Virginia McCoy is a storyteller via painting and illustration. She grew up in northern Ontario of mixed Ojibwe, French and English heritage and now lives in Inverness, Cape Breton Island. Her stories are set in the land of her ancestors, the island where she lives now, and the realm of her imagination.
Working in gouache, watercolour, or oils, Virginia looks carefully at the world and then gives reality a poetic interpretation. The landscape or setting of a piece often becomes a character as important as the main subject, infusing the image with emotion.
In the painting of an old abandoned house that we commissioned from Virginia, titled “Mabou Mountain Road,” the yellow field washes up against the house. It looks like the house will soon be submerged. Who lived in that house and why did they leave it?
“Ocean Front 3001, Revisited” is a stylized, almost abstract image. Virginia says, “The hull of an abandoned boat represents great social change in Inverness over a mere 100 years. A thousand years and melting polar ice does the same to buildings between the edge of my garden and today’s shoreline.”
In 2004 Virginia had a one-person show at the Cape Breton University gallery called “Becoming White.” She painted her family’s stories going back to the days of her great grandparents to describe “the assimilation affected by the policies and goals of the dominating white European culture.” The paintings also show “the emotions and influences surrounding decisions made in each generation that resulted in a drift from a Native to a European cultural identity.”
Here’s a painting from that show called “The Little Skater.” Virginia sets the scene: “Celina Trottier, my grandmother, graduated from Normal school in the Ottawa valley and took a position at Heron Bay on Lake Superior, teaching on the reserve there. She boarded in the white community and walked to the reserve each day. In the winter she skated across the bay to get to the reserve school.”
So much is conveyed in this piece. To me, it shows the cold wind, the challenge but also exhilaration of the skate across the bay, the strength and determination of the young teacher, and the oneness of all life forms in the winter landscape.
To see more of Virginia’s work see her blog or visit her studio in Inverness.