Finding True North
The artist Colleen Bedard has always paved her own way in the world, finding new ways of working and expressing her true self. She lives in South Portland and has an art studio on Munjoy Hill, in Portland. Here, she can work on multiple pieces at once and be loose with her work. Her preferred artistic medium—cold wax—demands this freedom. The studio and its location afford her concentration, free from everyday distractions.
She is also a Realtor. Over the years, her path has included careers as a nutritionist, medical technical sales representative and then general manager, owner of her own medical supply delivery business, CEO of a nursing association, then in mid-life, on to an MBA and a real estate license. Now, as a Realtor and artist, she is finding her true north.
In describing her background as an artist, she says, “I got into cold wax painting after viewing a show at the Jewish Museum, in Portland. I saw the work of an artist there I admired, so I took a couple of classes from her. The class spurred my interest in cold wax. I decided it was a medium I wanted to explore more.”
In the cold wax painting style, an artist mixes a special wax product into their oil paint, thickening it. The results are paintings with a distinctive and unusual texture. Colleen says, “Cold wax is a layered medium. I often introduce other mediums to it—drawing on it, or in it. There is translucency to it. What I do is abstract, with a lot of things inspired from nature and at other times from what I am feeling. Some people may say, ‘That looks like a field or landscape.’ Other works project a feeling of time and space.”
To learn this style, Colleen took classes in Ireland on cold wax painting in Ballinglen, through the Ballinglen Arts Foundation. She says of the experience, “I was in an idyllic environment with people from all over the world. I learned not only from the instructor, but from the other students, as well. It was an immersive two-week class. We were in the studio all the time without interruption. . . We could focus on the art and what we, as individuals, wanted to do.” She also attended workshops at Maine’s Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and North Carolina’s Penland School of Crafts, similarly idyllic venues located in quiet, beautiful locations.
In these places and on her own, she learned more about her artistic process. “With my art, I like to work in a series,” she says. “I find that because of what I am doing, I may work on a piece for a period of time, then let it rest, so when I am in the studio, I work on multiple pieces at once. If I am working on a series of paintings, they start out the same, then they go in their own direction. I can stand back and ask, ‘What do I like about that piece?’”
“I like things with texture and depth,” Colleen continues. “Lately, when I walk at the boatyard, I look at the underside of the boats as they are pulled up at the end of the season. There is a lot of inspiration that can be used as jumping off places to begin work on a series. There is a lot of history, rust, and layers of paint on boats. I am looking at the texture and layers of colors and how nature has changed what was once a pristine surface. It is beautiful when you look at it closely. It may not be beautiful to someone else, but to me, it is, and it provides inspiration.”
Colleen also works in other media. Her hand-blown bead necklaces, for example, were juried into the exhibition, “Work of the Hand” Crafts Show and Sale at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, in Rockland, Maine, and used that year in their ads. Her glass beads are fun to look at, handle, and wear. If you were ever into marbles as a kid, you would love looking at her beads, and their color combinations and optics. Some even have texture where the different colors are added and heated with a torch.
In the real estate area of her life, Colleen loves to do-it-yourself projects, by purchasing properties, renovating them, and giving them new life. Renovating buildings and making them into beautiful spaces structurally and visually keeps her active and in touch with the community where she lives and works. When she finishes a project, she gets itchy to get started on another.
People enter her rentals in Portland and ask admiringly, “Who decorated this space?” They gaze at the art collections on the walls and the eclectic furnishings, anchored with a coastal vibe. The spaces have a sense of place and are fun and comfortable. On the walls are art works she has collected and some she has painted herself.
Colleen says, “I am an art collector, but I really can’t collect anymore, because I have too much. When I see something I like, I think about how it would feel living with that piece of art. I also have a paint-by-number collection done by housewives, children, and just about anyone. The subject matter is interesting, and I like preserving that capsule of time.” She tells art admirers, “It’s nice to have original art in the home. Original art can be affordable. It doesn’t have to break the bank.”
As an active Realtor, she listens to clients’ needs and finds properties to fit their unique lifestyles. Often her clients will be artists, too, or interested in art, which can form the basis for a good client-agent relationship.
For Colleen, her work as an artist and as a Realtor always intertwine with her long-standing and ongoing service to community. Her community involvement has taken many positive form.
She was on the boards of the Maine Crafts Association and the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance. When she came to live and work in Portland, she formed the Society for East End Arts (SEA), as a way to get to know local artists and community members. It grew into something bigger for the other artists, as well. Initially, they held sessions to talk about art, and currently they hold two events a year: “The Hill” Holiday Art Sale and Open Studios with Hidden Gardens of Munjoy Hill. “Both events have become very popular with a strong following,” Colleen said.
In the summer months, Mayo Street Arts studio building, where her studio is located, also houses a space for inner city children to explore art. The building is a former church converted to a community arts center. In 2019, Colleen exhibited her oil and cold wax paintings at RE/MAX’s exhibition space, donating the proceeds to Mayo Street Arts for the Summer Youth Arts and Reading Program.
In her community at large, Colleen was one of three founders of the Friends of Eastern Promenade and served as treasurer. It was formed to preserve and ensure development of the park in a way that the local community would approve.
Another way she contributes is by adopting shelter animals. She has been a foster caretaker of kittens, adopting one of them, and she has adopted dogs from shelters, over the years. She is currently the proud owner of a sweet Labrador-mix, rescued during the pandemic.
Colleen considers herself a water person and wanted another space to go to in the summer. A requirement was she needed to have a separate space for creating. She wanted it to be quiet but not remote. She recently purchased a summer cottage and will be renovating an old icehouse into a studio by the lake shore. There, in Down East Maine, more creativity is sure to blossom on Colleen’s path to true north.
Collen Bedard’s cold wax paintings are scheduled for a group show along with three artists housed at Mayo Street Arts. For more information on Colleen, please visit these sites:
RE/MAX Shoreline, Portland, Maine