Mix­ing it up in Fogo

The Compass - - OPINION - — Peter Pick­ers­gill is an artist and writer in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: pick­ers­gill@mac.com

Two weeks ago, af­ter plan­ning for five years to re­turn to Fogo, I set foot at long last on that very spe­cial is­land.

I vis­ited Fogo for the first time as a child in 1954 and pe­ri­od­i­cally since, most re­cently in 2008.

At that time I wrote of our ar­rival on the ferry: “The voy­age lasted less than an hour, but ar­riv­ing at the ter­mi­nal near Stag Har­bour we knew we were en­ter­ing a very spe­cial place. Fogo, an is­land off the coast of an is­land, off the coast of a con­ti­nent. Not in the main­stream. Thriv­ing though, not in spite of be­ing out­side the main­stream, but be­cause of it.”

That last sen­tence is truer to­day than it was then. Be­cause they are is­landers the peo­ple of Fogo re­al­ized when they first came ashore on their rock at the outer edge of Hamil­ton Sound: if we want to make it here we have to take mat­ters into our own hands.

They did so when Joey tried to re­set­tle them. They did so when they formed the Fogo Is­land Co-op and they are do­ing so to­day with the es­tab­lish­ment of the Shore­fast Foun­da­tion.

Ev­ery­one in New­found­land and Labrador by now has heard the name Zita Cobb and has some idea that it is she who cre­ated the Shore­fast Foun­da­tion. But you must go to Fogo to truly un­der­stand what an amaz­ing phe­nom­e­non is tak­ing place there.

I was ex­pect­ing, from the trick­les of in­for­ma­tion reach­ing me, to see sev­eral artists’ stu­dios and a large Inn. I was un­pre­pared for the thor­ough­go­ing orig­i­nal­ity and bril­liant ex­e­cu­tion of those build­ings. They took me back to the ex­cit­ing ide­al­ism of my days as a stu­dent at the UBC School of Ar­chi­tec­ture, circa 1972.

But bril­liant though they are, it is not the struc­tures alone that so in­spire me.

What does, is rec­og­niz­ing that the built en­vi­ron­ment, as with an ice­berg, is only the vis­i­ble tip. What lies be­low is much big­ger. I can see that the build­ings them­selves are sim­ply tan­gi­ble tools to carry out the larger strat­egy. By re­turn­ing to the first prin­ci­ples of out­port life — in­ven­tive­ness, hand­made ex­e­cu­tion, and ex­cel­lence of work­man­ship — Shore­fast is brew­ing a kind of twenty-first cen­tury alchemy. The in­gre­di­ents of de­sign ge­nius and ar­ti­sanal par­tic­i­pa­tion are be­ing melded to pro­duce an op­ti­mism and healthy vigour among an en­tire pop­u­la­tion.

Ev­ery­thing about the Fogo Is­land Inn start­ing with the build­ing it­self and in­clud­ing ev­ery stick of fur­ni­ture within it was com­mis­sioned af­ter a world­wide de­sign search.

While the de­signs may have emerged from the fer­tile imag­i­na­tions of peo­ple far away, they are car­ried out us­ing al­most all Fogo Is­land ma­te­ri­als and built by Fogo Is­land res­i­dents. The Inn it­self was de­signed by Todd Saun­ders, a world-renowned ar­chi­tect, based in Ber­gen, Nor­way, born and raised in Gan­der. The chairs in the Inn’s 29 rooms, all built in Fogo, will be of­fered for sale world­wide with the po­ten­tial to spawn an on­go­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tre staffed by is­land peo­ple.

The im­pact of the global econ­omy has of­ten meant that peo­ple in small places are un­able to keep their heads above wa­ter when prod­ucts from away flood their home mar­ket­place.

Zita Cobb and the Shore­fast Foun­da­tion be­lieve that need not be so. They be­lieve that glob­al­ism means the abil­ity for ev­ery place, how­ever re­mote, to make use of what is at hand nearby, in hu­man and ma­te­rial terms and at the same time have ac­cess to the planet both im­port­ing and ex­port­ing in a way that makes sense to the lo­cal com­mu­nity. It is what I would call in­tel­li­gent glob­al­ism. It is a dif­fer­ent kind of chem­istry.

A chem­istry that af­fects not only the res­i­dents of Fogo who, them­selves or through friends and fam­ily, are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the creative ex­er­cise tak­ing place on their is­land. It af­fects ev­ery bit as im­por­tantly, vis­i­tors from away by demon­strat­ing that there is a bet­ter ap­proach to de­vel­op­ing a sus­tain­able, inclusive so­ci­ety.

I spoke about ev­ery stick of fur­ni­ture ear­lier. The pho­tos of the Fogo Is­land Inn show what many be­lieve is a large con­crete and glass ho­tel. Not so. It is en­tirely made of wood. Is­land wood, ei­ther from Fogo or else­where in New­found­land. This ma­te­rial can be har­vested, shaped and fash­ioned here, thus mak­ing work for peo­ple who live along­side. If we choose to do so. And Shore­fast has made that choice.

That choice ex­tends be­yond the ben­e­fit to hu­mans and en­com­passes the en­tire en­vi­ron­ment. The Inn col­lects rain­wa­ter for use in flush­ing toi­lets etc., spar­ing the mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter. Though only newly fin­ished there is not any of the post con­struc­tion mess that in­evitably takes time to clean up. The site is en­tirely tidy. All wires are un­der­ground and ev­ery blade of grass ap­pears to have been un­touched. The en­vi­ron­ment looks as it did a thou­sand years ago. It is as though this gi­ant build­ing has been low­ered gen­tly to the ground by some mag­i­cal crane.

The artist’s stu­dios are en­tirely self-suf­fi­cient. Their elec­tric­ity is cre­ated by so­lar panels. They are equipped with com­post­ing toi­lets. Wa­ter comes from wells and heat­ing is by wood which is also avail­able from the wood­stove in each of the 29 rooms in the Inn.

One of my favourite pho­tos from my visit was of the artist’s stu­dio in Shoal Bay. In the mid­dle is the three storey stu­dio, shaped some­thing like a rocket, point­ing up­ward to the sky.

On one side of the stu­dio is the pho­to­voltaic panel for col­lect­ing so­lar en­ergy. On the other is a wood­horse for saw­ing off junks for the stove. Com­mon sense can make strange neigh­bours.

As I was stand­ing be­neath the end of the Inn, can­tilevered on a se­ries of posts, some of them lean­ing slightly this way and that, I un­der­stood where that de­sign idea had come from. It was prob­a­bly in­spired by the child­hood mem­ory of a young girl play­ing un­derneath a fish flake in Joe Batt’s Arm. When she grew up, like so many oth­ers, she moved away to get work. When she came home the flakes were gone, though she re­mem­bered them well. With her she brought a whole crowd of new ideas. She de­cided to mix them up.

That young girl was Zita Cobb.

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