The art gallery in Lac La Hache, B.C. is shoved off to the side of Highway 97 between a seasonal fruit stand and a sprawling thrift store. The red structure, originally built as a church in the 50s, does little to inspire, and it’s easy to understand why so few people are aware of it. Yawn and you’re past it.
Then there is the name. The Magic of Q. Where the Q is headed seems hard to place. At its best, the letter has always been a bit unconventional, a bit Bohemian. Of the 26 characters in our alphabet, it is, after all, the most seldom used of the lot.
But it’s perhaps the fugitive nature of that Q that best describes the art inside, an eclectic collection of world-class sculptures, abstract oil paintings and the wire and sheet metal jewellery of local artist and gallery owner Sheila McQuarrie-Fenn. Against a wall, you’ll find cigar box guitars crafted by local artist Ron Johnson, a stone otter by international award-winning sculptor Roland DeWilde.
“Our religion is … exceptional,” Sheila says of the art she displays and the artists she represents. “I want people to see the art. I don’t care if they buy anything.”
Religion is not an off-base description. There is more than a gallery in the tiny space; there is something more intimate. Spend a few minutes in front of local painter Amy Cadrin’s Shaman, a piece Sheila commissioned from Cadrin herself, and you start to understand the depth of Sheila’s passion.
That passion is what Sheila followed after the 2017 wildfire and subsequent evacuations, when she made 22 commemorative pendants. Each handcrafted, each unique. Why she made them is evidence of who she is. “It was part of our lives, part of our journey,” she says of the fire, speaking for many Cariboo residents. “It’s worth remembering.”
Last year, a coffee shop was added to the gallery as a way to make the experience of visitors more inviting and, Sheila admits, as a way to draw people into the art gallery that nobody seemed to know about. Andrew Fenn, patriarch of the gallery’s spinoff endeavour, Q Brew, and Sheila’s husband, has a different take. “It’s damn hard to find a good cup of coffee here.”
The coffee is organic, free trade, non-GMO brew made with all Canadian milk, and may just be the finest cup you’ll have this year. The coffee alone is worth the trip, regardless of which direction you’re travelling from. When I mention this to Andrew, a wiry Brit who spent much of the last decade travelling the world on a 2004 KTM motorcycle, he seems genuinely pleased.
As for The Magic of Q, I ask Sheila why Lac La Hache. Sheila, who is dyslexic and no passenger in life’s journey of challenges, has a quick answer.
“I had my reservations,” she says.
“But we have exceptional artists in the Cariboo and they’re all hiding in the woods. In a disposable, throw-away society, when I see someone attach themselves to a piece of art I know it’s going to end up in a will, not a landfill.”
Her answer feels like it’s enough. Like it’s real. Like the art she loves.
Cory Enns is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Williams Lake. His recent stop at the Lac La Hache art gallery inspired him to tell others of his unique ‘find’ on his travels through Williams Lake.