Deborah Gordon’s mat “Two Girls in the Cove.”
SHIP COVE, NL – 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.