The Power of Edith Jessie Archibald
May 24, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

So now I am back in the studio, “working away” on the soft, gentle face of Edith Jessie Archibald. Take a peek:…

I am using old hotel-room cards to carve away at the surface of Edith Jessie Archibald’s portrait, focusing today on the background surface – trying to create a sense of “sea”… her dress is so staid and proper, starched collar and puffed sleeves, I think the contrast will create some tension and a sense of the energy of a port city alive with rough-hewn possibilities…We’ll see what happens.

When I started researching the women who were ‘key’ to securing the vote for N.S. women, EJA always popped to the surface. She was in good company… Dr. Eliza Ritchie, Edith Murray. Agnes Dennis to name three…

But I chose Edith because she spoke to me, as all “”The Nova Scotia Nine”” did and do: Like Rita Joe, and Viola Desmond, Edith Jessie stood out in character and countenance, in action and impact. In Edith’s case, she wrote powerful essays. Made powerful speeches. And ultimately, she moved people to action, giving downtrodden female citizens a sense of self-worth – a feeling that something greater, for them, was possible.

Okay, back to the studio.


Brave Viola
March 14, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

Viola Desmond is such an interesting story: forcibly removed from an N.S. movie theatre for refusing to give up her seat, Viola helped spark Canada’s civil rights movement – a good decade before Rosa Parks rose to prominence.

Viola Desmond - Canadian Hero

Viola Desmond 1914 - 1965

Viola’s sister Wanda tells me Viola acted – simply because it was the right thing to do, and because her inherent sense of self respect and dignity just wouldn’t allow her to be swept back by ignorance and stupidity.

A few details: she refused to give up a main-floor seat in a movie theatre and switch up for one in then so-called “nigger heaven” – ie the movie theatre’s balcony. (Since I first spoke with Wanda, Viola Desmond has since gained a lot of exposure – and an official apology from the Nova Scotia government – much thanks to Wanda’s efforts.)

“The photo you are using (to create Viola’s portrait),”” Wanda told me recently, “”was one she had done for her product labels”,”

“We don’t know who the photographer was, but we have copies of it and have given permission to someone else to use the photo. We see no problem in using it.”

Thanks Wanda. In case you’re interested, here’s a sneak peak, thus far, of “Brave Viola”!

Pop Portrait of Viola Desmond

Introducing Rita Joe
March 10, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

I’d like to introduce you to the first woman I decided to paint: Rita Joe.

Rita Joe captured and communicated the amazing and difficult threads of her life – thanks to an ability to write from her heart in unassuming yet compelling words. Her mother died when she was 5, she was orphaned by 10 and, at age 12, went to the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School where, she later recalled, she was constantly told “you’re no good.” She countered by picking up the pen, and writing, to challenge those messages. Often referred to as the “poet laureate” of the Mi’kmaq people, she empowered people and said her s greatest wish: that “there will be more writing from my people, and that our children will read it. … Our history would be different if it had been expressed by us.”

As mentioned in the last blog entry, she was on that list of women that the reference librarians sent along to me – and was someone of whom I had no real knowledge, understanding, appreciation.

Why, after 10 years in a Halifax newsroom, and 20+ years as a journalist, did I not know her story? Her name rang a vague bell but that was it. So I started digging around and discovered why Rita Joe was not only respected and remembered but loved.

She was a woman in touch with her heart, her soul. A person with the ability to remember what it is like to be a child. And someone who was able to pull thoughts and emotions from her heart and mind, scratch them out on paper and make that writing an unbreakable thread between herself and her reader.

Dr. Rita Joe

Dr. Rita Joe 1932-2007

I missed the chance to know her but here was my opportunity to connect with her, and her writing and poetry. And…that face! I fell in love with it as soon as I saw this photo on Dr. Daniel Paul’s website.

I think it would be great if, at the June portrait show at the N.S. Archives, I could get it together and have one of Rita Joe’s books sitting, open for perusing, alongside her portrait. We’ll see.

