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Grunt Gallery show documents Blue Cabin restoration

Exhibit traces the preservation work done by Jeremy and Sus Borsos

Jeremy and Sus Borsos: The Blue Cabin Exhibition at the Grunt Gallery until July 28 (

From Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol, artists have long emphasized the importance of solitude in their work.

That was the case for Carole Itter and Al Neil, who from the mid-sixties to 2015 lived, part-time, in a ramshackle 1920s-era blue cabin set on the banks of the Burrard Inlet at Cates Park on North Vancouver’s waterfront. Though the cabin didn’t have hot water, (“we took warm baths at my home in Strathcona,” Itter says over the phone), it was a place for the couple, both interested in assemblage art, to find isolation and create pieces, some of which were shown in galleries around the world, and others which were left in the forest and beaches close to the cabin.

The Blue Cabin has been the subject of much attention over the last few years, as developers moved in to buy the land and the structure was slated for demolition. As a passionate advocate for art and historical preservation on the North Shore, Grunt Gallery program director Glenn Alteen became an advocate for preserving the structure. “We had been talking to many people about different options when we met (Mayne Island) artists Jeremy and Sus Borsos, who have extensive knowledge of restoration and working with traditional materials,” Alteen explains over the phone.

The Borsos spent six months restoring the fragile cabin, treating it as an archeological site and “taking it apart and putting it back together,” Alteen says.

Now, a powerful, historical exhibit at the Grunt Gallery, on until July 28, is documenting the process of remediating the Blue Cabin and providing insight into what it was like for the squatters and marine workers who lived on North Vancouver’s foreshore. The exhibition features fascinating pieces uncovered during the excavation, from historical posters that were found under the floorboards to a wasp’s nest. The Borsos’ sketches and blueprints for the restoration are included as well.

Throughout the preservation process Alteen says he has received support from North Vancouver Museum and Archives and Polygon Homes, which purchased the land occupied by the Blue Cabin. “Polygon bought the land, and in the early stages when we didn’t know what we were doing, gave us $12,000 to help us move the cabin out,” Alteen explains.

Itter is impressed with how the 90-year-old cabin, which is now placed at Maplewood Farm, looks now that it’s been restored. “It’s gone to a whole other stage. The right people were hired to do the restoration. They were so precise and had a real sense of the history,” she says.

Neil passed away in November 2017, but his esthetic lives on in the exhibit. “There are a lot of parallels with what Al does and Jeremy has done,” Alteen says. “Al worked around assemblage and bricolage (in his art). There’s synchronicity between the two,” he continues.

One of the highlights of the exhibit, Alteen says, is a diorama of the cabin floating on the water, a visual representation of what’s next for the Blue Cabin which the gallery plans on converting into a floating artists’ residency after the exhibition. “We’re in the middle now of working with some engineers, designing where it will go in the water; it should be manufactured by the end of the year,” Alteen explains. The plan is to initially moor the cabin in False Creek and then move it to Indian Arm.

The concept of a floating residency is unique, and currently Alteen knows of only one other artist residency on the North Shore. The Blue Cabin would have no limitation on the type of artist it would accept: “There will be international and national residencies,” Alteen says.

Carole Itter says the residency is “a dream come true, perpetuating what the cabin stood for the last 50 years … Vancouver and the West Coast is a magical place for artists – can you imagine being from New York City and coming out and living near the ocean?”

Thursday, June 28 at 7 p.m.
Daniel Francis | Squat City: A Brief History of Squatting Around Burrard Inlet
Author and historian Daniel Francis will speak about the history of squatter villages on the region’s foreshore.

Saturday, July 7 at 2 p.m.
Carole Itter in conversation with Krista Lomax
Artist Carole Itter will present an informal talk about her artwork and writings during her 35-year-long residency at the Blue Cabin. She will be joined by artist and editor Krista Lomax.

Thursday, July 12 at 7 p.m.
Other Sights for Artists’ Projects, The Foreshore
Artist Jen Weih and curator and artist Vanessa Kwan will speak about The Foreshore, a project produced by Other Sights, in collaboration with Kimberly Phillips.

Thursday, July 19 at 7 p.m.
The Blue Cabin Project
Blue Cabin founding partners Glenn Alteen, Esther Rausenberg and Barbara Cole will discuss the Blue Cabin Floating Artist Residency project.