Enda Bardell (photo from Enda Bardell)
Creativity manifests itself in people’s lives in different ways and at different times. For Enda Bardell, various forms of art occupied her for decades, while Mike Cohene discovered woodcarving only a few years ago, on his way to retirement. Their double show, Artistry in Wood and Water, opened at the Zack Gallery on July 26.
Bardell told the Independent that she was born in Estonia. In 1944, when she was a young child, her family fled from Estonia, then occupied by the Nazis, to Sweden. Her mother worked at a paper factory there, and Bardell played with paper dolls she made herself. She also drew all the dolls’ colourful outfits. “I gave the dolls away to other girls, to make friends,” she recalled. “My first attempts at fashion design.”
A few years later, the family was forced to move again. The Russian communist government wanted the return of all the Estonians who had escaped the Nazis during the war, and Sweden was going to comply with that demand. But Bardell’s father didn’t want to live in communist Russia, so they became refugees again, this time ending up in Canada.
“In 1951, we came to Winnipeg,” said Bardell. “I went to school there and I desperately wanted to fit in. To belong. To be Canadian. I participated in many school clubs and activities. Entered an art class, too. My teacher praised me and recommended that I send one of my drawings to an interschool art competition. I did. And I won. I knew then that I was an artist.”
Interested in landscapes and abstracts, Bardell painted a lot as a teenager, but, after her high school graduation, she became deeply involved in fabric art. “I sold my batiks at craft fairs and house parties. People liked them, and someone suggested I should open my own store,” she said. “I did. I designed lots of different textile objects: skirts, pillowcases, aprons, etc. I felt that I needed a business course, in addition to my art education, so I took it. My store was very successful.”
But, as soon as the store achieved that success, running it lost its challenges. “I became bored,” said Bardell. “It was time for a change.”
She sold the store and did many other things in her professional life. “I always want to try something new, something I’ve never tried before. At one time or another, I was a lamp designer. I worked in banking. I was a realtor. I designed costumes for the Vancouver movie industry,” she said.
She also traveled a lot. “I have visited 38 countries. I like adventures, like it when I can’t speak the tongue. Then I have to express myself through body language. I have to be creative,” she said.
Art always shimmered on the periphery of her life, a constant creative supplement to her various commercial careers. First, abstract oils and acrylics, and, later, watercolours. Painting eventually metamorphosed into the focus of her existence. In the past two decades, she has participated in multiple solo and group exhibitions in Canada and abroad. In 2008, she even participated in an art show in her native Estonia, the Estonian Art in Exile exhibition at KUMU, the National Museum of Art in Tallinn. KUMU acquired one of her acrylic abstracts for their permanent collection; another of her paintings is in the Tartu Art Museum in Estonia. Her paintings are represented by many local galleries.
The current exhibition at the Zack is the result of a trip Bardell took to Yukon shortly before the COVID pandemic temporarily closed all travel. “My son lives in Yukon,” she said. At his prompting, she applied and was granted residency for one month at Ted Harrison Cabin in 2018. “We hired an RV and traveled there for two weeks,” she said. “Yukon was amazing: mountains, rivers, lakes. The place resonated with me. I took 1,400 photos during our travels. Based on the selection from those photos, I painted 40 watercolour pieces during my stay at the cabin. It was a privilege to stay in that wonderful place, especially because I had met Ted previously.”
Many of Bardell’s paintings in this series involve rivers and lakes. “I like water,” she said. “I have always lived on the water, except for one year in Winnipeg. I swim year-round here, summer and winter. Sometimes, I have seals swimming with me. It feels magical.”
When she submitted her Yukon series to the Zack Gallery, it was accepted, on the condition that it would be a double show, as gallery exhibitions must have a Jewish connection. Bardell’s Jewish connection became Mike Cohene, a local woodcarver. His colourful carved fish complement perfectly Bardell’s watercolours of Yukon’s rivers and lakes.
Unlike Bardell, Cohene didn’t do anything artistic until 2009. “I had a solid clothing business,” he said. “Awhile back, I started thinking about retiring and selling the business.”
In the summer of 2009, Cohene visited Steveston Farmers Market. “They had a booth of the Richmond Carvers Society – I thought their works were outstanding,” he said. “I always whittled but I never considered myself artistic. I started talking to the man in the booth, expressing my admiration. He said anyone could learn to do it. He invited me to come to the club meeting in September. I went.”
Since that day, he has learned a lot about the artistry and the technique of woodcarving. His journey began with woodcarving classes at the society. Later, he took a course at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and enrolled in carving workshops.
“My first carving was a bear cub,” he said. “Then I made a dolphin. Then I started carving fish and birds…. I’ve always been a fisherman, but I never studied fish anatomy before. I caught a fish and tossed it into a bucket. Now, I catch a fish and study it: the fins, the tail, the scales, how the colours change. I look at fish from a new perspective.”
In 2017, Cohene participated in his first two-artist exhibition at the Zack Gallery, with photographer Joanne Emerman. Since then, his art has become even more refined. “I learned more sophisticated techniques and tools,” he said. “I got several residencies in B.C. and Oregon.” Three years ago, he began teaching woodcarving to other Richmond Carvers Society members.
To create his wooden creatures as life-like as possible, Cohene uses various reference materials. “Mostly I use my own photographs,” he said. “When other people photograph wildlife, they give it their own interpretation, but I want to follow my own vision.”
His statues of fish include rocks and corals, all carefully carved and painted in bright, realistic colours. “Sometimes, one statue takes up to 20 coats of paint – different wood parts absorb paint with different intensity,” he explained.
He also uses tree branches as mounting blocks – they are not carved, just sawed off, polished and lacquered. “I only use dead wood for my statues. I often walk along the beach and pick up interesting pieces of driftwood. I’ve never harmed even one living tree,” he said.
Recently, Cohene has started exploring First Nation carving. The motifs attract him, and he has several pieces on display at the gallery, including two decorative oars.
He also creates Judaica – mezuzot, chanukiyot and dreidels – some of which can be seen at the gallery. Cohene has been to Israel 34 times. “Once, I brought 12 kilograms of olive wood with me from Israel, and I make many of my Judaica pieces from the reclaimed Israeli wood,” he said. “Olive wood has such a beautiful texture. And dreidels are fun to make.”
Whatever he works on, Cohene always gives it his all. “For me,” he said, “woodcarving is a form of self-fulfillment.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].