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Prominent Saanich artist's home and works ravaged by fire

Oct 05 2012
Saanich firefighters remove a painting from the fire-damaged home of artist Paul Hutner in Saanich on Thursday. 

Saanich firefighters remove a painting from the fire-damaged home of artist Paul Hutner in Saanich on Thursday.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

A prominent artist's Saanich home was seriously damaged by fire Thursday afternoon, as firefighters both fought to extinguish the source of billowing smoke and carry out as many works of art as they could.

Firefighters responded to Vista Bay Road near the University of Victoria to the home of painter Paul Hut-ner and his wife, Martha Black, the curator of ethnology at the Royal B.C. Museum.

Power had to be cut to the house for safety reasons but the fire did not pose a threat to nearby structures in the quiet residential area.

The house, with blackened exterior and blown-out front window, is "so badly damaged" that investigators have been hampered in trying to find the cause of the fire, said battalion commander Dale Peebles of the Saanich Fire Department.

At one point, a devastated Hutner was seen walking in the front yard as firefighters tried to bring out as many paintings as they could.

"We can't get into the top floor because it's structurally unsound," said fire Capt. Darwin Schellenberg, speaking at the fire scene.

Hutner, known for semiabstract canvasses that can cover entire walls, was taken to Royal Jubilee Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and released Thursday night.

One of his works, Going (1977), was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1978.

Several enormous canvasses could be seen under the carport at the Saanich house.

It is not known how much damage the paintings suffered, but friend and art gallery manager Peter Red-path was aghast.

"A lifetime's work is in there - a lifetime right from the very beginning," he said. "The place is just full of fantastic collectibles and a fantastic library."

Redpath managed a small exhibit by Hutner at the Winchester Modern art gallery on Humboldt Street that ended Sept. 29.

Hutner's largest canvasses would sell for $10,000 to $15,000 while ones about a metre square would fetch $3,500 to $4,000.

"It's heartbreaking," he said.

Neighbour Vivian Smith saw a tremendous amount of smoke as she walked home from teaching at the university and hated to think about the effect of the fire on the "very nice couple" and the huge amount of artwork in their home.

"If his work was saved, it's a great blessing."

Hutner, 64, held his first exhibition in 1971 in Toronto and moved to Victoria in 1990, the Winchester art gallery website says.

"His work has been widely exhibited and is in many public and private collections."

The works are described as abstract but "strongly grounded" in the realism of buildings, numbers, maps and masks.

"He deconstructs realistic images and arranges the fragments into dynamic visual scores," the website says.

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