Nova Scotia

How 145-year-old windows bring new light to Halifax art exhibit

A set of gothic windows from the city market in Saint John, N.B., have been repurposed to create an art installation in Halifax.

Windows were removed from Saint John market, purchased by man in P.E.I., then sold to artist in Halifax

The art installation, titled 'Open Hearth' features the antique windows that were restored, covered in coloured cellophane, and then backlit to resemble a large campfire. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

A set of 145-year-old gothic windows from the city market in Saint John, N.B., have been repurposed to create an art installation in Halifax.

The display features a collection of windows that were restored, covered in coloured cellophane, then backlit to resemble a large campfire.

"It was meant to be this feeling of gathering safely outdoors around the fire," said Margot Durling, the artist with Fathom Studio who created the piece.

"And in some ways, now that we are not allowed to do that, in the absence of that gathering, the message is even more powerful because when you stand in that empty courtyard and see this beautiful, vibrant colour coming from the fire installation, it's quite powerful."

Margot Durling, Elizabeth Powell and Nicholas Robins with Fathom Studios worked on the 'Open Hearth' concept and design. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

"Open Hearth" was installed on Nov. 28 and can be found in the courtyard of the Alexander Keith's Brewery Market on Lower Water Street.

It was commissioned by Killam Apartment REIT, the market's owner.

"Since we bought it about four or five years ago, we always wanted to create a public space in that courtyard," said Jeremy Jackson, vice-president marketing and program development with Killam Properties.

"And so that was our original intent. We wanted to do something and we wanted to do something at Christmas time."

Jeremy Jackson, the vice-president marketing and program development with Killam Properties, wanted to create an art installation that would draw people to the courtyard. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Jackson tasked Durling and the Fathom team to develop an art installation that could be a spectacle for Halifax's Evergreen Festival.

Durling said the team wanted to create a universal feeling of warmth, while also considering the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We were talking a lot about the metaphor of a portal because this year, for many people, has felt like it has been a portal, kind of in the way that we walked into this year, not knowing how things were going to result," they said.

And what better way to represent a portal than antique windows, they said.

The windows were removed from the Saint John market tower in 2018. Eventually, antique collector Albert MacDonald bought them. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Durling said it was "serendipity" that they discovered the historic windows. They had been removed from the Saint John market tower two years ago and had made their way to an antique collector on Prince Edward Island.

Albert MacDonald had purchased the windows. His son-in-law mentioned during a visit that a friend in Halifax was looking for material to build an art installation. That friend was Margot Durling.

"I wrote to him and of course, right away, he was also excited about it," Durling said. "And we both agreed what a beautiful story it would be for these special windows to make it from one historic market to another."

MacDonald said not in his "wildest dreams" did he expect the windows would end up as an art installation.

The 'Open Hearth' art installation is meant to represent a place to gather. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

"It's really impressive that you could see these old, dirty, scuffed, broken windows and then see something out of it," MacDonald said. " ... To take 145-year-old windows and repurpose them to something interesting and beautiful, is just a great thing to do."

The installation was also created in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.

The colours of the window panes are an ode to light therapy often used for seasonal depression.

"When people are experiencing seasonal depression or sleep loss or anxiety ... looking at colourful, bright, warm, changing lights can actually make someone feel better, even temporarily," Durling said. "And so we thought this is the perfect opportunity to highlight that."

Killam Apartment REIT partnered with the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia to put together the art installation. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

With that in mind, the installation is accompanied by several Christmas trees that are a part of the foundation's Messages of Kindness campaign.

People can make a donation to the Mental Health Foundation, write a message of kindness, and then volunteers with Killam will decorate the Christmas trees surrounding the installation with the messages.

As of Friday afternoon, the organization has raised more than $11,000.

The installation will be up for all to see until Dec. 20. Then, it will be stored during the winter months and possibly reused inside the market.

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