New work by Fredericton artist Dawn Steeves is now on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. Dawn Steeves: Capturing Salty Towers features 206 individual paintings, each a window into the otherworldly charm of one of New Brunswick’s most storied Bed & Breakfasts.
Anyone who has stayed at Salty Towers holds a memory of their experience that has little to do with the expected particulars of traditional overnight accommodations. For nearly three decades, the storied St. Andrews bed and breakfast has offered guests something beyond the expected. A longstanding home away from home for musicians, writers, poets, photographers, painters, playwrights, and countless others who share a certain creative bent, the building’s numerous unique rooms, shelves of curiosities, stacks of old magazines, and of course its founding father and host Jamie Steel, had always trumped standard rating requirements such as food, amenities and parking. For many, as long as there was room at the inn, the unexpected was welcomed with open arms.
“As soon as you were signed in you were signing other people in. You know, you’d greet people at the door, ‘Jamie had to go out, but I can show you your room.’” That was how Dawn Steeves described one of her Salty Towers experiences to me when we met at her Fredericton studio to discuss her upcoming exhibit, Capturing Salty Towers.
When Steel announced the sale of his home and business during the summer of 2021, the news caught many off guard. It signified the end of an era for traveling artists and the beginning of something new for Steel, and Steeves.
“I did a residency at KIRA in the summer of 2021 and Jamie announced that he was selling Salty Towers while I was there in St. Andrews,” said Steeves, adding that after reading the news on Facebook, she hopped on her bike and rode directly to 340 Water Street to hear the news in person. This unannounced, spur of the moment visit led to a conversation with Steel about a project Steeves had had in the back of her mind for the past three years. What had existed for so long as a daydream had at that moment become a time sensitive, now-or-never endeavour.
“In 2018 I took a course in St. Andrews with Maggie Rose who was an instructor at the New York Academy of Art and the University of Toronto. She was a big deal, and it was an intense, intense course. Two solid weeks of paint knowledge being injected into my brain. Each night I would go home to Salty Towers in the evening and just sketch what I saw. I stayed in this tiny little room – room No. 9 – that had enough room for a single bed, a sink and a dresser and that was it. It was the coolest little space. I stayed there for two weeks and it was just amazing.”
“I approached every painting the same way I do all my paintings. The blank page. The doubt. The conflict. That happened 206 times.”
Steeves’ evening sketch routine would eventually form the idea behind her upcoming exhibition. With the cooperation of Steel and his partner Deb, Steeves spent three nights at the Salty Towers in the fall of 2021 documenting and collecting inspiration. “At that moment, no one knew what the future held for the space. It could have been bought and demolished by a developer. No one knew. But I knew I had to document it.” Over her three night stay in November of 2021 Steeves captured close to 500 snapshots throughout the house, 206 of which would become the individual paintings that make up this exhibit.
“This exhibition is one work. Each painting was painted with the kind of care I paint a whole painting with. I didn’t skimp on any of these pieces just because they are little. I approached every painting the same way I do all my paintings. The blank page. The doubt. The conflict. That happened 206 times. But that’s the part I love.”
Dawn Steeves: Capturing Salty Towers will be on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery from until May 28. The creation of this exhibit was made possible in part through support received from artsnb. And if you were wondering what happened to Salty Towers, the bed and breakfast is now under new ownership and continues to operate in St. Andrews.