Following the death of her husband of 35 years in the early 1980s, Gwen Gregorig decided she needed a hobby.
She scanned through a pamphlet for what was then Fraser Valley College (now University of the Fraser Valley) and chose a course on car mechanics for women.
Gregorig, who at the time was a realtor, took the program with her daughter-in-law, but it wasn’t really her thing so she browsed through the college options again.
This time, a course on watercolour painting for beginners piqued her interest. She always had a talent for drawing, but had never painted before. She loved it instantly.
“It must have been something that I was meant to do. I enjoyed it so much and I loved colour.”
That course launched Gregorig, 95, into what has become a passion of more than 30 years and helped lead to the formation of the Fraser Valley Watercolour Society (FVWS).
The Abbotsford-based group is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, with four of its original members still involved.
The society got its start from the college courses, which were taught by gifted watercolour artist Gerry Thompson starting in 1983.
When Thompson moved away to Vancouver, there was no one to take her place. Gregorig missed the camaraderie of her fellow artists as they learned from one another and shared their love of painting.
“I called them all and said, ‘Would you like to get together to paint?’”
The group of about 24 artists soon began meeting in various locations, including a rented recreation room in a townhouse complex.
The FVWS was formed in 1989 and became a registered non-profit society four years later.
They were given the use of the art room at Abbotsford Senior Secondary, where they have continued to meet weekly over the years. They are planning a potential move to Mouat Secondary in the fall.
The meetings include visits from guest artists – Thompson has returned a few times – and occasional presentations, demonstrations and workshops that are open to the public.
Each year, the FVWS hosts a spring exhibition and sale at Clearbrook Library, featuring the work of its members. More than 100 pieces were displayed at this year’s show.
Gregorig, who most enjoys painting landscapes and water scenes, said the group is about more than just painting.
“For several of us, it’s been an anchor, a maker of friends, a stimulus and, I think, most of all, it helps you appreciate nature.”
She said the group is taking a “major step” this year in introducing acrylic painting for the first time.
“We feel we have to move with the times, and acrylics are being used more and more by artists, and I feel it is a step forward.”
The FVWS meets Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Through the summer, the location is the House of Fine Art, 2485 West Railway St. For information, call Carol Portree at 604-850-9694.