A new home, a fresh light

Amy MacKenzie
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Artist finds her place in former Trenton church

TRENTON - As sun filters in through distorted church windows, it fills the artist's studio with the light that made her fall in love with the building. She squeezes paint out of tubes and mixes different shades of blues to perfect the image on the canvas in front her. She steps back, squints her eyes and smiles.

The white church that sits on top of High Street in Trenton has become the home and studio of Joan Krawczyk, who left New York City after spending more than two decades involved in its art scene.

There was a time where New York City was exactly the place she wanted to be. She commissioned paintings for celebrities such as Jodie Foster, worked as a gallery director, private art dealer and fine art specialist for major motion films such as "Superstar" and "The Freshman". 

But she traded it all in for life in Pictou County after visiting the area.

"I was in New York. I was having a ball. I was meeting everyone I ever wanted to meet and it was great," she said. "But then I stopped using the city eventually and I thought, 'What am I doing here? I'm not using it.' "

She stopped going to plays, and after twenty years, gallery visiting became dull.

"And then 9/11 happened and that was really devastating," she said.  "I had made enough money to buy a building in New Jersey, but after 9/11 (all my tenants) left and I had a huge mortgage. So it was economics that got me out of there and I also wanted to get back to doing my creative things rather than doing creative things for everyone else."

Krawczyk came to Pictou County to visit her cousin, who had married a local woman, "and I fell in love with it," she said.

She said it was the beauty of Pictou County that drew her to the area.

"Someone tried to talk me into moving south to Nicaragua or Belize or something but I like it here.  (People say) 'You can't' (and I say) 'Yeah, I can.' I can like it here and I do like it here. And I like the seasons," she said.

She moved here with her mother who found the church property for Joan, and then died shortly after.

"She would have had an absolute ball here," Krawczyk says, pausing for a moment as she remembers her mother. "But, I love my church and I love the people of my town. They just walk in here which is just a hoot and everybody knows me because of my naked dogs."

Now, she's been living in Trenton for four years and has renovated the church into her ideal studio and home. She's hung her art around the open concept living area that used to be filled with church pews. On the stage where ministers used to preach, she now has her couch and a large-scale gold painting that she created while battling breast cancer in her small, illegal basement apartment in Manhattan. "That was my chemo," she said looking at the large paintings that now have plenty of space to fill.

Above the tables filled with paint tubes, brushes and palates hangs large, white lanterns that light the space at night.

And on a wall that reaches almost to the top of the churches ceiling, hangs portraits of Pictou County residents.

She has about 25 portraits now, and hopes to paint 50 before opening an exhibition at a gallery with them.

As she paints her subjects, she carries on conversations and engages with her subject. She wants creating her art to be a fun process for everyone involved, "Because that's what it's all about," she said.

She has her guests sit for about two hours so she can get the general outline of their character and continues to perfect and shape the portrait for about two weeks afterwards.

"It's not suppose to look like exactly like them," she says holding up a photo of her subject and looking at the portrait. "I want people looking at my art to try to finish it in their minds."

Krawczyk said she loves living in Trenton so much that she doesn't consider traveling because she has all the beauty she needs right here, especially when the leaves are turning into shades of red orange and yellow and she's spending time in her dream studio.

"The light that comes in is beautiful," she says looking at her large distorted windows. "I remember being at a famous artists studio... and it was almost like a tent of obscure glass so all the walls were perfectly lit from above, from sunlight. And I thought 'I'd like that someday', and I feel like I have it."

For additional photos and video of Krawczyk's painting process and life in Trenton, go to www.ngnews.ca

Organizations: Trenton church

Geographic location: TRENTON, Pictou County, New York City High Street New Jersey Nicaragua Belize Manhattan

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