What comes to mind when you hear the words “hotel art”? Insipid, mass-produced paintings bolted to the walls, right? But you’d be hard pressed to find that kind of schmaltz at the Courtyard by Marriott Burlington Harbor. Jay Canning, president of the hotel’s management company, Westport Hospitality, has been on a mission to fill the walls and grounds with local art. In fact, he likes Burlington photographer Shayne Lynn’s work so much, he recently ordered two prints for each of the 161 guest rooms, happily replacing the generic stuff that once hung there.
“They’re just sort of stark and beautiful,” he says of Lynn’s photos, each of which depicts a different sunset vista across a frozen Lake Champlain.
Earlier this year, the same photos hung on the first-floor wall by the elevators, where Canning sites a rotating exhibit of local work. Captivated by their stillness and cool colors, he approached Burlington City Arts — with whom Lynn had worked to get into the show — about licensing the photos for the hotel. Canning reveals that he paid between $1000 and $2000 for the rights to reprint Lynn’s two images.
Not surprisingly, the photographer was thrilled to see his work gain such visibility in one fell swoop. “There aren’t too many places around here that are purchasing art like that,” he says.
Photography has always been a part of Lynn’s life, though he started on the other side of the camera. His grandmother was a photographer and asked him to pose for portraits every time she visited, he recalls. As he got older, Lynn experimented with cameras himself, spending a lot of time in the darkroom at the summer camp his parents ran in Newfane.
But his primary focus back then was ski racing. Lynn went to Stratton Mountain School and raced through his four years at the University of Vermont. After graduating in 1993, he moved to Colorado, where he sponsored and coached athletes for another four years, taking pictures the whole time. Eventually itching to get out of the ski industry, Lynn pursued a career in photography. He moved to California to attend art school, took up yoga and committed himself to making a living with his photos. He’s done just that since 2000.
Lynn’s photos are still and contemplative, qualities he says he explores in his Hatha yoga practice and, counterintuitively, in his ski racing.
“In sports there’s a place where you get when you’re in your zone, and everything around you feels really still,” he explains.
In the pair of landscapes licensed by the Courtyard, the lake’s surface is all massive ice shards like puzzle pieces, reflecting the cool gold of the sun. Lynn recalls the February several years ago when he took the photos.
“I’ve been here a long time, but I hadn’t seen [the lake] freeze over like that,” he says. “I remember noticing there weren’t any waves, and then, like, Holy cow! It’s just frozen through, and it’s perfectly clear and gorgeous.”
Lynn spent a few evenings shooting the icy lake with his grandmother’s square-format 1965 Hasselblad. The resulting images now hang in the Courtyard’s guest rooms, some with windows overlooking the same lake.
Elsewhere in the hotel, Canning continues to expand his collection. There’s the Malcolm Dubois painting that was stolen — and mysteriously returned — last spring, and a series of watercolors by Burlington architect Tom Cullins (of TruexCullins Architecture + Interior Design), who designed the hotel. A bronze sculpture by Williston artist Richard Erdman was just installed on the patio, and Erdman is now finishing another piece destined for the entry off Cherry Street.
Canning says he often discovers artists through BCA, but some acquisitions have come through direct connections. Asked about his annual art-purchasing budget, Canning chuckles and says, “That would be a smart thing to do, right?” Until recently, he has simply invested in artwork whenever it feels right. This is not corporate policy at all Marriotts, but Canning says his staff is committed to showing vibrant local art.
So, will bland hotel art become a thing of the past?
“I don’t know,” Canning says. “It took hotels years and years to figure out how important the bed is. A few years ago, Westin came up with the concept of the ‘heavenly bed,’ and it was like, Oh, yeah, of course it would be great to have a really comfortable bed.”
Maybe hoteliers will figure out it’s great to look at really good art.