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Robina Anstey aiming to create one detailed painting of a coastal scene each month of 2021
The day Robina Anstey left Newfoundland is etched hard in her memory and has also played a role in inspiring her art.
It was Oct. 7, 1970 — her father Gilbert Anstey’s birthday.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget,” says Robina, 65.
She was 13 at the time, and her family lived in Summerford, Notre Dame Bay. Gilbert, a lumberjack, had a bad back and was out of work, and, being the brave and adventurous man he was, he decided, like many others at the time, a move to the mainland was in order.
That day, Anstey’s mother, Eileen, packed up six of her kids — the couple also had two adult children — and boarded the Newfie Bullet at Lewisporte Junction, destined for the ferry at Port aux Basques and, further along the journey, Toronto.
Anstey says she “went kicking and screaming.”
“I didn’t want to leave my grandmother, my father’s mother. I was really close to her,” she said.
Coming from a “little, tiny, religious, God-fearing community,” to a metropolis like Toronto was a shock, Anstey said.
“I mean, we were petrified to cross the street, for goodness sakes,” she says.
Anstey, who spent 27 years in Toronto before moving to Florida in 2000, was in her late 20s or early 30s when she came to learn and understand more about Newfoundland and its resettlement program.
She has been fascinated by it since.
Perhaps because of her own history of being uprooted as a child, Anstey says something about the provincial government’s strategy to relocate people from small towns and villages in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s strikes a chord with her, and she’s moved by the durability of the people who managed to survive such traumatic experiences.
“Newfoundlanders have got to be the most resilient people on this planet,” she said.
Anstey’s captivation with resettlement, abandoned communities and Newfoundland and Labrador’s outport towns in general has not only made it into her art, but has become a big part of it.
Scenes of communities from the area she grew up and farther off places like the abandoned Grand Bruit, on the southwest coast, have found the way onto her canvasses, with more on the way.
Each year, Anstey, who is a self-taught artist, sets artistic goals to challenge herself, and for 2021 she is attempting to paint one, larger detailed painting of a coastal scene each month. Most, if not all, will likely feature Newfoundland outports, she said.
Anstey is on par so far with works completed for January, February and March — the first of Little Harbour, Twillingate, another scene of that town’s south side, and another of Petite Forte on the Burin Peninsula.
April’s painting will be of Pushthrough, a resettled fishing community on the province’s south coast, northwest of Hermitage.
Though they may not be done as part of her challenge for this year, scenes of Battle Harbour, located on Labrador’s southeastern coast, and Bragg’s Island, on the north side of Bonavista Bay, are also on her to-do list.
Though she has been artistic since childhood, Anstey says it was only after moving to Florida, and particularly since retiring in 2011, finding herself with more free time, that she started to focus much more on the passion.
“To be honest with you, if you were to speak to my mother, she would say I was born with a crayon in my hands,” Anstey says.
“Art has always been a big influence and inspiration in my life. It has helped me with my political voice, my social awkwardness. It’s helped me in so many ways.”
Anstey says her paintings of coastal scenes sell almost as soon as the paint is dry and have been bought by people around the world. Many people relate to the imagery of boats and colourful, modest homes in small towns, she says.
“I think a lot of people can connect to that. They can identify with that,” she said.
Heart in Newfoundland
Anstey, who now lives in Spring Hill, Fla., a retirement community north of Tampa, says her heart is still in Newfoundland.
Some of her siblings eventually moved back to Newfoundland, and her parents retired in the province. Her mother lives in Lewisporte. Her father died in 1991.
Anstey says she has many fond memories of growing up in the province. She and her husband regularly visit, and hope to return this summer if possible.
They have a summer home in Sandy Cove on the Eastport Peninsula.
“We love it,” she says.
Paul Herridge reports on the Burin Peninsula.