News >> Browse Articles >> Museum Exhibitions & Reviews


Artist Doing Big Things in Remote Places

Artist Doing Big Things in Remote Places

The House Museum c.2006

Robyn Love

August 07, 2007

The House Museum has Two Histories.

The house that is the site of The House Museum is in the town of Gillams on the north shore of the Bay of Islands on west coast of Newfoundland. It is of an undetermined age but suspected to be about sixty years old. The house was built by Wilfred House, the son of Luke House who had bought the land in the early 1920s as part of a twenty-acre property. Luke purchased the land from Herbert Carter of Summerside (another community on the North Shore) along with his two brothers, Willam and Thomas. Together, they farmed the land. A year later, Luke married Rachel (nee Lovell of McIvers) and, in 1927, Wilfred was born—the first of seven children.

The first structure to be built on the property still stands and currently is used as a wood and tool shed. A larger house was built a few years later. The original 20-acres was split into two ten-acre plots and divided among the Houses and the Banks, another family with ties to Gillams—they owned a saw mill, which is still operating today.

Wilfred built his house up the hill from his parent’s house using a style that was (is) very common in Newfoundland—a bungalow style with a pyramidal hipped roof. He used lumber from the mill run by the Banks family located just down the street. One can still see the original site of the mill on Mill Road and the street itself is still home to many in the Banks family. The mill itself has moved further in on Farm Road (another street in Gillams).

Wilfred House built his house in the 1940s or 50s (no one can remember exactly when and records are unclear). He lived there with his wife Kathleen (nee Park of McIvers) where they raised five children. Upon his death, his children gained collective ownership of it, but it ultimately fell to his son, Darren, to live in and maintain it. Darren House sold the house to Daniel Allen and Robyn Love in 2002. Some of the House family still live nearby and are active participants in the current project to make the structure into a museum.

From House House to House Museum

The House Museum as an idea has its roots in a visit made to Newfoundland for an artist-in-residence program sponsored by The Pouch Cove Foundation in 2001 by artist, Robyn Love. The residency was held in a former bank building in Curling (part of Corner Brook) on the west coast. During that time, Robyn began studying the houses closely in hopes of understanding what exactly made a “Newfoundland House”. So unlike the houses she was familiar with all along the northeast coast of the United States, and even Nova Scotia, Newfoundland houses seemed to defy all stereotypes of what a seaside village should be. At around the same time, the government started to actively pursue tourism as a way of buffeting a failing economy. This brought up a new concern: would all the houses be made pretty and sweet to conform to the tourist’s ideal? Instead of being honest and open, would people only see potential dollar signs with each new visitor? Or, speaking more broadly, what happens to a culture when it begins to be sold as a commodity rather than shared in hospitality?

Beginning with the idea of the proto-typical house, Ms. Love began collecting items at yard sales in and around Corner Brook and developing samples of wall paper for imaginary rooms. But by 2002 and another visit to the Bay of Islands, it was clear that the project needed a real house to be fully realized. Searching for the right house on both the North Shore and the South Shore, Ms. Love and her family found Wilfred House’s house standing empty. After some inquiries, it was offered for sale and Robyn (and her family) purchased it. The house was in rough condition after sitting empty for five years so it immediately required some major repairs to ensure it could survive. A basement was dug under it and new electrical and plumbing systems were installed. Ultimately, the house got a new roof, a new front porch and a new coat of paint on the outside. Inside, it became The House Museum. The project includes video and audio installations, collaborative projects with neighbors, needlework, printmaking, painting, food, and a gift shop. The House Museum also is host to a variety of free events during the summer months.

Do you Know of a Big Project in a Remote Place?

Ten Steps for Success in the Art World

The history of Gillams in many ways mirrors the development of many outport communities in Newfoundland, with settlers from the west of England arriving in the 18th century. For a more detailed history of Gillams, click here.

Find the right campus or online art or design program for you!