– Words and photography by Lia Crowe
I meet Victoria-based Leah McDiarmid at the Tofino Gallery of Contemporary Art to chat life and style, but first I take some time to revel in the gallery’s splendour. Colour, big shapes, dynamic curves; the gallery is so alive with an inspiring curation of pieces that I’m distracted from the task at hand as the art takes me in.
“I bought my first painting—a Herbert Siebner—when I was 23, paying for it in installments.” Leah tells me. “Thirty-two years later, between raising a family…operating a business and going to school, I have landed at the Tofino Gallery of Contemporary Art [which opened in June 2021].”
Leah has spent her entire life on Vancouver Island and expresses her love of this island paradise.
“My Tofino chapter began in 1996, when my husband Bruce and I moved here from Victoria with our infant sons, Conor and Tyler. Our family opened the Wickaninnish Inn that year, paving the way for many wonderful experiences and opportunities. Living, working and raising a family in Tofino was a gift in so many ways.”
After moving back to Victoria in 2008, Leah completed a program in interior and architectural design, while continuing to remotely operate Tofino Vacation Rentals, a business they started in 1998. In 2015 she began studies at UVic, eventually earning a bachelor degree [with honours] in art history and visual studies in 2020.
“Attending university as a mature student was initially daunting, yet incredibly rewarding and enriching.”
Integrity is a quality innate in Leah and woven into everything she does. When asked what about her work fires her up, she said, “Connecting people with meaningful, resonant art. For me, the Tofino Gallery of Contemporary Art enables connectivity and creativity in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I am fortunate to be supported by a highly talented and diverse roster of BC artists, whose works in painting, sculpture and photography are exceptional.”
Life & Style Go-Tos:
Favourite morning coffee: Triple-shot oat milk café latte from Rhino Coffee.
Style icon: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.
Favourite (past) artists: Caravaggio, Bruegel, Matisse, Rubens, Rothko, Riopelle, Bill Reid.
Favourite performance artist: Marina Abramovic.
Most impactful in-situ painting: Picasso’s “Guernica.”
Favourite interior designers: Axel Vervoordt, Kelly Wearstler and Pierre Yovanovitch.
Favourite museums: Guggenheim Bilbao, Museo Reina Sofia, Rijksmuseum.
Favourite cocktail: Tanqueray 10 Martini (shaken, not stirred).
Album on rotation: The State of Jazz.
Favourite cities to visit: Belfast, Leiden, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Oaxaca.
Favourite flower: Rose.
Favourite app: Artsy.
Favourite place in the world: Chesterman Beach.
What lifts my spirits during these hard times: Birdsong.
Fave print magazines: Architectural Digest and Aspire.
Fave online magazines: Galerie Magazine and MutualArt.
Fave coffee table book: What Great Paintings Say, by Rainer Hagen and Rose-Marie Hagen.
Last great read: Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Currently reading: Possessing Meares Island, A Historian’s Journey Into the Past of Clayoquot Sound by Barry M. Gough.
Favourite books of all time: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, and Trinity by Leon Uris.
Fashion & Beauty
Uniform: Upcycled Rag & Bone jeans, Styly leather belt, ankle boots, upcycled Hermès sweater.
All-time fave piece: Upcycled DKNY duster jacket (A La Mode Consignment).
Fave shoe brand: Wanda Panda.
Fave work tool: My Stanley level.
Favourite jewellery piece: Vintage Rolex (Francis Jewellers).
Fashion obsession: Scarfs.
Necessary indulgences: Facials (Serenity Esthetics).
Scent: La Paloma Body Butter.