Touchstones set to lionize late Kootenay legend

Nelson artist Wayne King’s artwork will be featured in four-month exhibition.

Touchstones Nelson will host a four-month exhibition of late artist Wayne King’s work.

Touchstones Nelson will host a four-month exhibition of late artist Wayne King’s work.

Touchstones Nelson’s new curator Arin Fay used to run into the late artist Wayne King and remembers him as a “flirty, sparkly-eyed guy who was always ready to engage you in conversation.”

Transient, white-bearded and Gandalf-like, King was a quintessential Kootenay character. At the time Fay had no idea she would one day be in the position to share his artwork with the world.

“Wayne King is one of those hilarious people who really capture what’s great about this town,” Fay told the Star as she prepared an exhibition of King’s work that will run Nov. 9 to Feb. 12.

Now she’s asking everyone who might have some of King’s work to consider sharing it with her.

“It would’ve been great to have had a show about Wayne while he was still with us,” said Fay. “I think he would’ve enjoyed it, the attention, and getting to strut his stuff. But like a lot of artists he wasn’t especially organized and he wasn’t the most self-promoting artist in the world.”

So even though the recognition is coming a year after he passed away in his 70s, she feels the attention is well-deserved.

“Wayne was one of the most prolific artists in the Kootenays,” King’s friend Dustin Cantwell told the Star in 2015.

“His work was split three ways between landscape paintings, visionary paintings and woodcuts, many of which had little aphorisms for daily life. My favourite was ‘leave no turn unstoned.’”

Memorial Facebook pages have been created and local events have been held to celebrate King’s life, but the Touchstones exhibition will be the most ambitious attempt to lionize him. Fay’s only just started the process of delving into his history and acquiring the work she plans to display.

“He’s just bigger than you even realize, there’s so many different facets to him. I assumed he was homeless, which it turns out wasn’t true. He had this alternative lifestyle and was really supported by the community.”

To many, King was a guru-like figure. His work reached across societal boundaries, according to local jeweller Chris Kölmel.

“He spoke in eloquent and highly imaginative prose, emphasizing the divine light, the magic and energy that fed his passion for art and life. His paintings and woodcuts touched the true beauty of our common landscape and brought that colour and richness into many lives and homes,” he said in 2015.

Fay recently replaced Jessie Demers as Touchstones’ co-curator after Demers moved to Victoria. She retains her other position as curator of the Langham Cultural Centre.

Her job right now is to locate King’s work and find a good representative sample to share with the community.

“The last three people I’ve mentioned [the exhibit] to have one. They either have one or know where one is. Most people in this community have a connection, somehow to his art. His stuff is everywhere.”

She also wants to hear more about how he affected local lives. She’s heard from multiple sources that he was a “sage dude” capable of raising people’s consciousness.

The Nelson Chamber of Commerce should’ve had him on retainer because of the lively energy he brought to town, she said.

“He was that wizard-like guy, out there sharing his wisdom with anyone willing to stop and listen.”