Old Oak Bay High chairs receive artistic treatment

Take a Seat fundraiser supports Habitat for Humanity

Artist Miles Lowry’s painted chair

Generations of seats took a seat on the wooden chairs that populated the old Oak Bay High.

Today those same seats are re-imagined as artistic canvases for a Habitat for Humanity Victoria fundraiser.

The local non-profit organization invited 33 local artists to transform, re-envision or paint a chair donated during the recent Oak Bay High School renovation, says Yolanda Meijer, Habitat for Humanity Victoria executive director.

“I am blown away – we have an original Robert Bateman painting on a chair,” Meijer says.

From Jamie Joslin’s Marilyn Monroe-inspired creation Diamonds are a girl’s best friend to Irma Soltonovich’s Prairie Sunset, the chairs are each unique pieces of art, created in a variety of different styles.

Updating last year’s inaugural event that coincided with the opening of the new ReStore on Oak Street, this year’s event also includes a “People’s Choice” component where the community can vote for their favourite creation by donation, in addition to bidding on their favourites in hopes of taking them home.

“Everyone has their own favourite,” Meijer says, noting “the artists have gone through a tremendous amount of work. I think people have just put their hearts and souls into this.”

The chairs came to Habitat through Habitat ReStore, which sells donated new and used decor and construction materials in support of the organization’s work.

“Always on the lookout for donated product, we often work with hotels or other corporate organizations to obtain large donations when they are moving or renovating,” Meijer says. When Oak Bay High’s planned garage sale didn’t go ahead, “we took as many donations as we could including the chairs.”

Among the 30 creations are Oak Bay artist Miles Lowry’s chair, created from mulberry paper and pigment on wood and titled This is not a chair, after a painting from the French surrealist Rene Magritte and his famous painting The Treachery of Images (This is not a  pipe).

“When I received the chair I had it in my studio for a while just as a chair.,” Lowry says. “Guests would sit on it nonchalantly and the cat would sleep on it while I worked on other things. One day I said to myself, ‘This is not a chair, it is an artwork.’ So I started looking at it as a sculpture, as a piece of wood, a construction, anything but a chair.

“Finally I decided  to honor the tree that made the chair possible and covered the wood in a fine layer of painted mulberry paper that was a study of a forest painted with Japanese brushes. The chair in this careful process became a forest,” says Lowry, who works a variety of media, including paint, sculpture, text-based artworks, film, dance and theatre.

“Next, I took a solid piece of wood and fashioned a book out of it. A book of course is also made of trees. I balanced the ‘book’ on the underside rungs of the ‘chair.’ The final image brought me to a quiet place, a place to read a favourite book among the trees. A place to remember the trees that became the chair and the book.”

The chairs, which will be displayed at Mayfair Shopping Centre through Aug. 26, will be auctioned through sealed bid, with 100 per cent of proceeds helping build homes for local families living in need of a safe and decent place to live.

The organization recently finished a townhouse development off McKenzie Avenue in Saanich, and is currently on the lookout for land for its next project. “This fundraiser will get us that much closer,” Meijer says.

Learn more and place your bids at habitatvictoria.com/take-a-seat-for-habitat.html.

See more of Miles Lowry’s work at mileslowry.ca.