Bell Rock (2002)
In 2001 I was invited to do a residency at the Art Gallery of Sudbury, which culminated in a site-specific installation in 2002. I made three research trips to Sudbury during which time I conducted many interviews with people of the immediate community and staff members of the gallery as well as familiarizing myself with the gallery archives and collection.
Over the course of a year the project developed into the history of the Bell mansion, Bell Rock, as the locals call it, which now houses the Art Gallery of Sudbury. Using archival photographs, as well as period furniture and paintings selected from the gallery’s collection, this exhibition appeared to be the straight forward history of a house. The underlying current of the show, however, carried elements of hearsay and myth, suggesting a less than objective portrait of the house and calling into question the veracity of museums in general.
Aerial view of Bell Rock, ca. 1960
Bell Rock's title text at the entrance to the exhibion reads:
The Art Gallery of Sudbury is currently housed in the old Bell mansion. William Joseph Bell, a pioneer lumberman and President of the Spanish Lumber Company, purchased 155 acres of land adjacent to Lake Ramsay and in 1907, on the highest point of the property, had this house constructed. Now designated an historic landmark, it is one of few cut-stone buildings in Sudbury. The house is known locally as Bell Rock.
View of the first half of the exhibition
This main gallery originally housed the Bell's sitting rooms
Photographs from the Art Gallery of Sudbury's archives
(top) Bell Rock, southern exposure, 1929
(bottom) Bell Rock, western exposure, 1929
The interpretive text reads:
The Bell’s never had children, in fact, Mrs. Bell was well known in the community for not liking children. Instead, she had a special love for dogs and her horse, Laddy, shown here in 1929, pulling her sleigh.
Mrs. Bell's Dogs
Framed reproductions of photographs found in the Art Gallery of Sudbury's archives.
Katherine Bell (1863-1954)
Mrs. Bell was recognized for her philanthropic work, mainly her success in bringing the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) to Sudbury, her organization of the Sudbury Horticultural Society and generous bequests to the Salvation Army and the Sudbury Memorial Hospital. Through her efforts, the Humane Society investigated cruelty to horses in lumber camps in northern Ontario. She died at home, in the Bell mansion, at the age of 90.
A vitrine containing a folded, navy-blue, pleated skirt
The displayed text is excerpted from an interview conducted with neighbour Dorothy Forster on September 8, 2001:
[After the fire, the house] was a vacant shell. And someone had enticed a girl there. It was an afternoon and I was at work and this girl came to the house here, crying. My mother was an invalid, pretty much. She was in her 90s, and she was sitting on the veranda and I had a housekeeper. And so the housekeeper took the girl in and let her tidy up and gave her one of my skirts to wear to go home. I mean she didn’t ask any questions. She was an old Scotch lady and obviously she said the poor wee thing was in a bad way. But she didn’t ask any questions or anything. And now I think the girl phoned the police, but I’m not certain on that angle. But I know, yeah, she must have, because late in the evening...there was a knock on my front door and this burly policeman was holding my skirt out, beautifully folded-up. He was returning this because he understood that we had given it to the young lady.
View of the second half of the exhibition
Wall-mounted interpretive text
Note: There was also an audio component to this installation. A CD recording of a baby crying every few minutes—in a variety of ways—was playing at the base of the stairs behind this text panel, and could be clearly heard in the gallery. It was so life-like that several people at the opening became concerned about the baby and ventured into the basement to investigate.
Séance video sampler (3:33)
With Cheryl Rondeau and William Huffman
Bell Rock's conservatory
An 18 minute video and the paraphernalia used during the séance were on display in the conservatory. The vitrine on the left held the thermometer, the incense and candle remains, as well as the colour print-outs of the instructions used to conduct the séance: soyouwannaholdaseance.com.
As viewers wound their way to the gallery's exit, they passed a group of nine ornately framed, Edwardian-era watercolours and oil paintings. Although this grouping was identified as selections from the Art Gallery of Sudbury's collection, it was never stated—although perhaps implied—that the Bell's had actually owned these works.
The exhibition's broadsheet essay, by Kevin Gibbs