While most people accept gifts on their birthday, Marion Armstrong gave a very generous one.
A donation of $25,000 was made in her honour to the Penticton Art Gallery on Monday during her 100 birthday celebration at the Hamlets. Integral to the fundraising and construction of the art gallery in 1985, she continues to be a driving force behind art culture in the city.
“Art was my life,” she explains. “I have been many things, teacher and so on, but art is just a basis of interest in my life. Everything flows from art.”
Her son, Bob Armstrong, said Marion was always a pioneer and independent thinker.
Born in Grannum, Alta, she was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Alberta. She was also one of the first white women to live in Yellowknife in the ‘30s. She later discovered a passion for art, learning from prominent Vancouver artists including Joe Plaskett, Tako Tanabe and others while studying in Naramata before she attended San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Marion was then accepted by the Montreal Musee de Beaux Arts into their five-year training program learning from the Canadian Group of Seven artists.
“My mother is a true artist,” said Bob, adding that she has instilled the love for the arts in each of her children and grandchildren.
When her husband, an engineer, retired, she was drawn to the Penticton art scene and they settled in the city in 1974. Marion then took on the task of establishing the Penticton Art Gallery which came to fruition in 1985.
Art gallery curator Paul Crawford said at that time the area where the art gallery now sits was seen as “the wrong side of the tracks in Penticton.”
“I think putting the art gallery where it is certainly was a catalyst for change,” said Crawford. “The fact the gallery was put down there helped revitalize the area.”
Crawford said her legacy will not only benefit the gallery, but the community as a whole. He said her donation is an example of how the gallery and arts in the city makes a difference to a lot of people
“I know your legacy will be felt well beyond today. To me, it is personally heartening that the arts actually do mean a lot to the community. We are eternally grateful for all you have done in the past and for this donation,” he said.
Marion’s impact to the community continues today and will be passed on for several more generations. Nicholas Vincent, president of the board of directors for the Penticton Art Gallery, said the building perched along the shores of Okanagan Lake was one of the main reasons he decided to become a resident of Penticton.
“I moved to Penticton four years ago and decided to stay in Penticton because I went to the gallery and met the curator and saw that Penticton had a vibrant arts culture scene,” he said during a short speech at the birthday party on Monday. “It was enough to keep me here and from moving to Vancouver.”