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Mountain Galleries starts artist in residency with Fairmont Chateau Whistler

Hotel and gallery plan to bring in artists frequently, starting with plein air painter Dominik Modlinski

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There was a time when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) used artists in residence to advertise the beauty of western Canada.

The painters they engaged as early as 1880 would make stunning landscapes of British Columbia's mountains to show the people "back east," as an encouragement to take the new-fangled iron horse to see it for themselves.

CPR's president at the time, William Cornelius Van Horne, said, "If we can't export the scenery, we will import the tourists."

These new visitors could stay in the grand hotels of western Canada in places like Banff and Jasper. The paintings would act like a billboard does today.

The Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler is taking part in a program to re-establish such an artist in residency and its first recipient, plein air landscape artist Dominik Modlinski, will live and paint at the hotel for one week, from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.

Gallery manager Elizabeth Peacock says the current residency is a program that has rolled westward among the Fairmont hotel chain, following a successful program set it up at the Mountain Galleries in the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in February 2013.

"The hotel was celebrating its 125th anniversary and they wanted to go back to the idea of having artists in residence who would live in the hotel and paint for a week They would look after them, and the artist could paint the hotel and the scenery around it," Peacock says, adding that members of the Group of Seven took part in the early years of the 20th century.

"It was a great success. The program was successfully adapted to the Jasper Park Lodge... and now we are adapting it here with the view that it will be a monthly special event to enhance the guest experience."

Modlinski will set up in the main lobby of the hotel and guests and visitors are welcome to watch him work and talk to him about his career.

Simultaneously, the gallery is exhibiting new landscapes by Modlinski and Tim Schumm. Their opening reception for the show, called The Canadian North: Wild and Free, is on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Reached at home in Nanaimo, Modlinski said he would be bringing two paintings to work on over the week, both based on a trip he took with Schumm to the Mackenzie Mountains region of north-eastern Yukon.

"Any artistic residency is quite nice for an artist because the place to stay and the food is provided. All you have to worry about is painting, so there are a lot of benefits and pleasure for an artist, especially interacting with the public. This will be the biggest thing," he says.

"The two compositions I am bringing are quite large... I've been painting the Yukon for the past 18 years. One painting is 48-inches by 48-inches (122 cm x 122 cm) and the other one is 72-inches x 32-inches (183 cm x 81 cm). I usually work quite big."

This year, says Modlinski, his painting excursions will be closer to home, mainly on Vancouver Island and to Washington and Oregon. He has painted plein air in and around Whistler, Squamish and the Duffey Lake Road, describing the mountains here as "spectacular."

Peacock says Modlinski's tenure at the hotel would give them an idea of how well received the idea would be with the aim of continuing it throughout the year. The gallery was already considering inviting an artist from Whistler for a future residency.

Victoria Dyson of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler says the hotel chain is excited to be bringing the program to Whistler in partnership with the gallery.

"Dominik is known for having the ability to capture the raw Canadian wilderness, so being in the heart of Whistler at the Chateau, we are confident he'll be able to create something truly magnificent," she says.

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