This is a two part story. Part one takes place 23 years ago, in 1997, when Al Stewart started a framing business in downtown London on Albert Street called The Art Exchange. It was a custom framing and picture exchange gallery. Fast forward to 2002 when Karen and Al Stewart purchased and moved The Art Exchange to 247 Wortley Road.
The Stewarts purchased the building that would serve as their home and business. Originally, 247 Wortley Road was 3 rental units, they then turned it into their home and business. “It had been, a bookstore, a tea store, an insurance company, and a wedding floral shop, and probably a few other things. We believe the home was built around 1896″, stated Karen Stewart. With the business in the front and their home at the back, it is every bit a place for art. Almost every inch of their home is filled with all kinds of colourful art. It is literally living in an art gallery.
Part two of this story starts when Al formed a friendship with Gene Lamont, the owner of 156 Wortley Rd.(c. 1886), currently Westland Gallery. Al introduced himself to Lamont, soon after the Stewarts moved to Wortley Village. They quickly became very good friends. With Al’s love of art, history and the wisdom of the older generation, Karen coined Al as “a collector of old art men”.
Because of Al’s tight bond with Lamont, their mutual love of art, and Lamont’s desire to preserve his beloved building, at the age of 92 Lamont presented the Stewarts with a “5 year plan”. Lamont wanted someone to love it and work in it for many years to come. The name Westland Gallery originated from a sign on the front of the building. The Westland’s were the builders and first owners of the building, which was a paint and wallpaper store called “Westland Bros. Painting and Decorating”. In 1949, Perkins and Lamont Pharmacy became the second occupants and remained for approximately until the mid 1980’s. When Bill Perkins retired, Lamont switched gears and invited the Hexter’s to share the space, selling antiques, art and his expansive collection of London memorobilia called “Hexters Antiques.” Lamont had a great connection with the community after running his pharmacy for many years. He knew everyone and knew all the history in the village”, explained Karen.
Lamont was very involved in the renovation and received an Historical Award for the restoration of the facade of the building. Lamont lived across the street for 42 years and worked in the Westland building for 62 years. In May 2011, Gene Lamont passed away at the age of 96, one year short of his 5 year plan.
The Stewarts purchased the building in late 2012 and the renovation continued which included removal of a giant octopus furnace that literally took up half of the basement. They opened up the space to create the gallery as it is today. Westland Gallery is a wonderful fixture in the Village where they host many art events. One of the most popular is the Square Foot Show. If you have not had the opportunity to visit the Westland Gallery, it is a very welcoming place to pop in and chat with the Stewarts and the staff and perhaps even purchase a piece of art while you are there.