The Cortes Portraits: Jane Newman


Jane is one of those people that you want to be your best friend the instant you meet her. Warm, quick to smile, and soft-around-the-edges, everything about her feels genuine. Maybe it’s her brilliant white hair. I pluck mine out. I’m not ready to give up my natural blonde locks. At least, not yet.

I tuck a water bottle into my camera pack as Jane tells me about her day at the Cortes Island Museum. She is their new Managing Director and hasn’t quite found her feet. As we stroll towards the trail head, I realize we haven’t spent much time one-on-one. Usually Charlie, her son and my partner, is with us. I feel oddly exposed, even though I’m the one behind the camera.

The walk to Hank’s beach is one of Jane’s favourites. The short trail weaves through the forest to a salty little swim spot. As I test out the lighting under the forested canopy, Jane’s gaze drifts from tree to tree. “They feel so wise,” she notes. I look up, appreciating their strong, grounding presence.

When she isn’t working at the Museum, or talking to her houseplants to encourage growth, Jane collects discarded objects and natural materials to create mixed media art. Aged metal, wire, wood, and feathers often appear in her colourful compositions. What she creates speaks to our consume-and-dispose culture, a memorial to vanishing wilderness.

We discuss life on Cortes, common friends, and our artistic endeavours. Jane recalls a portrait of her taken sometime ago. She was sitting in a canoe, scarf caught in the wind, eyes beaming. It was the dancing scarf that she loved the most about the photo. She chose to wear a scarf today too. No wind in the forest, it sits draped along her spine. But just maybe, I think, the beach may offer us a light breeze.

The bright blue sky is a bit jarring. It takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. We cut down to Brigitte’s beach, named after one of Cortes Island’s locals, Brigitte Grosse. Twenty-nine years ago Brigitte modelled for a cement casting class, and her statues are hidden here, looking out towards the sea.

Jane prances up the rock-face and casts her gaze out to the mountains. They are crisp in the early summer air. Later in the season they will become hazy. If the wildfire season is bad, we won’t see them at all. Cortes will be fully socked-in with a thick blanket of smoke. I welcome the light breeze kissing my skin. I look to Jane. Her scarf lifts ever so slightly. A lot of the time getting the “shot” is a challenge. But not today. Jane, looking out to the horizon, doesn’t seem to notice the wind, I anticipate her delight and hold onto the surprise.

We scramble along the bluff heading for Hank’s beach. As I duck under the branch of an Arbutus tree, I spy a snake slithering through the brush. I love snakes. I turn to point it out to Jane, but am stopped by the bright green leaves framing her hazel eyes. Jane in the trees: wild, warm and radiant. “Wait” I tell her. I know she is going to love these shots too.


Hot from wandering on the rocks, we head for the water. Jane playfully wades in, pulling up her cropped tights. I’ve seen this childlike exuberance in her before. It’s a characteristic I’m rather fond of. In fact, Charlie often points out that at 29 my real age is about 8 years old. I love that about myself. I hope part of me always lives in Neverland, with Jane, Peter, and the lost boys.

I put my camera down on a piece of driftwood and sit next to Jane. We rest quietly, looking towards the mainland’s coastal mountains. After a few precious moments, we stand up, loop back to our cars, and drive back into life.