Artist re­turns to her roots

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Coat­i­cook

It’s one thing to re­turn to your home­town for short, nos­tal­gic vis­its; quite an­other to re­turn to your early stomp­ing grounds, af­ter an ab­sence of al­most forty years, to live there. An­nie Ab­dalla, who grew up in Coat­i­cook un­til the early 1970’s when she moved away to pur­sue her ed­u­ca­tion,

has been Coatic’Art’s Artist in Res­i­dence for the past five months and seems to be thor­oughly en­joy­ing re-dis­cov­er­ing her home­town. “I ar­rived here at the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber and the res­i­dency was sup­posed to end at the end of De­cem­ber; I’ve had two ex­ten­sions,” ex­plained Ms. Ab­dalla in an in­ter­view in Coatic’Art’s apart­ment/ stu­dio above the Coat­i­cook li­brary. “When I first left here, I went to school in Europe, in On­tario,” con­tin­ued the artist who stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing, so­ci­ol­ogy and en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies be­fore dis­cov­er­ing her in­ter­est in art.

“In my thir­ties I went back to school to do grad­u­ate work and, in a course on crit­i­cal think­ing about the me­dia, our pro­fes­sor taught us how to shoot and de­velop film. I had never done art be­fore; I learnt how to slow down and really see, which changed my re­la­tion­ship with the en­vi­ron­ment,” ex­plained Ms. Ab­dalla about what mo­ti­vated her to study art. de­cided to do a Bach­e­lor of Fine Arts in Hal­i­fax to help me with my Masters. Hal­i­fax really pleased me so I stayed there.”

Over the years she of­ten came back to the East­ern Town­ships re­gion with her sib­lings to visit her par­ents, the late Louis Ab­dalla, who ran sev­eral phar­ma­cies in Coat­i­cook for decades, and Joan Ab­dalla who now lives in North Hat­ley. “We would al­ways swing by Café Cen­tral. We weren’t al­lowed to go there as chil­dren. But it’s very dif­fer­ent to be liv­ing here again.”

She con­tin­ued: “I lived here dur­ing the Quiet Rev­o­lu­tion. My mother was a war bride from Eng­land; we weren’t al­lowed to speak French at home. I’m try­ing to make sense of things. My me­mory of this place was like a sub­way map: I only knew about a few of the stops. Now I’m try­ing to em­bel­lish my map.”

When asked why artists choose to do res­i­den­cies, Ms. Ab­dalla said: “There’s noth­ing like liv­ing in a new place to change the way you work. I’ve done a res­i­dency in Ice­land and one in Maine. It’s very good for sharp­en­ing the eyes. And liv­ing in an­other lan­guage is even bet­ter – that height­ens my aware­ness.”

This res­i­dency also fits well with An­nie’s an­nual rit­ual, since 2008, of spend­ing sev­eral months of the year liv­ing near enough to visit her mother, now af­flicted with Alzheimer’s disease, on a daily ba­sis.

Af­ter spend­ing only five short months liv­ing and prac­tic­ing art in Coat­i­cook, I was sur­prised by how much the artist has dis­cov­ered about the area. “This town has a tremen­dous arts pro­gram for a com­mu­nity of only nine thou­sand: an artist’s group and an arts and cul­ture cen­tre. It also has a dy­namic in­dus­trial base that I’m study­ing.” She has ex­plored Mt. Here­ford and she “loves” the Pioneer Trail in­stal­la­tions. “I like to lis­ten to the record­ings in French,” said Ms. Ab­dalla who is pleased that she has been able to learn French, thanks in large part to find­ing a French tu­tor soon af­ter her ar­rival. She is also in­volved in the Coat­i­cook His­tory So­ci­ety and a French Book Club at the li­brary. “This town is more ac­ces­si­ble to me now that I am an adult and I speak French. I’ve met many peo­ple, some­times just walking along the street, who say nice things about my Dad and my Mom; this is the only place in the world where I would hear that.”

Ms. Ab­dalla has also rekin­dled her love of Que­bec win­ters, cross-coun­try ski­ing on lo­cal trails, pre­fer­ring our abun­dant snow to the win­ter rains of Nova Sco­tia. Even her lit­tle dog, Mad­die, is adapt­ing, now sport­ing lit­tle booties to pro­tect her feet from the salt when she ac­com­pa­nies her master on her long walks around the town.

“I’ve been to a Dy­namiks game at the arena, to Christ­mas Tea at the Beaulne and a Coat­i­cook Har­mony con­cert. The way the town kept the old band­stand at the down­town park and built around it, that’s an ex­am­ple of a town with good so­cial cap­i­tal.”

A multi-dis­ci­plinary artist who also teaches art at Ver­mont’s God­dard Col­lege, the ab­sorb­ing art Ms. Ab­dalla has been cre­at­ing since her ar­rival has a very ‘ge­o­graph­i­cal’ look. “My fa­ther was a nav­i­ga­tor in the war so I grew up read­ing maps and have al­ways been fas­ci­nated by them. I’ve oc­cu­pied my imag­i­na­tion here think­ing about ter­ri­to­ries and maps; there were zones around here that we never vis­ited as chil­dren or even thought about, like the whole area past the east­ern ridge,” said the artist who even uses maps of the town’s un­der­ground water sys­tems, help­fully sup­plied by the town’s De­part­ment of Pub­lic Works, as in­spi­ra­tion.

Ex­am­ples of An­nie’s Coat­i­cook-in­spired art can be found on her web­site and is def­i­nitely worth a look.

Asked whether this ex­ploratory artist will mount an ex­hibit based on her Coat­i­cook ex­pe­ri­ence, she an­swered: “I’ll need time to let it all soak in. I’m still ex­per­i­ment­ing and ask­ing ques­tions. I’m hop­ing to, one day, do an ex­hibit at the Beaulne which will be based on the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Pho­tos Vic­to­ria Vanier

An­nie Ab­dalla poses with one of her Coat­i­cook-in­spired can“Ivasses in Coatic’Art’s apart­ment/stu­dio for res­i­dent artists.

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