TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List | Martha Cole
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Martha Cole

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Martha Cole - Disley, Saskatchewan, Canada

Martha Cole – Disley, Saskatchewan, Canada


Video interviews on ARTSask

(There are several!)
I often define myself as a landscape-based artist whose roots are deeply buried in Saskatchewan soil. I have returned to this theme many times, always exploring and deepening my connection to the land I call home. Sometimes I have focused on the vast expansiveness of the prairie panorama, the patterning of the agricultural fields; other times on the complexity and subtlety of the grasses and flora. Whatever the focus, this land has continued to challenge and inspire me.

“Diversification”, a term usually applied economically or environmentally and often cited as the determiner of healthy sustainability, can also be applied to the cultural sector. In my travels around the province and across Canada, I have witnessed and interacted with many distinct vibrant arts communities. Witnessing this cultural vibrancy wherever I went has led to a clearer distinction between ‘culture making’ and ‘art making’ in my own art practice and has affirmed my belief that I must ground my work where I live.

I have gained a deeper understanding of “power of place”.

As an “art maker”, I believe that art and visual images carry in them the power to generate change if they are created with honouring and respectful intention. Therefore, I try to create images that are beautiful, reflective of my values, and accessible both visually and intellectually. I hope to show aspects of the prairies that are both new and familiar to my viewers. I want them to experience the broad, expansive “power of place” that is so characteristic of the prairies as well as the small, fragile and vulnerable within the wide sweep of this landscape.

As a “culture maker”, I am committed to effecting change in our society. I have chosen to place my work here – where I live. I want these images to resonate, to affirm and deepen a personal connection in each of us to this land. I believe that if we can learn to love this land we cannot help but work to save it, thereby saving ourselves in the process.


EARLY YEARS (1946-1976)
I decided I wanted to be an artist when I was 14 years old. This was made possible through the efforts of my high school art teacher, who gave me extra teaching throughout high school and “got me ready” to move into the culture-making world. As well, he negotiated passage into university drawing classes while I was still a high school student, introduced me to a number of local artists and took me to their studios. When it came time to apply to art schools, he guided me through the sourcing of good schools, helped me produce the required portfolios, and eventually sent me “on my way” with a solid grounding for the next step.

The Saskatchewan Arts Board ensured that I had access to scholarships and grants that made my attending the University of Washington in Seattle possible. Five years later I graduated with a BFA in Sculpture.

I returned to Canada in 1970 and moved to Toronto where I worked as the slide librarian in the Fine Arts Department of the University of Toronto and then went on to acquire a Bachelor of Education with a major in Art and a secondary focus in Librarianship. For the next three years, I taught Art to grades 9-13 in a metropolitan Toronto school. These were my least productive artmaking years.

MIDDLE YEARS: (1977-1997)
Dissatisfied, I decided to quit teaching and move back to Saskatchewan in the hope that I would be able to live there less expensively and, by having a part-time job, focus my energies on developing myself as an artist. In 1978, I was able to buy the United Church in Disley, population 48 persons, and secure a part time job in the Medical Library at the Plains Health Centre, in Regina. I retained this job, working two days a week, for 15 years.

It took two years to get a clear title to the Church and have all the renovations completed. During that time I rented a studio in the nearby town of Lumsden. Owning a sewing machine and being unable to create sculptures in this space, I proceeded to “sew” a few artworks. This required a whole new set of skills, which I began to acquire, mostly through direct contact with family members and other stitchers/quilters, by attending various workshops from the local guilds and by reading “the fine print” in articles and books about fabric art. How quickly we dismiss this kind of learning when it doesn’t cumulate into a set of credentials after our names!

In 1984, I had my first fabric-based exhibition at the Rosemont Art Gallery, in Regina, SK. The theme was a series of large scale landscapes based on a trip I took across the lower part of the province. After approx. 10 years, I was sufficiently established and was able to focus on my artwork fulltime – a privilege for which I am consistently thankful.

I am still engaged and challenged by the potential of fabric to reach people in a different way than does the more traditional art media and therefore continue to work primarily in this medium. We have a deep connection to fabric that has been generated by our being wrapped in it since we were born. I like to use that connection as a way to make people more responsive to my work.

In the late 80’s I also became very excited about Artist’s Books. Books offer a one-on-one interaction, a different kind of intimacy than fabric works on a wall. Making books entails another set of skills, which I am still actively pursuing.

I continue to live in Disley, SK with my partner of 20 years, Heather Elliott. I am able to pursue my art practice in a separate studio in the yard where I divide my time between both media. The stretches of concentrated studio time are interspersed with teaching a variety of workshops in both the fabric and book media. These workshops occur throughout the province and across the country, usually in the spring and fall seasons.

It is a good balance.

Life is good.

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