On the Sunshine Coast, we know Cornelia van Berkel as an artist and also as an advocate for nature and wildlife. On Aug. 15 she opens a retrospective show of her work in Gibsons – a journey through the many diverse styles and themes of her 50-year career.
“It’s exciting, but it’s also kind of emotional,” she said, looking back at the volume of work.
She started her artistry in the Netherlands in 1966 with formal training in the technique of Delft blue painting on pottery. For three years she painted the royal blue style on commissioned works for a factory in Holland that had produced pottery since the 17th century. Touches of blue still show up on her painted ornaments and perpetual birthday calendar, though she now uses a colourful palette. It’s part of her interest in diversity, in all styles of art.
After attending art school, she became interested in hand-building then painting in oils and learning to sculpt. Some work from a dark period of her life will also be on display – eyes peering through walls and sombre tones – so different from today’s work. With this cloud hanging over her, she and her son visited an aunt in Vancouver for a holiday and fell in love with the West Coast, its greenery and particularly its wildlife. While in Vancouver she sold her work through gift shops and demonstrated her painting to the public. When she met her husband Don, the couple decided to move to the country, building their home in Pender Harbour’s Beaver Island, designing it themselves in the style of a Dutch row house where they worked with clay, greenware, bisque and plaster molds. The Blue Shoe Studio was born.
The couple became involved in wildlife rehabilitation, supporting a centre in Halfmoon Bay and also Clint and Irene Davey in Gibsons whose rehab centre still operates. Their efforts on behalf of the creatures earned them a humanitarian award from the BC SPCA.
“There’s too much suffering [among wildlife],” van Berkel said. “Too much habitat loss. I want to show what we can do to protect them.”
Her art training and her love of animals and birds was meshing and her work found a focus. She painted bears, eagles, many birds and cats (at one time they had seven rescue cats and one dog), and she explored a vibrant palette in colours to be found in Coast scenery: forest green, bright blue, orange and yellow as backdrop to depictions of the local fauna.
Van Berkel’s show runs Aug. 15 to 29 in Sunnycrest Mall in Gibsons, as the first show at the former WOW Gallery. WOW still exists under the name of One Flower One Leaf, says owner Shinyu Unopia. The former store will be a venue space for exhibitions, music and meetings, while the retail store of the same name will continue in Gibsons Landing. The artist’s reception starts at 7 p.m. on Aug. 15 with music from Joe Stanton. To celebrate the opening, the artist has donated to Gibsons Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre a mixed media/acrylic painting for the silent auction that night. She will be on site again to meet the public on Aug. 17, 21 and 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.