Turns out there’s a lot to do to get things organized for an art show. But this seems like an important detail: to have something representing the works of each of the Nova Scotia Nine, sitting alongside their portraits. To give practical feeling to their artistic, portrait presence. If it’s still a good idea tomorrow, it’s likely worth pursuing. We’ll see.

Wonderful Women
February 23, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

My portrait show – The Nova Scotia Nine – came about with a visit to my local library, in downtown Halifax. I’d stopped by to see if my favorite HRM reference librarian, Norma, was around.

I had an idea for a show of paintings, for my first art show, and I wanted her help. (She’d helped me with my book cover when I was co-authoring a book about women and technology, for HarperCollins, and I knew a conversation with Norma is always worth the pitstop.)

She was on vacation. So I left her a simple note: “Interested in tracking down women of Nova Scotia of cultural/social/historical significance. Thoughts? ”

Turns out that’s the kind of note that drives reference librarians wild: two weeks later upon her return from a vacation, Norma discovered her colleagues had already come up with a dozen or so names of women they felt fit the bill.

As I walked home with their list in hand, it was immediately apparent: I didn’t know who any of these people were. Pearleen Oliver, Frances Lillian Fish, Nora Bernard, Rita Joe, Gladys Porter, Cora Greenaway, Mona Parson, Evleyn Richardson and Margaret Marshall Saunders.

Others suggested Margaret Meagher, Allie Ahern, Isabel  MacNeill, Abbie Lane, Florence Murray, Jean Whittier, Eva Mader Macdonald, Winifred  Eaton and Pearl Young.

A few I knew: Muriel Duckworth Portia White, Maud Lewis and Sister Catherine Wallace. But most didn’t even ring a bell.. I love research and I waded in with a sense of excitement.

Who were these women? Why, after 10 years in a Halifax newsroom, did I not know their faces, know their stories?

The Start of the Road
February 19, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

Sorry I wandered off a bit there in the last entry. I have never written about that before and was surprised at how strongly I was able to express my feelings about painting.

Anyway, now it’s10 years later and I am focused on my first solo show. The centerpiece of which will be 9 large portrait paintings of women I have encountered who accomplished truly amazing things on Nova Scotia soil. They turned our lives around in so many different ways.

And I want to introduce you to them here. Via this Blog. These women, trust me, are worth investigating. So bear with me and I’ll introduce you to each one as we go along here. Let’s say: one woman, each week. Plus, my ramblings about the show and how it’s developing.

Because I hate to think I’m in this alone.  And I know from those years of writing about technology that a “virtual voice” really does echo. So, here goes, goes….goes……goes…..goes…

My Path to Painting
February 18, 2011

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

So, where do I start? In telling you about these women, I mean. Maybe the best place to start is to first tell you a bit about myself, and what led me to them.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I’ve been a journalist for many years. Started off with The Halifax Herald, ended up working as a columnist for The Globe and Mail and The Ottawa Citizen. And, in the latter position, covered the technology beat during the heyday.

All the stories were about men and technology. Where were the women?’– I started wondering; surely there must be some women shaping technology? That led to a book I co-authored:  Technology With Curves: Women Reshaping the Digital Landscape (HarperCollins). And that book – the stress of writing a book with two other people, no matter how wonderful they may be – led to …. Painting!

During the editing process, I traveled back home to Halifax from Toronto and my mother suggested I decompress and tag along on a painting course she was taking with the immensely talented Nova Scotian artist Jeannie Edmonds Hancock (

It was one of my life’s greatest blessings and opportunities. Jeannie had studied with Arthur Lismer, one of the Group of Seven, and – boy – she can paint. More importantly, she can do what so many painters cannot do: teach.

I feel under her spell. Under the spell of painting. I fell in love with color. And I never looked back. I am still drunk on the emotion of painting. It is a feeling I have never had before.

Pure creative joy.