Though he was friends with artist Alex Colville, Ray Cronin only found out about the late painter’s self-built cabin in northern Nova Scotia when someone sent him a real estate listing for the property last month.
“Colville had lived in Wolfville since 1973, so when I knew him, his world was focused on the (Annapolis) Valley,” said Cronin, a writer and former director of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. “My first thought was `Wow, I’d like to buy it.’ ”
The two-storey waterfront property, designed and built by the acclaimed painter in the 1960s, was used as an occasional camp by Colville for several years, according to the listing. His granddaughter, Claire Colville, declined to comment about the sale but did say she used to spend summers at the cabin.
According to information from Viewpoint Realty, the property sold for $265,000 on April 30 after nine days on the market – a little more than $15,000 over asking price. Provincial land records show the property had been owned by members of Colville’s family. The realtor would not disclose who the buyer was.
The austere cabin sits on the Amherst Shore in Nova Scotia’s Cumberland County, at the end of a narrow dirt road called Colville Lane. With 200 feet of waterfront on the Northumberland Strait, Prince Edward Island is visible in the distance.
“Tucked in off the road, this property offers privacy and a true escape from the `busyness’ of modern-day life,” the listing adds. “A wonderful chance to own a piece of Canadian history.”
The artist, who died in 2013 at the age of 92, was “committed” to Atlantic Canada, Cronin said in a recent interview, despite opportunities during the height of his career to establish himself abroad. “One of the first things to note about Colville was that he was emphatically a Maritimer,” he said.
Images of the cabin attached to the listing show its sparse and angular interior. Cronin described the cabin as “precise” in the same way Colville’s renowned work was.
“The overwhelming sense of (Colville’s work) is the constant need to create order in a world that’s basically chaotic,” he said. “There’s nothing random” about the cabin, which Cronin said is in keeping with Colville’s artistic style. In his 2017 book “Alex Colville: Life and Work,” Cronin described that style as being built on “a rigid skeleton of geometric relationships that dictate every aspect of his compositions.”
That sense of precision was also noted by Sarah Fillmore, a current curator at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Fillmore said in an interview this week she was also unaware of the cabin’s existence until the listing was posted but said it was “a natural extension” of Colville’s artistic vision.
“The way that it looks to be careful and well-constructed and carefully considered and generally beautifully designed feels in keeping with the way he would approach his own visual arts practice,” she said.
Fillmore doesn’t know who purchased the cabin, but she said the attention given to the sale of the property has served to reacquaint people in Nova Scotia with his work.
“The wonderful thing about art is that it endures, and the great work holds well beyond its time of creation,” Fillmore said. The interest in the sale of the cabin speaks to Colville’s importance and power as an artist, she added.
Cronin said the cabin’s modest scale is in keeping with the clean elegance of Colville’s art. “It’s not a cathedral ceiling and a Jet Ski,” he said. His hope for the cabin, he added, is for the new owners to continue the tradition of quiet relaxation that Colville started when he built the lodging.
“It’s a very elegant place to get away from the modern world, not bring it with you.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.