Kingston art thriving in Martello

Founder David Dossett discusses the inspiration behind his local showcase

Martello is visually striking upon first entrance.
Photo: 
Queen’s alumni David, ArtSci ’83, and Wendy Dossett, Con-Ed ’87, launched Kingston’s Martello Alley back in 2015. Martello is an immersive installation featuring the works of local Kingston artists, while also challenging the formal atmosphere of traditional galleries.
 
In an interview with The Journal, David Dossett credited the inspiration behind the showcase to his late father. 
 
“He used to spend all his time on the water in a little boat his dad made for him,” Dossett said. 
 
“He was a very interesting person. He liked art, he could fly, he learned how to play music and everything, and he painted.”
 
Dossett ultimately found they shared a love for painting. 
 
“He painted this picture of this French street, a copy of a Maurice Utrillo painting, and it always struck me. I never knew that I could paint, and I discovered I could paint, and that was the inspiration for this spot,” Dossett said.
 
“[Martello] is to honour him. Unfortunately, he died two years before I opened this up, but I know he would have been beyond thrilled with this place.”
 
When engaging with gallery visitors, Dossett is always telling stories about the art in Martello and Kingston’s history. Being bilingual in both English and French allows him to connect with his visitors on a personal level. 
 
As an artist himself, Dossett understands the importance of having local artists run Martello rather than salespeople. While art galleries often draw people in for what’s inside, Martello attracts visitors with its exterior art. 
 
“When you see limestone in Quebec City, they always have bright colours with it—yellows and blues and greens and reds. I thought we’d bring that here,” Dossett said.
 
“We had the basis of it, we had the old stone walls and the beautiful courtyards, but they were very dark.”
 
Realizing Dossett’s vision for Martello involved strenuous work. The restoration prior to its 2015 opening proved arduous, with Dossett doing much of the work himself. 
 
“One of the first things I did was paint the ground, which took a month on my hands and knees.”
 
Martello isn’t the only art space in Kingston the Dossetts have revived. They also took over another store on Brock street, now known as Martello on Brock. After transforming it into a thriving art shop and gallery, they invited the space’s previous artists back to share and sell their work. 
 
Despite receiving little attention early in the pandemic, Martello has since implemented technological innovations that have kept their sales and engagement at pre-pandemic levels. 
 
Those who visit the Martello website can now explore the gallery in augmented reality with 360-degree viewing. It allows potential buyers to see how a piece of art will look in their home before purchasing it. Both pick-up and shipping are offered. 
 
“We have to bring art and art galleries into the twenty-first century,” Dossett said. 
 
Nevertheless, for Dossett, the work behind Martello was never about making money. 
 
“It’s not to have a store to sell stuff to people,” he said.“When you’re here, you’re always talking to an artist, always. The story is the critical thing. There is a ton of history all around you. This place has a story. Kingston has a story.”
 
Dossett emphasized the importance of patience and consistency in building community. For some of Martello’s featured artists, making art is an important emotional outlet. 
 
“You make a difference in people’s lives, and to me that’s what it’s about.”

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