St. Marys artist turns historic home into weekend art gallery


The new owners of a historic 19th-century home in St. Marys are opening their doors to the public for the first time this summer, but a glimpse of the past isn’t the only thing visitors will find inside the old 140 years old. building.

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The new owners of a historic 19th-century home in St. Marys are opening their doors to the public for the first time this summer, but a glimpse of the past isn’t the only thing visitors will find inside the old 140 years old. building.

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The Romanian-Canadian couple – visual artist Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu and his partner, human rights activist Elena Dumitru – also offer guests a glimpse into the future.

Or at least an opportunity to explore what that might look like.

“I hope it becomes a place of enlightenment, a place of relaxation and a place where you can find – alongside the artist – answers to the big questions,” Zamfirescu said during a preview visit- premiere of his new home studio and gallery space. .

Zamfirescu and Dumitru moved into the house about four years ago. Born in Romania – she is from Bucharest and he from a small town north of the capital – they met in the late 80s while pushing for democracy with a group of like-minded citizens after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 1991, when they felt their work was becoming too dangerous, the couple decided to move west. After living in England for six years, they immigrated to Toronto, where Zamfirescu began surprising his neighbors with the incredibly vibrant large-scale paintings he worked on inside their building’s parking lot.

“It was fun, but…we needed space,” said Dumitru, a mediator who now works as the national leadership development coordinator at Amnesty International. “It was time for a change.”

The couple considered moving to Stratford, an arts hub in southwestern Ontario, but were stopped short during a chance visit to nearby St. Marys. An imposing old house with a central tower, wrought-iron windows and an ornate veranda caught their eye at the corner of Jones and King streets.

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It wasn’t the first time the couple had been stunned by an old house. Zamfirescu and Dumitru were members of the National Trust, a heritage conservation charity, while in England, but they never thought they would end up owning one themselves.

“We saw the (for sale) sign and said, ‘This is our dream house,'” Dumitru said.

A look inside the historic 19th century Jones Street House in St. Marys, featuring works by Romanian-Canadian artist Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu. Zamfirescu and his partner, human rights activist Elena Dumitru, open their new home – which doubles as an art gallery – to the public. (photo added)

According to their research, the one-story brick structure was designed by William Williams, an English-Canadian architect who is credited with introducing the Italian style of house to Perth County in the late 19th century. .

The house’s first owner, a wealthy grain merchant named George Carter, gave it to his daughter Charlotte when she married Henry Lincoln Rice in 1881. Among the oldest owners of the house was Dr. Thomas Sparks, a local doctor who immigrated to St. Marys from Scotland and lived there for about five decades in the early 20th century.

Zamfirescu and Dumitru said they are committed to preserving the original elements of the house. No architectural changes have been made since its construction. Even the shutters date from 1881, Dumitru said.

“It’s breathtaking. We had no idea how much work it was going to take to maintain something like this. It’s a lot, but it’s still that dream and our thinking is, well, if we leave Romania, we leave our language, we leave our whole family… at least let’s dream big.

A look inside the historic 19th century Jones Street House in St. Marys, featuring works by Romanian-Canadian artist Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu.  Zamfirescu and his partner, human rights activist Elena Dumitru, open their new home – which doubles as an art gallery – to the public.  (photo added)
A look inside the historic 19th century Jones Street House in St. Marys, featuring works by Romanian-Canadian artist Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu. Zamfirescu and his partner, human rights activist Elena Dumitru, open their new home – which doubles as an art gallery – to the public. (photo added)

The house is decorated inside with period antiques, including a particularly rare table built by Duncan Phyfe, a renowned 19th-century cabinetmaker. Much of the furniture in the house recalls the 19th-century renaissance revival, but it is Zamfirescu’s art that offers the most unique flourish. His self-taught style of painting borrows heavily from great Renaissance painters and was developed over a years-long quest to uncover the secrets of masterpieces by DaVinci, Caravaggio and others.

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“They have this inner glow and (I) tried to figure it out,” Zamfirescu said. “I looked in books. I looked everywhere. They applied layer after layer but (the experts) have no idea what kind of mediums, what kind of oils they were using. With them, we have lost this secret. I try to find what was lost in the medium and to find this luminosity.

Hydrogen, by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu, is part of the artist's String Theory series.
Hydrogen, by Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu, is part of the artist’s String Theory series.

Zamfirescu’s quest makes his paintings a perfect fit for the walls of his new home, but the art offers more than a survey of these Renaissance predecessors. The gallery he opened with Dumitru, l’Art des Idées, also explores the other half of his artistic approach, that inspired by the greatest philosophers and scientists in the world.

On the ground floor of the house, Zamfirescu’s paintings hang alongside sculptures made with antique navigational equipment he uses to contemplate the rise and fall of early civilizations. Some of them have been creatively reproduced or repurposed with a modern twist. An antique studio camera, for example, has an iPad that shoots short story films.

On the upper floors, near his studio, Zamfirescu’s art evolves to consider both the fate and the future of modern nations, including the ripple effects of near-future technologies such as quantum computing and technology. ‘artificial intelligence.

Arranged in chronological order in six different rooms, the final section of the gallery showcases Zamfirescu’s greatest work – massive and colorful depictions of humanity’s potential journey into the cosmos. The work is an outlet for Zamfirescu to explore the future of our species, the impact of technology and the vastness of space, topics more often found in science fiction literature and films. .

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Artist Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu works on one of the largest paintings in his home and gallery in St. Marys.  Located in a historic 19th century house that Zamfirescu bought with his partner Elena Dumitru four years ago, the unique personal gallery will be open to the public by appointment on weekends until October.  (Chris Montanini/Stratford Beacon Herald)
Artist Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu works on one of the largest paintings in his home and gallery in St. Marys. Located in a historic 19th century house that Zamfirescu bought with his partner Elena Dumitru four years ago, the unique personal gallery will be open to the public by appointment on weekends until October. (Chris Montanini/Stratford Beacon Herald)

“I wish that more and more (visual) artists find their inspiration in science,” Zamfirescu said. “There is a river running beneath my art trying to figure it out, major and important questions. I have a feeling we’re not going to stay on this planet forever.

Everything is done in Zamfirescu’s Renaissance style, uniquely blending into its surroundings while standing out at the same time. Zamfirescu’s art has been exhibited in galleries before, but until now he has never had the opportunity to bring all of his ideas together in one space.

“Going into a gallery with all these ideas will be very difficult if you don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “Having him like this will give the public the chance to see him all the time.”

Zamfirescu and Dumitru make the space available to small groups by appointment on weekends. Tours – $20 per person – accommodate up to 10 people and can be booked online.

The gallery will run until October and some of Zamfirescu’s art will be available for purchase.

“We’re looking for people who love old homes, people who are interested in both art and science,” Dumitru said. “It’s ambitious, but it’s exciting.”

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