From her humble beginnings in a studio space no bigger than a closet, painter Janet Armstrong has built a vibrant and successful gallery that gives exposure and opportunity for artists from Cochrane and across the country.
“I couldn’t even put stuff on the wall, really,” Armstrong remembered of her impossibly small, two-by-three-foot original work area on First Street West, more than 10 years ago. “It was tiny, but you know what? People would (come by) and go, ‘What are you doing?’”
Out of that miniscule maker space, Armstrong was able to bear artful fruit, selling more than two dozen of her own pieces in less than two years. It was then she said she knew she could expand – figuratively and literally – into a bigger storefront. She scooped up the square footage around her and Just Imajan Art Gallery & Studio opened in 2008.
“I just knew that Cochrane had the interest.”
Today, nearly a decade later, Armstrong showcases more than 40 different painters, sculptors and more from around Canada on the walls of her Historic Downtown commercial gallery. She’s throwing herself a party on May 6 to celebrate that she’s “made it” as a successful owner.
The open house, drop-in style event will feature live music, drinks and cake from 11 to 5 p.m.
“It’s a challenging business – it’s a hard business,” said Federation of Canadian Artists Calgary chapter president Bob McCallister. “I think creating a gallery environment is cool, especially if it does create that connection between artists. Promoting the arts … in the community – that’s great.”
Armstrong worked in graphic design at Gulf Oil after graduating from the Alberta College of Art and Design, and taught classes in Calgary for years before moving into the gallery.
Her own pieces can be found in collections throughout Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom. The Calgary Public Library, the Calgary Zoo, the Calgary Board of Education and more have also commissioned her for work. She’s also been an artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre twice.
While Armstrong is energized by the outdoors and nature is featured heavily in her work, her gallery features artists with many different techniques and genres – something she said helps to challenge her own wide-ranging ideals of artistic style.
“It strengthens me as an artist … we’re all in different genres but we’re all artists. I learn from their work, they learn from my work. It’s just very inspirational,” she said. “Variety is the spice of life, right?”
She continues to take workshops to improve her own skills and also hosts a variety of classes for beginners to more advanced artists. She also paints live in her studio – now just a bit bigger than her original two by three foot space.
“Every day is a surprise. I start and I don’t know where it’s going to take me. It’s been an amazing journey … I think this little recipe has worked.”