Carbonear artist recreates history

Nicholas Mercer
Published on June 23, 2014
Carbonear artist Michelle Penney-Rowe recently took part in the "They Way We Were" event held in Burin on June 21.
Submitted photo

Carbonear artist Michelle Penney-Rowe sees a lot of potential when she looks around Carbonear and the surrounding area.

The area is steeped in history, from the Rorke Stores to The S.S. Kyle resting in shallow water in Harbour Grace, and there is no shortage of subjects waiting to be put to canvas.

Penney-Rowe, who operates an art school in the community, recently returned from the “The Way We Were” art exhibition that opened in Burin over the weekend.

“It was so special,” she said.

There she, and 33 other Newfoundland artists, produced some 40 paintings aiming to recreate life in Burin and the surrounding areas from the 1600s up to the 1950s.

It was this experience that has inspired her to start looking closer to home for what could be her next subjects.

“We have so much to offer,” said Penney-Rowe.

She points to what life was like in her hometown when ships were routinely making their way to and from Labrador as one subject that could be considered should the opportunity arise.

Carbonear, itself, was first settled in 1631, while nearby Harbour Grace saw people 20 years earlier in 1610.

With history dating back to the early 17th century, that particular area of Conception Bay is steeped in history.

“You can dig up a garden down the harbour and find an old pipe,” said Penney-Rowe.

She has begun taking reference pictures around the Carbonear area and has a number of pieces in progress.

“The fun is just beginning,” said Penney-Rowe.



As a member of the Realist Artists of Newfoundland and Labrador organization, Penney-Rowe had been involved in the Burin project for three of the five years.

During that time she took numerous trips to the area, conducted interviews and dived into stacks of research material in order to present as accurate an artistic rendition as possible.

However she did not find a subject for her piece until taking a boat trip around Great Burin Harbour. There she spied an old piece of fencing on the coast of Shalloway Island.

“It caught my eye as we sailed by in a speed boat and I instantly had to find out more about this place people once made their home,” said Penney-Rowe.

As a result of her research, she produced a painting entitled ‘Shalloway.”

It shows a large vessel anchored in the harbour with the village laid out behind it.

“I named the ship in my painting the Mavis Inkpen,” said Penney-Rowe.

In 1921, there were 14 households on Shalloway and the Inkpen family was the predominant name.

Any time an artist produces a piece of work, there can be a sense of trepidation of how it will be received.

That did not apply to Penney-Rowe.

“I was excited to see what they were going to think,” she said. “It was really fantastic to see the locals come out and enjoy it."