There is an undeniable changing of the tide taking place in Tofino as Reflecting Spirit Gallery, one of the longest standing art galleries on the West Coast, is closing its doors at the end of the month.
Gallery owner and artist Signy Cohen attributes her decision to close up shop to a number of reasons: Tofino’s expensive overhead and competition from online stores being in the forefront, plus a personal injury and her mother’s recent passing ebbing the time she had to spend with the business.
“It’s like a relationship break-up after all those years…There was a lot of changes this summer. I needed to look after myself,” Cohen said
“Part of what I felt too when I decided to close, I was a lot younger when I opened up the gallery, in my late thirties early forties. Maybe it’s just time for someone else to come in, like that other gallery Merge.”
Cohen first opened her gallery in the early nineties in the building that now houses Chocolate Tofino.
She called it Signy Cohen Art Studio, and it provided a hive of support for Tofino and Vancouver Island artists.
“Through the years, I’ve seen artists come in as true beginners and over the years become professional artists,” she said.
It wasn’t until Cohen moved her gallery to 411 Campbell Street a few years later that Cohen changed the name to Reflecting Spirit Gallery.
“I feel that art is like a window to another persons’ spirit or soul,” she said.
“It’s not only that expression of that spirit of the artist, but when a viewer looks at it, it triggers something in them. It moves them in a way. It all reflects spirit.”
Over the next two decades, Cohen grew Reflecting Spirit Gallery into a true representation of West Coast art, showcasing over 200 local artists and operating the Kidz Art summer program in partnership with Tofino Parks and Rec. up until 2012.
Local artist and former gallery employee Jane Woodbury said the closing of Reflecting Spirit is a tremendous loss to the Tofino art community.
“You cannot replace 25 years of experience selling arts and craft, which is what Signy has. You can’t replace that,” Woodbury said.
While Cohen expressed a deep sadness in saying goodbye to her Tofino gallery, she said she is looking forward to putting more time into growing herself as an artist.
“I would like to thank the community of Tofino and visitors for all the years of support. A beautiful appreciative community to share art and culture within. I would like to thank the large number of creative people we call artists the gallery has known, represented, nurtured along with witnessing their creative transformations over a 25 year span,” she said.
“Thank you to all the amazing staff that have worked in the vision of the Tofino Reflecting Spirit Gallery, where magic happened almost daily.”
In 2010, Cohen opened a sister gallery in Ucluelet and she plans on consolidating her collections to this one store.
She said she’s excited about reinventing her business model to incorporate social media better.
“I also want to move away from the commercial prints and bring more hand held, artist touched work in,” she said.
“The art that reflects the West Coast will shine on.”