Friday, 6 September 2013

VINTAGE APPEAL: Despite rough economic times, hope floats at the Bolivar Gallery

YEARS WITHOUT FEAR: "I don't feel like retiring, so I just go on," says Dunphy, 79.

Given the place's legendary history, it comes as no surprise that proprietor Hugh Dunphy, a former globe-trotting book trader who worked with the Oxford University Press, would want to give a frank perspective on a place as unique as the Bolivar Gallery and Bookshop, which he opened in 1965, a few years after settling in Jamaica. 

"After I'd been living here a few years I decided to set up [the Bolivar] because there seemed to be a need for a serious kind of bookshop," he explains, "and then I thought that I'd like to also have an art gallery. So it started like that and we gradually increased the space." 
Over the decades, the Bolivar Gallery has evolved into something of a cultural landmark among the artistic hubs in city Kingston. Quaintly charming and oozing a rustic appeal (nestled on Grove Road, off Half Way Tree Road), the place seems the ideal spot to find rare books, attend art and photography exhibitions, yoga lessons and get your pictures framed, all of which, as it turns out, the place is now known for. "It's very satisfactory now that there's no more space to build anything," says Dunphy, pointing out that the most recent addition to the property is a large workshop for picture-framing jobs, adjacent to the three cozy rooms rentable for temporary accommodation. 

The courtyard is an airy treasure trove of exotic stone creations and verdant foliage and fascinating and enduring artwork, including a wall sculpture/fountain dedicated to Dunphy's late second wife, Ouida. He has a middle-aged son (his only child) currently living in Australia. 
As could be expected, these days the Bolivar Gallery and Bookshop is facing leaner times, given the dismal state of the economy. But closing up shop and heading into retirement is not in Dunphy's plans. For the record, he's now 79. "I like doing what I'm doing," he tells me. He then reflects. "It's difficult when you're used to being young and then suddenly you're very old. I don't feel like retiring so I just go on." 

Executive administrator Rori Matthews, who's been with the gallery since 2004, concedes that despite the declining sales at the bookshop, they remain optimistic. "With the economy, things are not so wonderful, but we continue to have exhibitions and launches. Not all of them are successful, but Mr. Dunphy still enjoys it, and as long as he wants to keep it going, we'll be here." A series of book launches, commencing next month, are being planned and the establishment of a cafe bar in the outdoor garden is set for sometime later in the year.

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