Nfld. & Labrador

On the edge of the sea: Ocean-focused artist encourages exploration of rural N.L.

Janet Davis says it hasn't always been easy to make a living in rural Newfoundland but she is proof it can be done.

Art studio and café owner Janet Davis is making a go of it in rural Newfoundland

Artist Janet Davis has always taken inspiration from the ocean. She is from Broookfield, N.L. where she now operates an art studio and cafe. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Visual artist Janet Davis dips her brush in silver paint and then applies it to a large sheet of plywood. Her wooden canvas is filled with a school of herring, her latest of many, many aquatic-themed pieces of work.

Davis, who lives and works in Brookfield in New-Wes-Valley, on Newfoundland's northeast coast, says she loves making images of fish.

"Living on the edge of the ocean … it's all just a part of my life here," she said.

Her studio is an old and decorative heritage building constructed in 1890 by Job and Virtue Kean, a famous sealing family.

She calls her studio "Norton's Cove," which was the original name of Brookfield before 1879.

Janet Davis paints a school of herring. (Jane Adey/CBC)

The studio walls take you to an underwater world with colourful prints of cod, capelin, mackerel, sculpins, urchins, mussels and more.

Davis has always taken inspiration directly from the ocean. 

"I'm surrounded by ocean scenery on a regular basis," she said. "My family has been involved in not only the fishery … but my dad is a master mariner and I've spent time working on ships and that kind of thing too. It just always interested me. It must be inevitable."

A symbol of success on the wall

Images of snow crab are also prominently featured on her walls. In this community, crab stands as a symbol of success at a time when the province suffered one of its greatest blows. 

"This community didn't really see a lot of effect from the cod moratorium. We were already fishing crab big time when the cod moratorium happened and were still doing fine."

Norton's Cove studio is located in a heritage building in Brookfield, N.L., built in 1890 by Job Kean and his wife, Virtue. The Kean family were sealers. Job's uncle, captain Abram Kean, was the most successful sealing captain in Newfoundland history. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Davis sells her work at stores and craft shops throughout the province, but being an artist in rural Newfoundland has had lots of challenges and struggle, she said. 

"Family support is always such a huge thing. If I didn't have parents and a husband and even my child wanting me to be an artist then it would be pretty hard to do it because it's not an easy way to make a living," said Davis. 

Davis is known for images like this one of the iconic Newfoundland codfish. This is what's known as a linocut print. (Jane Adey/CBC)

After years of focusing on her art, Janet decided to expand the studio business and start a new venture. Several years ago, the town's best eatery, a Chinese restaurant, burned down. Tragically, one of the owners died in the fire.

Janet and her husband wanted to build a place for locals and tourists alike to enjoy not only local seafood but a place to gaze out on the ocean.

A wall at Davis's studio is filled with prints of fish and other marine species. Norton's Cove was the name of the community of Brookfield prior to 1879. (Jane Adey/CBC)

So in 2017, right across the street from the studio, sitting on a piece of land next to the water, they opened Norton's Cove Café.

"Every seat is a window seat, looking out over the water. I think it's stunning. I can sit and watch the water all day and hopefully other people enjoy that too," said Davis.

Recipes from around the world

She describes the café's menu as cultural, with recipes from around the world. You won't find a deep fryer on the premises and everything is made from scratch. 

Davis hopes the food and atmosphere continue to draw customers and she hopes the business is a recipe for rural employment success too. Right now, Norton's Cove Café has 9 local people on staff. 

"I'm trying to help support my community. I'm very happy that they're enjoying their work … and can work here and not have to move away," said Davis. 

Every seat at Norton's Cove Café is a window seat looking out to the ocean. Davis wants all customers to have a view of the water. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Davis says her area of the province, known for its stunning sandy beaches, should be getting a lot more tourism attention. She's encouraging locals to get out and explore rural places on staycations and to support small businesses like hers — not just this summer but every summer. 

"It is really important and every person that comes in here and spends five bucks I'm over the moon that they've done it because it's so important to me."

Salt fish ravioli is just one of the menu items at Norton's Cove Café. Local cod is also used to make fish cakes and pan fried cod. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Davis notes her visitation numbers are not up where they would normally be but says the financial support she's received from the provincial and federal governments has allowed her to stay open and keep people employed. 

"At the end of the day you feel like you're actually doing something that matters to people. That's a lovely feeling."

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