Artist captures incredible images of people showing vulnerability and strength

Nancy Cole takes her journalism skills and applies them to art

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. –  Artist Nancy Cole was on a seven-week international residency in a remote and rural community dotted in the Serra da Estrela mountains of Portugal, when on her last night wildfires engulfed the area and killed more than 40 people.

“Sunday, the night before I was to leave I got caught in the wildfires and we literally had to run for our lives,” she remembered with a troubled look in her eyes as people paused over each one of her images hanging in the latest Eptek Art and Culture Centre exhibition called ‘Reveal to Conceal.’

Nancy Cole captured a local Summerside fisherman. She calls the image ‘Vanishing Point’ about corporate farming taking over from small-scale fishermen.
Nancy Cole captured a local Summerside fisherman. She calls the image ‘Vanishing Point’ about corporate farming taking over from small-scale fishermen.

“It made all of these pieces more important to me because it was no longer just a nostalgic look at rural Portugal, but now I don’t know if those people survived,” she motioned to a particular image of an elderly widow with a warmness attached to her eyes.

“This elderly widow was in a small village and was sitting on a dry stone wall wearing a traditional hat. She was lamenting that the village water at the top of the hill wasn’t good, but for her to carry the buckets back up to her home from the newer, better well was a weight too much for her to bear,” said Cole, who was in Portugal in Oct. 2017.

“I did a whole series where I put 44 red French knots on each of the portraits because 44 people died that one night when the wildfires broke out in that area where we were staying,” she noted.

“It made all of these pieces more important to me because it was no longer just a nostalgic look at rural Portugal, but now I don’t know if those people survived.” – Nancy Cole

Cole’s contemporary artwork is done on Tyvek, which is a brand of flash-spun high-density polyethylene fibers used to wrap homes in.

“My materials are part of the allegory for what I am creating. Tyvek is part of the art in that it’s an industrial housing product, but also artistically it gives the feeling of fragility because it looks like paper. All these moments that I am trying to capture are very fragile moments but also very tough.”

Every one of her pieces has a story behind the face that has been originally drawn by Bic pen while incorporating reflections of her journalism career, and then hand-quilted to the Tyvek.

“Journalism was a tough job, but I was always very drawn to the human interest story. As I grew older I began to realize that perhaps I could say better what I wanted through visual art.”

Daria Ross, from the left, and Meike Brown her mother Becka Viau’s artwork.
Daria Ross, from the left, and Meike Brown her mother Becka Viau’s artwork.

Cole took with her to Portugal at a Bic pen and a sketchbook, capturing moments that will forever be treasured.

“It’s being journalistic, but trying to do it visually,” she said as her eyes lit-up.

As people weaved their way through the creative pieces, some stopped to speculate on Becka Viau’s creative display.

“It’s called postpartum,” she motioned. “I did the series the year after my second child was born, but I tend to work in the abstract. There are real elements in my drawing you can notice like mountains, teardrops, and birds, but for me, it was a release of energy that leads to these drawing.”

The exhibition that opened on Sunday afternoon will continue until mid-February.

Nikki Gallant, the site director, said the exhibition would not be possible without the support of Innovation P.E.I. Culture Action Plan.