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Coquitlam River 'a sanctuary for us to escape from the realities of the world': artists

New Westminster artist Robert Ascroft and Sue A. Cowan, of Coquitlam, took their sketchbooks to trails and parks around the Coquitlam River, and are now on display at PoMoArts.

During the pandemic summers of 2021 and 2022, longtime friends Robert Ascroft and Sue A. Cowan took their sketchbooks to the trails and parks around the Coquitlam River.

They walked the routes on both sides, in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam, and stopped when a scene caught their eye to capture the light as it bounced off the river, the plants and rocks.

If they returned to the same spot at another time of the day, the light would differ and the landscape would transform with the river’s flow, said Cowan, a Coquitlam resident.

Those were magical days, the pair recalled in an interview with the Tri-City News yesterday, Jan. 23, as they discovered new places along the Coquitlam River to find inspiration and shade from the heat.

“We had such a wonderful time, but the world was not in a good place,” Cowan said.

“It became a sanctuary for us to escape from the realities of the world. We were happy and content being by the river. We found our escape in nature.”

This month, Cowan and Ascroft, a New Westminster resident who lived in Coquitlam for 16 years, opened an exhibit of their water works, in the newly named Beedie Gallery at PoMoArts (formerly the Port Moody Arts Centre).

Their show, titled "Wood, Water, Stone: The Coquitlam River," is up until March 4.

Together, they have nearly 30 paintings for public viewing — Cowan’s in acrylics and Ascroft’s in oil, a first for him — that are based off their drawings and photos of the Coquitlam River.

The artists, who met two decades ago while taking courses with the Federation of Canadian Artists, said they met by the river a couple of times each week, for about two hours, over the two summers.

“We had many favourite spots,” Cowan said, noting the bigger rocks and faster current at Galette Park, north of David Avenue, and around the blue foot bridge at Patricia Avenue.

What did they learn about the Coquitlam River?

“It’s clean and the sound of it intrigued us,” Ascroft said.

“The colours are never-endingly different,” Cowan added. “There’s a sameness but a constant difference … It’s in a very busy area but, within a five-minute drive, you’re in the wilderness.”

“A lot of people don’t even know the river or the parks are there,” Ascroft said, “so this show gives them a idea of what’s in their backyard: A river that slices two communities.”

Wood, Water, Stone: The Coquitlam River can be seen at PoMoArts (2425 St. Johns St., Port Moody). The facility is open weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 604-931-2008 for more info.