Places of Her Heart – a book review

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Places of Her Heart: The Art and Life of Barbara Boldt, K. Jane Watt in conversation with Barbara Boldt, Fenton Street Press, Abbotsford, BC, 2012

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Barbara Boldt, a Fraser Valley artist, aged 82, has been painting British Columbia landscapes and portraits since the 1970s. Her biography was shaped by K. Jane Watt, an accomplished historian, who visited her regularly for coffee on Monday mornings. Their conversations turned to formal interviews, resulting in a coffee table book offering a rare glimpse of a German-Canadian’s life journey, accompanied by visually rich art work begun in Boldt’s middle years. Watt also had access to Boldt’s family archives and personal papers. Some of these treasured items, including drawings by the artist’s 19th century ancestors, also find their way in these pages.

We learn of Boldt’s comfortable childhood in the 1930s in rural Germany, on a patch of land named Stiegenhof, in the north Rhine-Westphalia region. The advent of the Second World War and Boldt’s father’s enlistment in the army are detailed. The war years, the bombings, the splitting up of family—and miraculous reunion is also chronicled. “This remembrance of loss can be multiplied millions of times over in the lives of others in wartime,” the author observes. “There can be no going back, no return to what once existed.” These memories will come to haunt and inform Boldt’s art.

In 1952, when Boldt was 22, her family immigrated to Canada. Boldt eventually married and raised three children in Nelson, later moving to Vancouver. Boldt first realized the magnitude of the German peoples’ culpability for the Jewish holocaust during her years in Nelson, having read an article in Time magazine. She also acknowledged her nation’s collective shame and the silences within her family.

After her children left home, Boldt began taking art lessons. Art soon became a passion that her marriage could not sustain and in 1980 Boldt divorced. “This period was both a time of letting go of the old and of leaping in to the new,” the author observes. Boldt moved to Fort Langley area and began to explore her ancestral roots, proud of the many artists in her family tree.

She reflected more deeply about her own past as well. As her art education progressed, Boldt developed a preference for realism, using the mediums of oils, pastels and watercolors. She also found working in her studio, using photographs she has taken of a landscape or person, suited her better than painting in the outdoors, on site. “Using a realistic style, I’d rather discover than invent the pattern and design in nature which a casual observer might fail to see,” she says. The author notes Boldt’s landscapes sometimes have an abstract quality—“of stone shaped by wind and tide.”

This is particularly evident after Boldt takes on a younger lover named Graydon. Her paintings flourish as she paints the mystery and beauty of the Alberta “Badlands” and the caves of Gabriola Island—as well as numerous portraits of Graydon. Among Boldt’s studies of stone is “Gaia”, a Greek word meaning “Mother Earth.” Her oil paintings of a favored Gulf Island site she calls “Gaia,” depict a rocky shoreline with honeycomb-like patterns and has a sensual quality. “Her paintings illuminate a world that seems static but catch a moment in time, a fleeting quality of light, a place on the cusp of change,” the author observes.

Boldt’s numerous exhibits, include a Fort Langley show in the 1990s, entitled “True to my Heart.” The exhibit was built around “seeing her life through the lens of her childhood self as it juxtaposed images of childhood with new work” the author writes. “It was a compendium of special times and visions that had made Barbara who she was as a woman, mother, friend and artist.”

The economic difficulties of being an artist and a single, older woman have been part of Boldt’s reality. Like many creative people, Boldt has also faced, reluctantly, the many time-consuming tasks involved in marketing her art. She has persisted, despite these challenges. Most difficult for Boldt has been the tragic loss of two of her children, both in their middle years. She confessed the pain will never pass, in a letter to a newspaper, where she addressed her losses, but also affirmed the importance of moving on. “I am a painter,” she wrote. “I like to paint the ever-rejuvenating miracle and beauty of Nature, fully aware that what has grown also must die in time.”

In 2000 Boldt moved from the Fort Langley neighborhood to nearby Glen Valley where she continues to teach art and holds open houses. Her art is masterful, as the final pages of reproductions in the book prove, her landscapes expansive and awe-inspiring. “The subject must be meaningful to me,” she says. “To my experience, to my memory—and it must be working from photographs that I have taken myself.” Included as well is a detailed appendix of Boldt’s prolific art and an index.

In the ‘Afterward’, the author offers her own thoughtful reflections about Boldt. The artist’s life stories are both “fiercely individual and surprisingly universal,” Watt believes. Boldt’s art is a reflection of the world around her, the author also contends, a “beauty that comes from simply being over time.” Time spent among these pages of text and images will surely lead the reader to agree.

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3 Responses to “Places of Her Heart – a book review”

  1. barbara boldt Says:

    Barbara Boldt is now 83 years old.
    Earthpattern paintings, a continuing series, including “Gaia”, feature Galiano Island shores.

  2. rontheartist Says:

    I have just come from Barbara’s home and studio this morning, catching up a bit with each other, and I picked up my copy of the hardback version. It is a stunningly well designed book, very well written, carefully rendered photos and stories, plus the bonus of Barbara’s life story which deserved this beautifully archived treasury format.

  3. barbara boldt Says:

    Thank you, Janet Nicol! thank you for your words, your insight!!!!
    I finally saw your complete review ,It means a great deal to me

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