The Rock Whisperer

Dec. 7th, 2021

Her love of rocks started when she was growing up in Crockers Cove on the Avalon Peninsula.

The epic and stark landscape of Carbonear Island and Conception Bay was Joanne Cole’s childhood playground — rocks and ocean as far as the eye could see.

Something in the recently retired Queen Elizabeth II Library employee’s imagination feels at home exploring landscapes, she says, listening and searching for the things rocks can tell us about our time and place in the world.

“I’ve always had my hands in rocks and I don’t really know what that says about me,” joked Ms. Cole.

“I still haven’t been able to explain that. Maybe it is some deep-seated wonder about why we are here.”

The First Space Gallery in the Queen Elizabeth II Library is currently exhibiting a retrospective of Ms. Cole’s art, titled Evolving into Deep Time.

Ms. Cole spent more than 28 years in the Map Room connecting researchers with the 100,000 maps in the library’s collection.

Fascination with landscape

“When I see a map, I see adventure and some kind of a solitary journey,” she said.

“It’s about exploring new areas, especially abandoned places and little coves that are uninhabited. Places with interesting names. There are places that call me and I have to go to those places.”

Evolving into Deep Time traces Ms. Cole’s fascination with landscape over a 30-year period and reveals how her fascination becomes refined as her understanding of geology brings her closer and closer to the very composition of the rocks themselves.

“My early painting are just skimming the surface.”— Joanne Cole

Her maps take her to far-flung places and the rocks that await her reveal themselves in a solitary exchange of creation. She sits before them and takes out her sketchbook with reverence and artistic ritual.

“My early painting are just skimming the surface. I wasn’t even painting detailed rocks. They were just colours and shapes. I was unaware of the names of the formations and minerals that are in them and how they were formed — the geology of them.”

Map and archive inspiration

Ms. Cole says that working in the Queen Elizabeth II Library was integral to her creative expression.

Her professional work in the Map Room and later her work in the Archives and Special Collections Division created endless opportunities of discovery, learning and inspiration.

“I wanted to find the “silky blue slate” and the “soapy yellow talcose” near Sops Arm.”— Joanne Cole

Certain library collections made a lasting impact on Ms. Cole.

She discovered the field books, journals and memoirs of the prominent geologist James P. Howley and created a series of visual interpretations based on his writings called All Roads Lead to Here.

“His poetic descriptions of the geological features of an area captured my imagination; his field books were not filled with textbook jargon, but colourful descriptions of the landscape he explored,” she writes in her blog.

“I wanted to find the “silky blue slate” and the “soapy yellow talcose” near Sops Arm or the “confused mass of igneous rock” on Change Islands that he further described as a patchwork quilt.”

‘Larger than life’

In September 2021, Ms. Cole quietly finished her last day of work in the library and walked out in a characteristically low-key way.

What comes next with all the time and space her retirement brings? More life and more art, she says.

“I’m getting more immersed in my art and I can see it getting bigger, basically larger than life.”

Evolving into Deep Time will be on display in the First Space Gallery in the Queen Elizabeth II Library until Dec. 15, 2021.

You can explore more of Ms. Cole’s artwork on her website.