Thursday, November 3, 2011

The opening of Manuge Gallery, Halifax, 1975

The first art opening I can recall attending was in 1975. I was a student at Saint Pat’s High in Halifax and my pal Bill Sigsworth was going out with a girl named Marianne Manuge. Her father Robert Manuge was a retired senior bureaucrat who had amassed the largest collection of Canadian art in the Maritimes.

As one of Marianne’s friends I visited the Manuge house several times. The Manuge’s lived in a historic house at the end of a long driveway next to Tower Road Bridge. The building was originally the home of Joseph Howe’s father and only narrowly missed destruction in 1912 when the south end railway cut was dug.

The lovely two- story colonial home had a long, wide verandah with pillars and still retained period elements inside. I can recall going there with Billy, Mike Campbell and Robert Abraham. Marianne’s mother Elizabeth Manuge was the perfect hostess for teenage gatherings and made sure there were always hot snacks and soft drinks for us when we visited.

But the most outstanding thing for me, that I recall, was all the art in the house. The walls were literally covered with important Canadian art. As Mr. Manuge understood that I was headed for NSCAD, he actually took the time to show me the works and talk about his collection. He had a dozen Group of Seven pictures in the house at least and a Kreighoff in the tv room where the kids hung out. I was not educated enough at the time to recognize his contemporary Canadian artists, but it was an awesome collection.

Robert Manuge had for some time been acting as an art consultant to several wealthy Maritime art collectors, most notably Frank and Irene Sobey and I suppose that lead to the opening of his gallery on Hollis Street. Manuge Gallery was situated next door to the Halifax Club, so the essential connection between taste and wealth, as a precondition for selling art was plainly made.

I remember going out one night with Billy and Marianne, driving all around south end Halifax and through the small enclaves off Purcell’s Cove Road delivering invitations for the gala opening of Manuge Gallery.

The opening itself gravitated between the gallery and the Halifax Club where Robert Manuge was a member and I recall I was really into it, I suppose I must have drank too much free beer as the night is a bit of a blur. I have flashing impressions of the ornate Georgian rooms in the Halifax Club and the press of business suites in the gallery, but I know despite my gaucherie, that I was perfectly polite and well behaved, knowing my presence at an art gallery and in the rooms of the Halifax Club was on sufferance. It was a giddy night though.

Sometimes when I go to openings now, as I‘ve been doing for thirty years, I keep my eyes open for the newcomers, not the art kids who’ve been dragged to art openings since they could walk, but the social jumpers like me, who might mark their first opening as an important and signal event in their lives.

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