For Carol Cooke, the art of collecting is an expression of individuality

Sally Hopman 10 September 2021
Carol Cooke

Artist, student, collector and general creative soul Carol Cooke. Photo: Supplied.

So what comes first, the artist or the collector? Do you need to be one to do the other? Or both?

For Carol Cooke, from Narrabundah, the collecting bug has turned into a late-blooming passion for art that’s filled her home, led to open garden events and will shortly include a book about improvised embroidery.

Carol thinks it boils down to just being yourself, and doing life the way you want to, like deciding in your late 50s that you want to start a double degree at university in visual arts and art history, and curatorship.

“My career had always been in the business area, not art,” she says. “But I decided as a mature age student that’s what I wanted to do and I’m so glad I did.”

Once Carol started, it felt like she had gone home.

“The teachers were so good, so engaging and as for being a curator, it’s like being a voyeur when you see some of the incredible stuff people have in their back shed,” she says.

Art had been something Carol had dabbled in. Although she loved both the beautiful and the quirky, she hadn’t really been a collector for much of her life. Her husband, Ian, to whom she has been married 45 years, was in the Army and it wasn’t viable to travel so much and collect even more.

“I had done a bit of craft in my time,” she says. “You know the sort of thing when someone gives you a kit with tiles and a pot of glue. It was naff, but there was something in it that just struck me. I ended up going to Revolve to get some more tiles.”

That was then, and this is now.

The old shed at their Narrabundah home is now Carol’s outside studio. She collects almost anything that will help fulfil her growing creative vision.

“The wall on the old shed was solid concrete,” she says. “It was really boring so I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to mosaic it’. I started with one tiny corner behind a gate. At least if it looked bad, no one could see it there.”

Carol Cooke's current project

Carol Cooke’s current project celebrates spring. Photo: Instagram.

But it didn’t look bad. Rather, it was the start of a passion that has taken her well out of the shed and exhibiting her artworks widely.

“For weeks I would sit there, cutting up tiles for the wall,” says Carol. “I’d be there from sun-up and only stop when the mosquitoes started to get me.

“When my mother came over, she said, ‘It’s bigger than I thought it would be’, and called it the Great Wall of China – well, it is made from china.”

When the wall was finished, Carol’s granddaughter, Ellie, decided she wanted to help, filling in any bits Carol had missed. She then drew on the concrete in pencil while Carol filled in the drawings and “finished up with a portrait of both of us”.

“I think it brightens up the whole garden now,” she says.

The art, featuring Carol’s stunning floral images, takes up the entire wall’s length and is actually longer than the car.

Cover of book 'Improv.Embroidery: A Place of Mindfulness, Exploration and Creative Escape'

Improv.Embroidery: A Place of Mindfulness, Exploration and Creative Escape by Carol Cooke. Image: Supplied.

Then it was on to the next project. She started to divide up the garden of the family’s 1940s home. Making different creative spaces, the next step was to host an open garden for Craft ACT.

At one point, there was a slight concern about what the neighbours would think, especially because Carol had started collecting gin bottles with the stunning blue hue. But soon she wasn’t bothered, especially when one of the neighbours also started collecting them for her.

“I have about 70 blue bottles now,” she says. “I need a few more so I can make a blue wall in the garden with them.”

The Colours of Narrabundah, by Carol Cooke

The Colours of Narrabundah, by Carol Cooke. Photo: Instagram.

Even though Carol knows she has to collect to create, she doesn’t do it just for the sake of it.

“I have a clear vision of what I need things for,” she says. “I also want to recycle, to give whatever I collect a much longer life.”

So what do the neighbours and strangers say when they see Carol’s artistic garden?


READ ALSO: If I tell you my collecting secret, will you tell me yours?


“It doesn’t really matter to me,” she says. “It’s my backyard and if they don’t like it they can just get over themselves.

“I built Ellie a special secret garden inside the garden. It was complete with artwork, but she asked me to take the artwork out because there wasn’t enough room for a picnic.”

Carol’s next project is her first book, Improv.Embroidery: A Place of Mindfulness, Exploration and Creative Escape which she hopes will be released by Christmas.

You can check out Carol Cooke on Instagram.

Do you collect something interesting? We don’t judge – we just love to see what you collect, be it tasteful, tacky or a tonic for people who see it. Share it with us by emailing details to Sally Hopman (shopman@region.com.au).


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