Art Inspiration on Ministers Island

Sir William Van Horne was a man of many talents as he had a wide assortment of interests aside from his entrepreneurial endeavours. One of Van Horne’s passions was art, he had his own impressive collection of paintings, which included works by Delacroix, Ribot, Rousseau and Michel to name a few. However, he was not only interested in collecting work, he loved to create his own works of art too.

While staying at Covenhoven in the summer months, Van Horne would spend time painting aspects of the island. In particular, he enjoyed painting in the Bathhouse which looked out across the Bay of Fundy. The island was his own little piece of paradise, which inspired numerous works of art created by Van Horne.

Currently in Covenhoven, the majority of the paintings on the first floor of the house are all works by Van Horne. The majority of his artwork are all landscapes, in particular of places he has visited or witnessed first hand. He was also infamous for producing paintings and drawings for his grandson Billy. In Billy’s bedroom on the second floor of Covenhoven, the drawings above the bed were created by Van Horne, along with the mural that currently is on one portion of the upper wall, but would have encompassed the entire room during Van Horne’s time.

One unique rendition of Van Horne’s artwork is the use of his artwork in the book Trunks All Aboard: An Elephant ACE was written by Barbara Nichol and includes artwork by Van Horne. In 1909 while Van Horne was travelling in Europe he took to creating little works of arts on hotel and train notes to send back to his grandson Billy in Montreal. Van Horne represented himself as an elephant in artworks for Billy, and often had a cigar in his mouth. As you can see in the bottom righthand corner, Van Horne would sign his works with “Grandpa” for Billy.

The spirit of Van Horne and his artwork has continued into the 21st century on the island. Currently, on Ministers Island there is an Artist in Residence, Cathy Ross. Ross first started to work on the island in 2016 during her summers in St. Andrews. She is originally from Saint John, New Brunswick, but currently is based in Waterloo, Ontario, and comes down to St. Andrews for the summer months. Academically, Ross has studied art at Mount Allison University, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and the Banff School of Fine Arts. Currently her artwork is represented in collections across Canada, including the New Brunswick Museum, the Canada Council Art Bank and the Banff Centre. Ross uses watercolour on a stretched canvas for her work. Her artist statement states:

As an artist, I am interested in looking at objects closely and conveying my visual response to them . Something will capture my attention – a certain colour, the unique shape of a plant or the charm of an everyday object. I then collect these things and have them in my studio as possible subjects for my work. Through careful observation, I try to convey the uniqueness and special character of each object. Sometimes elements are arranged in complex compositions, other times, I use a single subject in isolation. My paintings are meant to be intimate. I want the viewer to pause and take in the subtle joy of the ordinary and the ephemeral beauty of the natural world.”

Ross’s work that she has completed during her residency on Ministers Island is of an assortment of pieces found throughout Covenhoven. Items from Billy’s little shoes to ice skates to a conch shell can be found amongst her work. In the future these paintings will be assembled into an exhibition at the Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton.

On July 19th, Ross will be hosting an open house at Covenhoven for visitors to view her work! I have had the pleasure of popping in on Cathy to admire her work in progress, so I definitely recommend coming down to the island to catch a glimpse of her work and learn more about her artwork and her inspiration behind her paintings.

The island will be open from 11:15am until 4:15pm on Monday July 19th! You are able to pre-book your tickets here to receive a discount and avoid wait times getting onto the island.

The next time you are visiting the island take note of the artwork that is in Covenhoven and other locations on the island. You will find works of work by other Van Horne family members and other New Brunswick artists covering the walls. In particular take a look at Van Horne’s paintings on the first floor and inspect his signatures on his paintings, you might find a couple of quirks!

Published by Laura Oland

Laura Oland is an Art History PhD student at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In 2018, Oland completed a Master’s degree at The University of Glasgow in Art History: Dress and Textile Histories, following her undergraduate studies in History at Acadia University. Oland also completed a year of Viking archaeology at Lund University in Sweden. Professionally, Oland has worked for the New Brunswick Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Hunterian Museum, and the Randall House Museum.

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