There’s something about the walking trails in Newfoundland and Labrador. Every one of them, sooner or later, will lead you to a lighthouse. They’re not always functional, but they’re there — and Audrey Cole has been on a mission to have each one recognized.
Over the past two years, Cole has visited most of the lighthouses in Newfoundland and Labrador. Bringing along a sketchbook and a camera, she has used her drawings, notes and photos to paint their images in oil on canvas, in great detail.
“I know I didn’t do them all, but I didn’t set out do to them all,” Cole explained of her series, which includes the lighthouses of Heart’s Content, Rose Blanche, Cape St. Mary’s, Cape Spear and Cape Race, among others. “I like their shapes and the way they stand out on that point. They’re just overlooking the world, aren’t they?”
With 29,000 kilometres of coastline, it’s obvious that lighthouses would be an important part of local history, and an inspiration for many local artists. According to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the first permanent lighthouse was established in Newfoundland in 1813 at Fort Amherst, at the entrance to St. John’s harbour. Since then, hundreds of lighthouses were established and many of them are still in operation, restored to include historic information and exhibits. Cape Race Lighthouse, for example, received the distress signal from the Titanic in 1912, and this year debuted a new exhibit about the event.
The Rose Blanche lighthouse, according to a Newfoundland and Labrador tourism website, was built in 1871 on the site where an Irish immigrant ship ran aground and smashed in a storm 43 years earlier. For three days, teenager Ann Harvey rescued passengers in a 12-foot skiff.
Cape Spear, one of the province’s best-known tourist destinations, is the oldest original lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador and the most easterly point in North America, and has been restored to its 1839 appearance. It’s been designated a National Historical Site of Canada.
Lighthouses represent a beacon for Cole in the opposite way they do for ships: while warning ships to stay away from the coast, they draw Cole in.
“When you see a lighthouse at a distance, you just feel like, ‘I have to get out there,’” Cole said.
Cole is a native of Alberta who’s lived in Newfoundland since 1960, first in Carbonear, then Grand Falls-Windsor and now St. John’s. She’s always had a love of drawing, she said, but never got seriously into art until her three children were grown. Her daughter, Joanne Costello, is also an artist.
Cole, who retired from her job as a library assistant at Memorial University’s Centre for Newfoundland Studies 12 years ago, has turned her hobby into a profession now that she has more time to devote to it, and specializes in landscapes. She finds much inspiration in local scenery, she said, whether it’s the Tablelands on the rocky shoreline.
“Newfoundland is the artist’s paradise,” Cole said, smiling. “With every turn in the road, there’s a scene to paint.”
Cole has participated in both solo and group shows, and has had her work displayed at Five Islands Gallery in Tors Cove, as well as Spurrell Gallery and Pollyanna Arts and Antique Gallery in St. John’s. It’s at the Pollyanna gallery where she’ll present her series, “Lighthouse Landscapes,” beginning Sunday evening.
In the majority of Cole’s pieces, the lighthouse is prominent; in others, it’s but a figure on the horizon. In “Cape St. Mary’s,” for instance, it was inevitable that birds would take over the foreground, an ecological reserve nearby.
Cole visited the lighthouses in all seasons, and her pieces reflect this. Some have the expected blue sky backgrounds, but Cole is particularly adept at getting the feel of the weather in her pieces. Winter trees, bending in the wind, storm clouds rolling in from the horizon and gray, translucent mist all expertly pull the viewer into the scene, as do sunrises and sunsets.
“That’s half the battle — getting the feel for the place,” Cole explained. “Then you’ve got to try and get on canvas what you’re feeling. I hope to be able to capture weather when I’m out there. Not every day is a nice day.”
Cole’s next project is to try working plein air, by bringing her easel and paints outside and on-site instead of working indoors from snapshots. With her passion for capturing weather, though, she’s not sure how it’ll work out.
“I’ve really been wanted to get out there and do it, but I don’t know how it’ll go, with the oils, though people do it. I do go out with watercolours, but it’s not the same as taking all the gear. And I don’t want to do just nice days,” she said.
Cole’s exhibition, “Lighthouse Landscapes” will open with a reception at the Pollyanna gallery Sunday from 7-9 p.m. It will be on display until Sept. 8.
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