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Review

Bamfield Houses

By Heather Cooper and Judith Phillips

Living Artfully: Reflections from the Far West Coast

By Anita Sinner and Christine Lowther, Editors

March 6, 2014

Review By Lauren Harding

  

The West Coast of Canada is often seen as a mecca for artistic types, especially for those who draw their inspiration from nature. Anita Sinner and Christine Lowther’s edited volume collects a wide variety of artists’ accounts of creating art in a particular locale, the “far west” coast, which they define as all points west of the British Columbian mainland.

The collection shows a diversity of perspectives on what it means to “live artfully,” ranging from discussions of artistic works (Bill Zuk), poetry (Mike Emme), memoirs (Keith Harrison), and “how we ended up here” stories (Libbie Morin). Many of the accounts are deeply personal, and some veer too far into the territory of the overly self-absorbed confessional. Most, however, are fascinating, sometimes humorous, sometimes reflective, stories of how the creative process occurs not simply within the mind or on the palette but in place. One of the strengths of this collection is that by placing the various perspectives of diverse artists against each other, the heterogeneity of what “art” means and where it comes from is made clear. Tales of social and economic classism, heterosexism, and ageism add layers to the social geography of the coast, showing it to be just as complex as the physical topography of the far west.

The majority of the artists selected by the editors are migrants to the coast who often view the natural world as separate from human places. I do wonder how the way in which the artistic process connects to geography is different for an artist with roots in a community that are woven not only by oneself, but by previous generations.

In contrast, Heather Cooper and Judith Phillips focus on the very human process of building home and community. Cooper is Bamfield’s resident historian and archivist, and she complements Phillips’ beautiful pastels of Bamfield houses with tales of each home’s history. By looking at history through the very localized lens of the home, the author and artist slowly uncover the rich history of the community, and its sometimes unexpected connections to the larger world. Bamfield rose to national importance at the turn of the twentieth century as the location for a marine cable station that linked Canada’s Pacific Coast with the British “red line” connecting Britain’s Pacific colonies and dominions. This larger history is the background for diverse stories of homebuilding on this Pacific inlet, one of the last places in Canada that is truly “at the end of the road” (and a logging road at that!), far removed from the “mainland” way of life. Phillips and Cooper lovingly depict the flotsam and jetsam of Bamfield characters and their homes, which sometimes have literally have washed up on the shores of the inlet.

Both of these books would be of interest to folks who want to learn about how art “grows” when rooted in the particular geography of the far west coast.

Living Artfully: Reflections from the Far West Coast
Anita Sinner and Christine Lowther, editors

Toronto: Key Publishing House, 2012. 242 pp. $32.99 paper

Bamfield Houses: A History of Bamfield Houses
Heather Cooper and Judith Phillips
Victoria: Island Blue Print, 2012. 69 pp. $35.00 paper