Alberta House sketch

Alberta House Hours:

Open Tuesday through Saturday
from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Alberta House History

1997 was the tenth anniversary year for the Alberta House Arts Center. In March of 1987, with renovations to the first floor completed, Alberta House opened the Olive Craig Gallery and the Alberta House Shop with a large, multimedia exhibit of the best that area artists and craftsmen had to offer. It was a momentous occasion and a beautiful exhibition.

Since that time, Alberta House has been open for regular hours year round, with one or two new exhibits each month and free admission. What makes this remarkable is that the Sault Area Arts Council, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the building, operates entirely with volunteer labor, is funded entirely by private donations, and is focused entirely on public service with a view to making the arts readily accessible to people of this area. It hasn't been easy, but the Arts Council has proved that it is possible if enough people want it, are willing to sacrifice their time and their expertise, and to provide financial support.

The Sault Area Arts Council was founded in 1969, a time when many art councils were being formed across the nation. Its mission was to promote the arts and one of the first large projects it undertook was to bring in Artrain in 1971. It held its first Sault Summer Arts Festival in 1973 on the Courthouse lawn.

In the early 1980's the council began meeting in the new Chamber of Commerce Building and the Chamber began providing other logistical support as well. This gave the arts council a regular place to meet, a place to collate and staple the monthly events calendar, and a place to leave things for one another.

Bev Honkanen, the Chamber Director, was there with advice and encouragement. Soon the arts council was using the chamber's mimeograph machine to produce its newsletter and storing reams of paper in the chamber basement. The chamber walls became a gallery for the High School Artist-of-the-Month exhibit that the arts council sponsored and hung. Arts council services increased because the logistical support provided by the Chamber made it possible to increase them. The first Annual Arts Auction to help raise the money to provide the services was held in 1985 in the Sault Area High School.

The City of Sault Ste. Marie announced the availability of Outstate Equity grants in 1985 and the arts council applied, receiving a grant of $25,000 toward an arts center. The search was on for a building, but the board quickly learned that even renting a new facility was financially out of the question and that the older buildings available required much more than the available $25,000 in repairs. And this is where we find proof positive that a lot of people, working together, can make things happen: Mrs. Mahlon (Robertson) Steward came to the rescue with the gift of Alberta House and the lot to the north of it. The Sault Symphony came to the rescue and accepted the house for the arts council until the arts council applied for and received federal non-profit status.

Architect Perry Short, whose wife had already provided much support and advice as Executive Director of the Arts Council of Sault and District in Sault, Ontario, examined the building and wrote up a report pronouncing it sound and worthy of renovation. Paul Wilson, Chuck Jones and Ken Hatfield measured every room and doorway in the building to provide architect and engineers with solid data. Ken Hatfield even sketched the building and included the sketch with the plans. (The arts council promptly snatched the sketch, and has plastered it on everything. It's the official Alberta House logo.)

The local wood workers guild, led by Fred Fordon, then moved into the building, examined every inch inside and out and came up with a list of necessary repairs and renovations, cost estimates and the order in which the work should be undertaken. Phil Bellfy, who was in that group, provided the basic plan for space use which was adopted. The City Engineers provided specifications for renovation and compliance with state codes as well as overall supervision during the renovations. Through all this the arts council was provided with expert legal and financial advice by local professionals. The 91st District Court provided volunteers who performed much of the labor and made the grant monies go much farther.

A second Outstate Equity Grant, received two years later, allowed the arts council, again with the help of the courts and the Eastern Upper Peninsula Employment and Training Commission, to complete the rewiring of the building and provide handicap access and a proper fire escape.

Three youngsters working for the arts council through the EUP Employment and Training Commission came to us during a critical stage. Their energy, abilities, initiative and enthusiasm made an enormous difference and provided a very welcome boost during a tough and confusing period. They were Joey Pinkowski, Dawn Wilson and Eddie Wall, who were fourteen and fifteen at the time.

Regular office staffers before the gallery side opened were Pat Claxton, Gene Usimaki, Mary Demroske and Jean Jones. Once the gallery opened many more volunteers were needed. Kyung Hatfield has been the Gallery Director since it opened. Gene Usimaki put in a long stint as shop manager and as office manager. Pat Claxton has put in a good deal of time managing the office and has also managed the shop.

And so it continues. Somebody must be at the gallery during regular hours. Other people during that same time period are running errands, writing newsletters, answering questions or hanging exhibits. Hardly anybody has much free time any more and a donation of what little bit there is always a great sacrifice so volunteers are tough to find. To provide services and keep the arts center open the arts council needs either many volunteers or enough funding to acquire professional staff-- actually it needs both. So it's an ongoing struggle.

Alberta House Facts

It was first opened as a railroad hotel by a family that came from Alberta and named it "Alberta House." The photograph in the lobby at the present time shows the house as it was in 1903, with a very proper bunch of gentlemen in black hats and ladies in black skirts and white blouses with leg-of-mutton sleeves, arranged on the steps, across the porch and on the front lawn of the building. "ALBERTA HOUSE" is painted on the side of the building near the front at the 2nd floor level, where an alert painter spotted it through old paint in 1987 and traced it so that it is now as it was then on both the north and south sides of the building.

Alberta House was owned for many years by the Robertson family, a family with a strong interest in art and with noted artists among its members. It actually was a gallery once, about 1969, and some of the artists in the Artists Guild remember meeting there when it was the home of Mary Robertson Wright. There has been a strong emotional attachment to the building on the part of the arts community and this has aided greatly in bringing in donations of time, art and labor. It is difficult not to enjoy its high ceilings, bright natural lighting and spacious interior. It has the added advantage of being small enough for an all-volunteer organization, dependent on small private donations, to be able to manage.

Alberta House contains the Olive Craig Gallery (now with its own gallery board), the Alberta House Shop and the Arts Council office on the first floor. Upper floors have room for storage, studios and a growing art library. The building is available for meetings, receptions and work bees by local arts organizations and the office provides information and brochures as well as logistical support for arts organizations and projects.

Free services provided by the Sault Area Arts Council through Alberta House include the monthly events calendar and newsletter, "Alberta House News," arts information and the annual Sault Summer Arts Festival. Admission to the gallery is free.

The Arts Council sponsors the Bi-annual High School Exhibition as well as the other school exhibitions. It and the Olive Craig Gallery Board sponsor a number of juried exhibitions as well and bring in artists from outside the area so that people here can see what's being done elsewhere. Last year they sponsored the prestigious Michigan Watercolor Society Exhibition.

Questions about Alberta House or Sault Area Arts Council services can be sent to:

Alberta House
217 Ferris Street
Sault Ste. Marie, 49783

(906) 635-1312

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page
217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: Phone: (906) 635-1312