The art of Nancy Cole: fragile, random, unique

Staff Writer

PREVIEW photo/Lindsey Bright
Pagosa artist Nancy Cole, with one of her artworks currently on exhibit in The Art of it All at SHY RABBIT. Cole uses a wide variety of materials and takes advantage of the surprises in random processes to create works she hopes wil llead viewers to their own ideas and interpretations.

She’s dubbed it “fiber art,” because it’s easy to say and gives people an idea.

What Nancy Cole’s artwork actually is … well, it’s her creations — whatever they are or might be interpreted to be.

“‘Fiber art’ is really the closest description I’ve found,” Cole says. “I incorporate lots of stuff into my work.”

Items used: reeds, packing materials, steel, paper, fabric, yarn, wire, rope.

Techniques used to create a piece: random weave, crocheting, knitting, sculpting, spinning fiber.

“I don’t really know how to describe it to people,” Cole says of her art.

Describing it to other people, having them understand her point of view, that’s not really her concern. She’ll be creating art, anyway.

“I’m always doing art,” Cole says, referring to the present or to when she was younger.

Cole studied art in college in northern California. It was in the art department of the college that she met her husband, a woodworker. At the time, Cole was studying printmaking as well as sculpture. Before that, and sporadically throughout her life, Cole says that she had tried painting; however, it was not what she was looking for.

“I like to work with different textures and colors. I like to touch stuff,” Cole says with a laugh.

It was at an early age that Cole began to work with her hands, long before art school. It was under the tutelage of her grandmother that Cole learned to crochet, while still in grade school.

She crocheted into her teen years, and then, in college, taught herself how to knit. Though she did not take to knitting like crochet, she says she eventually got to the point where she could knit a normal, not lopsided scarf.

“But looking back, I might like the lopsided scarf better,” Cole says.

The lopsided scarf shows a bit more whimsy, free spirit and acceptance of life’s chaos than the perfectly rectangular scarf.

“I don’t like to work with patterns,” Cole says. “I wait and see what the material wants to do. I don’t have an initial plan. I don’t think what the final piece will be.”

She had a loom and she spun wool, but again, she found it a little boring.

“I was looking for my niche,” Cole says.

When she wove her first basket, she says that was enough. She got how to weave the traditional way, and she had done it. For her, though, she needed something with less structure, something not quite so boring. That’s when she first tried the random weave technique.

When the reeds are soaking in water, for however long, Cole reaches into the reeds and spins them around, sloshes them about. After she repeats this action a few times, the reeds form a shape. With slight manipulation, Cole pulls out the shape the reeds have naturally taken. Then, she sparsely weaves throughout the spindly reeds, just enough to reinforce the shape of the reeds. This is the random weave.

“There is freedom in it,” Cole says of the process. “It’s not really a basket, other than they both have holes in them.”

To this random weave, she might add something crocheted, a piece of raffia or coil rope wrapped in yarn.

“What I do is fragile. I like to see how far I can go with something,” Cole says.

However, this has only come about in the last eight years. After art school, she and her husband moved to Green Valley, Calif., and worked. Then, they moved to Pagosa Springs just over 10 years ago,

“We decided that life is short and we should do something different,” Cole says.

When they moved here, Cole took a job at the library, retiring just this year. In her time in Pagosa, Cole has been creating various pieces of art and experimenting with a variety of techniques.

“The house is full of stuff,” Cole says.

She doesn’t just start one piece at a time, and doesn’t always finish a piece quickly.

“I might have too many things going at once,” says Cole, then adds, “but I have my own space.”

Many of Cole’s pieces start with the thought of, “Would this work?” Then, she tries it.

“Some aren’t a success. If they’re not, I try again or find another way to do it,” Cole says.

Currently, Cole has two pieces in the ART of it ALL nationally-juried exhibit at Shy RABBIT Contemporary Arts Center. She had a piece in a show at the gallery several years back, but besides this, Cole’s work has not been on formal display.

“I’m not a promoter of self,” Cole says. “I’m not good at it.”

Not only that, but Cole doesn’t particularly care what someone else thinks, as long as they see and think about her pieces. She wants people to do this on their own.

“Why do I have to name my work? The title limits the perception,” Cole says, adding, “Why do I have to be trying to tell them how they should see my work? They see what they see.”

Cole doesn’t spend much of her time contemplating her finished pieces, and she doesn’t really have a favorite.

“I like all of them, when I’m working on them. When I’m finished, I think, that’s done, OK, what’s next?”

More than likely, the material will provide Cole that answer as she works it in her hands.

Cole’s unique “fiber art” can be seen in the ART of it ALL exhibit from now until Jan. 13.

SHY RABBIT is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at no charge. Visitors are welcome to tour the venue at their leisure. SHY RABBIT is located at 333 Bastille Drive, two blocks north of U.S. 160, three blocks off North Pagosa Boulevard.

This story was posted on December 27, 2012.