Tuesday June 7, 2016 | by Sarah Canny

Taking on new partners, a Montreal glass gallery finds a connection to a younger generation


Elena Lee, owner of the longtime Montreal gallery that bears her name, recently turned 74 years old. Aware of a new set of skills needed for success in the new world of social media, as well as the ever-growing number of galleries closing, Lee recently decided to take on two co-owners to help share her workload and finances. Her plan is to sell Elena Lee, but first, she must pass on her knowledge, expertise, and collection to her new partners. Florie Guerin and Pierre Boudreau are two young devotees of glass, well versed in the realm of art, ready to take on the flaming torch that Elena is eventually planning on handing them. 

“I might be here another hundred years.” Elena laughs in response to the question of when she plans to fully retire.

Lee told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet in a telephone interview that the plan is to "slowly" introduce her partners to running her gallery on their own, and then sell it in its entirety when she is prepared to completely retire. But she does not see that for herself. At least, not in the near future. 

"We had to brainstorm together." She says with a bit of humor: "How do we keep the gallery open?" The answer she decided was to take on these co-owners.

Florie Guerin, one of the new partners, is the "intellectual" of the gallery, graduating from the University of Montreal and majoring in art history; Elena tells me she is knowledgeable especially in Medieval glass art.

 Pierre Boudreau, the other, is described as the "hands-on" type, promoting their artists on social media, handling finances, and endeavoring to gain a younger following for their gallery. The mix of differing expertise will be the key, Lee says, to the gallery's future.

"We have a loyal following." she says, and then makes clear: "But they’re getting older."

She also tells of the days she used to travel across borders with student artists to the U.S. to view art shows. She hasn't been, however, since the 2008 economic decline. Several of her former Canadian artists have shown their art in the U.S., since then, she adds with hope that the economic revival continues.

Gallery Elena Lee has spent over 30 years at the center of the Montreal glass art community. It was the first to represent the glass art movement in Canada. During a financial decline, the gallery had to move out of its original building on Sherbrooke Street to a warehouse on Complexe du Canal Lachine.

"A lot of galleries have had to move into warehouses like us," she said, "because of the high taxes."

The plan in taking two new partners on was to keep the gallery alive and glowing long after Elena retires, as well as gaining a broader, younger following and \"keeping up with the times." She also gave a firm "no" when asked whether or not the recent change has presented a challenge or variation to her long list of previous or newer artists.

The want to sell also had nothing to do with finances, she says, it was the challenge of the work burden only that prompted her to want to sell her gallery.

"Financially," she says, "we’re actually doing alright."

There must be gratitude from her dedicated following to this woman who continued on with her gallery of nearly four decades. She has met every new challenge, age group, and social media platform with a bright openness.

"I would’ve closed it down if I hadn’t found somebody," Lee says. For a lot of artists and collectors, they are lucky that she connected with Florie and Pierre.

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.