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The rock whisperer

Retired employee maps geological origins through art

Campus and Community

By Kristine Power

Her love of rocks started when she was growing up in Crockers Cove on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Joanne Cole standing in front of her art
Joanne Cole standing in front of one of her painting.
Photo: Richard Blenkinsopp

The epic and stark landscape of Carbonear Island and Conception Bay was her childhood playground – rocks and ocean as far as the eye could see.

It is not a surprise recent Queen Elizabeth II Library employee Joanne Cole developed a creative obsession with the geological stories that rocks tell. Something in her imagination feels at home exploring landscapes, listening and searching for the things rocks can tell us about our time and place in the world.

“I’ve always had my hands in rocks and I don’t really know what that says about me,” joked Ms. Cole. “I still haven’t been able to explain that. Maybe it is some deep-seated wonder about why we are here.”

Evolving into Deep Time

The First Space Gallery in the Queen Elizabeth II Library is currently exhibiting a retrospective of Ms. Cole’s art, titled Evolving into Deep Time.

Ms. Cole spent more than 28 years in the Map Room connecting researchers with the 100,000 maps in the library’s collection.

“When I see a map, I see adventure and some kind of a solitary journey. It’s about exploring new areas, especially abandoned places and little coves that are uninhabited. Places with interesting names,” she said. “There are places that call me and I have to go to those places.”

Evolving into Deep Time traces Ms. Cole’s fascination with the landscape over a 30-year period and reveals how her fascination becomes refined as her understanding of geology brings her closer and closer to the very composition of the rocks themselves.

“My early painting are just skimming the surface.” — Joanne Coles

Her maps take her to far-flung places and the rocks that await her reveal themselves in a solitary exchange of creation. She sits before them and takes out her sketchbook with reverence and artistic ritual.

“My early painting are just skimming the surface. I wasn’t even painting detailed rocks. They were just colours and shapes,” said Ms. Cole. “I was unaware of the names of the formations and minerals that are in them and how they were formed – the geology of them.”

Endless opportunities

Ms. Cole says that working in the library was integral to her creative expression. Her professional work in the Map Room and later her work in the Archives and Special Collections Division created endless opportunities of discovery, learning and inspiration.

Certain library collections made a lasting impact. She discovered the field books, journals and memoirs of the prominent geologist James P. Howley and created a series of visual interpretations based on his writings called All Roads Lead to Here.

“His poetic descriptions of the geological features of an area captured my imagination; his field books were not filled with textbook jargon but colourful descriptions of the landscape he explored,” she writes in her blog. “I wanted to find the “silky blue slate” and the “soapy yellow talcose” near Sops Arm or the “confused mass of igneous rock” on Change Islands that he further described as a patchwork quilt.”

What comes next with all the time and space her retirement brings? More life and more art.

“I’m getting more immersed in my art and I can see it getting bigger, basically larger than life.”

Evolving into Deep Time will be on display in the First Space Gallery in the Queen Elizabeth II Library until Dec. 15, 2021.

You can explore more of Ms. Cole’s artwork on her website.

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