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Colleen Wolstenholme (b.1963)

Colleen Wolstenholme

Colleen Wolstenholme, Valium, 1997
Carved plaster, 67.8 x 67.5 x 18 cm
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax

Born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Colleen Wolstenholme gained national and international recognition in the late 1990s for her jewelry and oversized sculptures depicting pharmaceuticals. Her 1998 exhibition, Pills, at Vancouver’s grunt gallery (the work mostly made in Halifax) was featured on the cover of C Magazine. In the accompanying article, the exhibition’s curator, sculptor Robin Peck (b.1950), wrote that “this sculpture is a powerfully reasoned indictment of the collaboration between corporate pharmaceutical firms and contemporary psychiatry.  Wolstenholme’s practice is a feminist rethinking of the history of sculpture, part of a postmodern reimagining of the use of images, particularly of women, in contemporary art. The uses and abuses of power have been her constant subject, whether that be power wielded by industry, by institutions, by religions, or by the state.


Wolstenholme studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) from 1982 to 1986. In 1987 she moved to New York, where she was exposed to a much wider range of contemporary art than she had seen in Halifax. She returned to Halifax in 1989 and re-enrolled at NSCAD, completing a jewelry major in two semesters. She then went on to do a Master of Fine Arts degree in jewelry at the State University of New York at New Paltz. After graduate school she returned to New York, where she worked for two years as an art installer at the Dia Art Foundation.


Halifax became a home base; Wolstenholme returned to the city throughout the 1990s. In 1996 she spent three semesters teaching at NSCAD. Her first solo exhibition, Patience, was mounted at NSCAD’s Anna Leonowens Gallery that year, and in 1997 she moved to Vancouver for three years, while she toured with the rock festival Lilith Fair (she was invited to sell her jewelry in a booth at the festival by one of its organizers, her long-time friend Sarah McLachlan). In 1997 she earned a gold record for co-writing a song on McLachlan’s multi-platinum album Surfacing, which, along with her participation in Lilith Fair, brought her widespread attention in the mainstream press.


She returned again to Nova Scotia in 1999 and lived in the village of Hantsport, about an hour outside Halifax, for the subsequent twenty years. In 2002 Wolstenholme was the Atlantic nominee for the inaugural Sobey Art Award.


Her work has been shown across Canada and is found in numerous public collections, including those of the National Gallery of Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. She earned a PhD from York University in 2019 and is currently assistant professor of visual art at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick.


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