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Featuring the best of local, Indigenous, and local Indigenous artisans: The RMG Shop

Located within the lobby of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG) in downtown Oshawa, the RMG Shop is stocked with unique and one-of-a-kind handmade artisanal products from across Ontario. They’ve also got a wide selection of Indigenous-designed and crafted jewellery, homewares, and gifts! We’re delighted to have the RMG Shop on the Shop Durham Region Online Marketplace, and even more thrilled to learn more about them in this Vendor Spotlight.  

We caught up with Erin Messier, Visitor Engagement Assistant at the RMG, to talk to us a bit about the gallery and their awesome gift shop. Erin has worked at the RMG for over three years. Her role at the gallery is to act as the primary point of contact for visitors, which could mean answering questions, helping run the RMG Shop, or writing and delivering exhibition tours. 

For those who may be unfamiliar, what’s the story behind the RMG? 

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG) was founded in 1967 with the support of Ewart McLaughlin and his wife, Margaret (famed Canadian painter, Alexandra Luke). The pair offered major financial support, as well as works from their own private collection, to create the foundation of an expanded public art gallery for the City of Oshawa. In 1987, well-known Canadian architect, Arthur Erickson, was commissioned to expand the gallery; the addition added 36,000 square feet to the building and incorporated more natural light and materials into the structure.

Since it was established, the RMG has continued to collect works that tell the story of abstract art in Canada, with an emphasis being placed on the works of Canada’s first abstract art collective, Painters Eleven.

As Durham Region's largest art gallery, the RMG has a permanent collection of over 4,500 works. What are your favourite works from the collection and can you tell us a bit about them?

One of my favourite works from the collection is a painting by P11 member Ray Mead called Goddess Missed, which was on display when I first started at the RMG. I learned that it was inspired by the artist’s trip to see a highly sought after painting, only when he arrived at the gallery, the work wasn’t on display. The strange thing was that guests were still surrounding the area that the painting normally hung, marvelling at the wire that was used to hang the piece, as if they thought that this was an installation. I love this painting and the story because it goes to show that once you walk into an art gallery you’re encouraged to look at everything as if it’s art. I think this is a lesson that we can carry with us into our daily lives, because there is beauty and intention surrounding us all the time, so long as we open our eyes to it.

What can you tell us about the RMG Shop and some of the products you carry? What product would you say is most popular? 

The RMG Shop carries local, Indigenous, and local Indigenous products. The types of products that we carry include books, jewellery, stationery, activities, apparel and so much more. Probably the most popular vendor that we carry is AIDE Bodycare, which is owned by local artisan Michelle Treen. AIDE makes handmade soap with natural ingredients, which not only make your skin feel incredible, but smells amazing!

The shop is stocked with unique items from local artisans and craftspeople. Can you share some of your local favourites and the story behind their products?

One of my favourite artisans in the Shop is a jeweller named Kyla Vitek, a metalsmith who explores the outdoors to find things like maple keys, cedar boughs, tulip stamens and other natural elements that she uses as casts for her jewellery. She uses these natural elements and a practice called organic casting to create a mould that can be filled with molten silver to create nature inspired pieces of jewellery. I love Kyla’s work because it takes an incredible amount of skill, practice and patience to create the works and I think it’s a beautiful way to immortalize natural elements that are otherwise so delicate and fragile. 

Can you tell us a bit about your Indigenous designed products and collections?

Through the RMG Shop’s business model, we are not only providing financial support to Indigenous creators, but we are also actively giving the artisans the recognition they deserve and upholding their place in the RMG Shop. This talent can come in many different forms, so at the RMG Shop we have items such as books, maple syrup, and jewellery. 

Revenue from every tax-free purchase made through the RMG Shop not only helps to support artisans and craftspeople, but also goes towards funding free community programs such as RMG Fridays. For those who don’t know, what are RMG Fridays and OPG Sundays?

Prior to the pandemic, RMG Fridays were a highlight of the events calendar in Oshawa and Durham every month. Taking place on the first Friday of the month from 7:00 - 10:00 p.m., these free community events were designed for all ages and featured live music in our Permanent Collection gallery, a short film screening courtesy of DRIFF (Durham Region International Film Festival), a studio activity from our Learning & Engagement team, and food from various small businesses in downtown Oshawa. RMG Fridays will be returning April 1 and will include a guided tour of the RMG, live music, and a film screening down the street at the Biltmore Theatre. 

OPG Sundays is also a monthly series where, on the Second Sunday of every month, families are invited to creatively engage with our collections and exhibitions. Activities are developed to suit a wide range of age groups and correspond with one of the exhibitions that is currently on display, allowing visitors a chance to engage more directly with themes and methods of creating! 

What are some other ways the RMG engages with the community and what kind of impact would you like to have on locals? 

The RMG partners with the local community in several ways, including exhibitions, events such as RMG Fridays, or our “Camp in a Box” program, which last summer provided 500 camp boxes filled with art, science, food-related, and physical activities to families in need. In the past, we partnered with the Community Development Council Durham on an exhibition called “Community Connections,” which highlighted the experiences of newcomers and immigrants in Durham Region. In our Gallery A space, we are currently showcasing an exhibition that follows a partnership between the RMG and the Womxn of Colour Durham Collective (WOCDC), which is a youth-led organization in Durham Region that is run by, for, and with Black, Indigenous, and other self-identified Womxn of Colour (BIWoC).

Our goal as a gallery is to bring together people from diverse backgrounds to engage with art that inspires new perspectives, generates meaningful conversations and creates a sense of belonging.

With the Gallery now open again, what can people look forward to? Is there anything you can share about current and upcoming exhibitions?

We hope people are looking forward to the return of RMG Fridays! For exhibitions, we currently have on display a fantastic show called Like the Winter Snow Kills the Grass, the Summer Sun Revives it, which brings together seven artists and celebrates and centres Indigenous language revitalization and ways of knowing. This show is on view until April 17, but if you aren’t able to get out to the gallery, there will be two tours that will be delivered virtually for audiences and those dates will be announced soon on our social media platforms. We also have an exciting show opening on April 9 titled Elemental: Oceanic which is part of an expanded, multi-venue retrospective and collaborative publication celebrating the career of Canadian artist, Tim Whiten.

What’s something that most people would be surprised to know about the RMG Shop?

I think many people are surprised when they walk into the RMG Shop to see what their community is capable of creating. People are often pleasantly surprised to see that someone who might live around the corner from them is an amazing metalsmith or glass artist and that they have an opportunity to support and celebrate those talents.

At Shop Durham Region we believe our business community is stronger together. What are a few of your favourite Durham-based businesses? Do you have any favourite local artists?

I have a few different favourite Durham-based businesses, so for self-care, I love AIDE Bodycare. For food, my go-to is Mathilda’s and coffee is a toss up between Aves Coffee Co. or Isabella’s. My favourite local artist is Amy Shackleton, who currently has a mural on display at the Oshawa Centre!

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the RMG Shop?

The Shop has social media! Check out the RMG Shop Instagram (@theRMGShop) for regular postings about what we are up to, new products, sales, and more. 

Be sure to check out the newly added Kyla Vitek Jewellery Collection from the RMG Shop on the Shop Durham Region Online Marketplace.