History & Mandate

The Gallery’s collection contains 3200 works of art including paintings, photographs, prints, sculpture and multi-media work by established Canadian and International Artists.

The collection began with an initial group of approximately 300 predominantly European paintings, prints and drawings acquired in 1885 as a teaching collection for art students to study and copy.

A few significant gifts were made to the Owens’ collection in the 1940s but it wasn’t until the late 1960s when art classes were moved from the Gallery to an adjacent building that the focus shifted towards actively developing the Gallery’s collection.

Although the Owens Art Institution flourished in Saint John for many years, in 1893, the collection was transferred to Mount Allison University and the Owens Art Gallery was established in Sackville, New Brunswick. John Hammond was transferred to Sackville with the Owens collection and continued to conduct art classes at the Mount Allison Ladies’ College as he had done in Saint John. The collection of artworks and statuary was permanently displayed at the gallery for teaching purposes. Several of the original paintings in the Owens collection are marked with brushstrokes of paint from students trying to match their palettes with those of the original painting which they were copying.

The Owens was administered by the Head of the Fine Arts Department: John Hammond from 1893–1916; Elizabeth McLeod (1930–1935); Stanley Royle (1935–1945); and Lawren P. Harris (1945–1973).

In 1965, the Gairdner Fine Arts Building was constructed next door to the Owens to house the Department of Fine Arts. Through grants from the estates of Dr. J.A. Gairdner and Marjorie Young Bell, the Owens Museum underwent extensive interior renovations to serve the sole functions of an art gallery with expanded exhibition space and the construction of a Conservation Laboratory. On October 20, 1972 the building was reopened as the Owens Art Gallery. With the change in function from an art school to an art gallery exclusively, the Owens hired its first full-time Director, Luke Rombout, who served from 1967 to 1970. Directors who followed were: Christopher Youngs (1970–1976); Keillor Bentley (1976–1988); Virgil Hammock, Acting Curator (1988–1989), Gemey Kelly (1989–2018) and Emily Falvey (2018-present).