In a 1982 issue of the Canadian Orchid Journal, then-editor Peter Bell writes: “Many factors, some doubtless vanishing back into my childhood, have made the experience of tropical forest indispensable to my sanity.” Arriving here via South Africa to become curator of the MUN Art Gallery in the 1960s, Bell had an unusual geodesic dome house and greenhouse built along Marine Drive in Outer Cove. Built in the early 1970s, this complex was likely the first of its kind in Newfoundland. In it, he and his wife Charlotte Macnee grew a lush tangle of plants normally found in sunnier climes and operated a seedling business (Dome Orchids). Within this colourful space was also an art studio, and many of Bell’s vibrant paintings, currently on display at The Rooms, were created there.
A geodesic dome can be an ideal shape for a greenhouse, as it is spacious, relatively easy and affordable to construct, and the frame actually increases in strength in relation to its size, virtually ensuring a sturdy structure. Dome buildings were popular in the 1960s and 1970s across North America, as evidenced by the Cinesphere at Ontario Place in Toronto or the Biosphere in Montreal. In 1977 the MUN Extension Service created a video—entitled “Dome Sweet Dome”—in which biologist Dr. John Evans and Duane Starcher of the Educational Television Centre set out to construct a greenhouse in Starcher’s backyard.
Peter Bell’s paintings have a surreal quality—a floral dreamscape in which the perspective seems to bend and shift within the flat image, reflecting the near-spherical viewpoint as he must have been observing or envisioning it in the studio. In addition to their army of foliage, the Bells populated their greenhouse to varying degrees of success with tree-frogs, small lizards, quail, canaries, and a goldfish pond, ostensibly to keep such pests as carpenters and pill-bugs at bay. The Bells moved to Scotland in 1987.
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