A well-known and revered member of the West Coast’s art community is being heralded for her impressive body of work as well as the work she’s inspired others to create.
Signy Cohen recently received the Pacific Rim Arts Society’s Rainy Coast Arts Award.
The award recognizes a “longstanding dedication tothe craft, steadfast support of local arts and culture and the production of a significant body of work reflecting life on the West Coast.”
Cohen moved to Vancouver Island around 1989 and, after arriving in Tofino from Nanaimo, began teaching local belly dancing classes and helping to organize art events throughout the West Coast.
She also launched the Signy Cohen Studio and Art Gallery, offering drop in art classes in the courtyard in front of her space, which is now housed by Chocolate Tofino. She also collaborated with the Tofino’s recreation department to offer drop-in classes for local youth.
“The award was a really good time for me to reflect on my life and all that I have done and contributed to the community,” she said. “I really want to thank the awesome community for really appreciating the gallery and all the local artists and for continuing to support local art.”
She said her Reflecting Spirit Art Gallery, which she opened roughly 26 years ago, was a key reason she received the award as it has been a consistent source of support for local artists to display their work and be encouraged to continue their artististic pursuit.
“That includes not just showing their work to the general public, but also mentorship and encouragement and support for artists,” she said. “I like to encourage new artists coming in and over the years I’ve seen a lot of these novice artists become professional artists in their own rights and it’s a very good feeling to see that happen and to watch an artists work evolve and grow with them.”
She said Reflecting Spirit quickly became a valuable venue for local artists.
“In the early days there wasn’t many opportunities for artists to display their work,” she said. “This was a way for them to have their work out there, provide some income for the artists and it gives them some encouragement too.”
She said the West Coast’s art community has benefited greatly from the establishment of strong local markets as well as the work of the Pacific Rim Arts Society to promote local art.
“Right now, we’re really coming into a beautiful surge of artwork from young artists as well as the more mature professional artists. There’s a lot of blossoming of work coming forth,” she said.
“It’s who we are. We’re artists. We’re speaking from our soul and that’s our inspiration and what motivates us, it’s what gets us up in the morning.”
She added the West Coast’s booming tourism sector has provided a key source of financial support for artists.
“When tourists come to these areas they really like to find something local. That’s what I find in the gallery. They’re looking for something that’s West Coast and of this area,” she said.
Cohen, a lifelong artist, was raised in a creative home.
“I was born into an artistic family. My father was an architect and my mother was an artist and potter and teacher so it was just part of my upbringing,” she said adding she was in her 30s when she moved to Tofino and was introduced to a new world of First Nations art.
“Within that introduction to that culture, was a great inspiration to my artwork.”
She said she is currently focusing on large format ocean scenes and has been inspired by her son, avid windsurfer Jesse Jared Cohen, to incorporate an “extreme windsurfing element” in her painting.
She also continues to create portraits for the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame in Saskatchewan.