Mats, hats and clothes­line pho­tographs

Artist spends her sum­mer in coastal Ship Cove prop­erty


Be­fore she packs up to spend her win­ters in Maine, artist Deborah Gor­don finds a muse in the ocean-side sum­mers of New­found­land.

The one wood-siding house in Ship Cove, sit­u­ated across from a scenic view of the At­lantic, is the place Gor­don calls home from June to the end of Au­gust.

Plen­ti­ful win­dows in the home al­low Gor­don to wake up each morn­ing to a glar­ing sun­rise across the ocean. With pho­tog­ra­phy be­ing one of her many artis­tic lean­ings, she rou­tinely im­mor­tal­izes these sun­rises with her cam­era.

With de­vel­oped skills that range from her back­ground as a mu­sic teacher to vegan cook­ing, Gor­don is self-taught in many of her tal­ents. She draws more from in-the-mo­ment in­tu­ition and fore­sight than from struc­ture and pre-plan­ning.

“My sto­ry­telling, my art, cook­ing — I do it all the same,” Gor­don said. “I don’t like prepa­ra­tion, I just like to do it. I only need min­i­mal struc­ture in my life.”

One of her first ven­tures into New­found­land-in­spired art was her pho­tog­ra­phy work with clothes­lines — a fre­quent sight in ru­ral parts of the is­land.

In 2005 her eyes were struck by the sight of some white sheets flail­ing around and dry­ing in the wind. But to Gor­don, there was some­thing strik­ing about this vi­sion — a vi­sion she says al­most seemed nat­u­rally in black and white. Gor­don called the pho­to­graph she cap­tured “the ghost of New­found­land.”

“I see things in clothes­lines,” she said. “They’re not just wait­ing limp on a line to dry, these clothes are chore­ographed, they dance.”

Since then, the clothes­line has be­come a sta­ple of her pho­tog­ra­phy, with one clothes­line photo dis­play­ing an ice­berg in the back­ground gain­ing the in­fat­u­a­tion of New­found­land and Labrador Tourism.

Gor­don says re­cently she’s wind­ing down on the se­ries — af­ter pho­tograph­ing so many clothes­lines, they re­ally have to stand out to be wor­thy of a cam­era click now.

“The clothes­lines has to be ex­tra­or­di­nary, be­fore they just had to be chore­ographed,” she said with a laugh.

With a life­time col­lec­tion of fab­ric and yarn, Gor­don has also spread her skills in the mak­ing of mats and cloth­ing.

She of­ten sketches out her ideas for mats with pen­cil and marker, and then traces them onto linen. Some­times, she sim­ply con­jures up an im­age in her mind and in­stantly be­gins cre­at­ing the im­age.

Her mat “Two Girls in the Cove” is the re­sult of Gor­don pic­tur­ing the im­age of her grand­daugh­ters and plac­ing them in a ru­ral New­found­land back­ground, then trans­fer­ring that men­tal im­age to pa­per and yarn. Gor­don calls it her favourite piece.

In­spired by her daugh­ter, who runs an or­ganic farm and vegan cook­ing school in Maine, she de­vel­oped the “Seed Sower” mat. For the piece, she also drew in­flu­ence from old farm­ing pro­pa­ganda posters of the for­mer Soviet Union and com­mu­nist China.

Gor­don’s fi­bre art in­cludes unique hats and chil­dren’s cloth­ing. The unique­ness of these works of­ten stems from Gor­don’s in­cor­po­ra­tion of knick knacks and found ob­jects she’ll sew into the pieces.

“If you find some­thing it can in­spire you,” she said. “Or you can put some holes in it and call it a but­ton.”

Out of her Ship Cove home, she has even of­fered vegan cook­ing lessons. Hav­ing raised her chil­dren as veg­e­tar­i­ans, and even­tu­ally con­verted to ve­g­an­ism by her daugh­ter, she knows the craft well.

Still, Gor­don ap­proaches cook­ing with the same tech­niques as her art. One of her lessons, which she calls “mak­ing any­thing from what you have,” en­cour­ages cooks, through her tute­lage, that they can make it work with what­ever is avail­able in the kitchen.

“I’m freestyling in my art,” said Gor­don. “It re­quires you to give up struc­ture and rigid­ity, so it fright­ens some peo­ple.”

Gor­don’s ad­ven­tures through­out New­found­land have been boun­ti­ful. Some of her favourite ex­pe­ri­ences in­clude con­nect­ing with trav­ellers from ar­eas like Swe­den or Bul­garia she met through the for­mer Tickle Inn in Cape Onion. Gor­don her­self went to art school in Swe­den.

As she pre­pares to leave the is­land for an­other win­ter, Gor­don says she feels an in­creas­ing dis­tance. As com­mu­ni­ties like Ship Cove age in pop­u­la­tion, she wor­ries for the fu­ture of the out-of-the-way out­port. Even if Ship Cove could sur­vive as a sum­mer com­mu­nity, Gor­don won­ders if the roads for a set­tle­ment so far from the high­way could be main­tained.

What­ever the fu­ture holds, it is clear through her art, cook­ing and per­son­al­ity, Gor­don has left a last­ing mark on the com­mu­nity of Ship Cove. She says many lo­cals of­ten come by re­quest­ing her to cook up her lo­cally fa­mous “magic heal­ing soup” when­ever they are in need.


One of Deborah Gor­don’s ini­tial muses when she came to the is­land of New­found­land was a fascination with pho­tograph­ing clothes­lines. “They’re not just wait­ing limp on a line to dry, these clothes are chore­ographed, they dance,” she said.


Artist Deborah Gor­don’s mat, “The Seed Sower.”


Deborah Gor­don’s mat “Two Girls in the Cove.”


Deborah Gor­don spends her sum­mers in Ship Cove, en­gag­ing in dif­fer­ent art projects from pho­tog­ra­phy, mat mak­ing, writ­ing, and vegan cook­ing, to name a few. Each win­ter, she packs up to Maine to see her fam­ily.

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