Pictou gallery owner followed her artist calling
Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
Vivianne LaRiviere describes herself as “a wild, Bohemian person” and she has certainly been a lot of things in her life. Waitress, grief councilor, retail worker, chaplain, musician and grad student (she has two master’s degrees and a doctorate!), and probably many other things besides.
But through it all, jobs she hated and jobs she loved, she’s been an artist.
Now, LaRiviere’s put that passion on the front burner by opening a gallery in Pictou to showcase her work. How she got to that point seems to be, like a lot of her life, both convoluted and simple. If that’s a contradiction, it’s probably a mantle she’s comfortable wearing.
Originally from Quebec, LaRiviere felt she had come to a turning point in her life as she was finishing up her studies to become a Doctor of Ministry, which she had begun at the age of 50. She was living in a small town just outside Montreal and realized she wasn’t cut out for general ministry, even as she wished to continue a life of service. What did she want to do next?
It was then that she thought of Nova Scotia. She had visited the province 20 years before and thought to herself, “I’m going to live here someday.” What better time to explore that possibility? It seemed serendipitous when she learned about NSCAD while googling art schools, and she had an application submitted within a couple of days. When she was admitted, her course seemed set. She would move to Halifax and pursue her lifelong love of art.
Then COVID hit. The college was happy to defer her entrance, but even then, she was beginning to have doubts about her plans. For one thing, renting a place in Halifax was going to be a lot more expensive than she’d anticipated. Was this truly what she wanted?
She was still committed to moving to Nova Scotia, but she started looking elsewhere in the province. Nothing seemed right until she saw a little bungalow in Pictou. She now believes it was meant to be.
“When I put the deal in, a calm came over me. I felt the spirit; I watched the sun go down and thought ‘what’s going on?’” she says.
LaRiviere did end up taking a couple of art courses online, but she soon realized her focus was elsewhere. She decided to combine her love of art and her retail experience, and several months after moving to Pictou, she opened The River Gallery on Water Street. The space is dominated by her own work. Her oil paintings are semi-abstract, with colour rampant and, often, faces emerging from the centre — she calls her works “moods personified.” That may seem a little unusual in a town where retailers rely heavily on tourism dollars, but as a tour guide once said to her, just because this is the Maritimes, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more than just seascapes and other water-focused work on our walls.
“There’s a lot of beautiful art in the country. I’m not going to paint a ship on the sea,” she says, adding that variety leads to a flourishing scene.
The gallery also features the work of some outstanding artisans, including probably the most comfortable rocking chair in existence — completely hand-crafted and put together without a single nail — which sits in a welcoming position by the door. Another chair is draped with Turkish cotton bath towels, soft and light as air. There is wooden tableware, smooth as glass and naturally patterned, and intricately painted wooden furniture.
The shop also carries books, vinyl records and a line of natural care products like soap and deodorant that LaRiviere designed. Toward the rear of the store sits a fish tank to help keep everything serene. And with a studio for working on her paintings in the back, LaRiviere has everything she needs for the necessary creation of both art and an income stream.
She says things have exceeded her expectations, as her gallery, her wares and her client list grow organically.
With no partner, children or other family, LaRiviere is free to do as she wishes. It’s how she was able to move to Nova Scotia on what might be considered a whim. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a feeling of responsibility.
LaRiviere has thrown herself into the community. For example, when Fiona hit, as soon as she realized she was personally OK and her house was still standing, she presented herself at the warming centre to volunteer. She guesses she contributed to preparing 1,000 meals over the next week. She also raised $2,700 through a GoFundMe campaign to buy gas and gift cards for seniors affected by the storm.
In fact, all her art is informed by her commitment to community. She sees it as a way of making connections, something she values immensely. And she seems to be thriving.
“How do we define success?” LaRiviere asks. “Sell one painting or sell 100? Doing what I want is success. This is one last kick at the can — to be my own artist.”