the passion and dedication of the Friends of Sybil Andrews Cottage and everyone else who fought so hard for the property to be recognized and honoured, Adams says, that plan changed dramatically, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“What a fantastic legacy for our city to have the Haig-Brown House to the north and the Walter Morgan Studio to the south, bringing the whole arts community together between them,” Adams says.
“Sometimes we, as a community, don’t always agree with our city council and elected officials, but that’s just the nature of things,” says Ken Blackburn, executive director of the Campbell River Arts Council. “But every now and then, you get a success story that Campbell River should be very proud of and we should be trumpeting this community around the province for how everyone worked together to make this happen – to recognize the cottage and the shed, even in their state of disrepair and to realize the potential that could be achieved here if we invested in the property and promoted the legacy of these two people. Today marks the day where we have finally achieved that.”
Blackburn says it’s still to be determined exactly how the studio will integrate into the rest of the arts programs in the community, but he sees it as a positive addition.
“We’ll probably have some kids in for summer art camps, and there’s a possibility we’ll develop an artist-in-residence program going forward, but exactly what that will all look like is still kind of in discussion,” he says. “But sufficed to say, we’ve got some plans in the works.”