During her high school days in Regina, Saskatchewan, Martha Cole enrolled in art classes and quickly recognized her passion for art. Her high-school art teacher, Helmut Becker, encouraged her to develop her talents. He also provided extra art time after school and guidance in applying for universities and scholarships. Cole chose to attend the University of Washington in Seattle. She graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in sculpture. She soon realized she needed more practical, employable skills and later earned a Bachelor of Education at the University of Toronto.
Living in Toronto, Cole had to work full-time to cover her basic living expenses. By moving back to Saskatchewan, she was able to work part-time as a librarian and pursue her career as an artist. Later, as her career developed, she was able to focus on her art practice – supplemented by occasional teaching and workshops
Cole bought an old church in the town of Disley, northwest of Regina, renovating it to be her home and studio. She established herself in the community and built her own utopia in the middle of the Canadian prairies. “I like to say that I came back for the meadow lark,” Cole says. (Linklater, 2005)
When the grain elevators in her town of Disley were demolished, Cole was greatly upset by the loss of these prairie icons. She decided to pay homage to their demise in a body of work known as Survivors. Each realistic fabric wall hanging represented a ‘surviving’ elevator and became a memorial to a rural way of life that is quickly disappearing.
In 2005, Cole toured the province with her quilted images to celebrate Saskatchewan’s Centennial as a province. She lectured, taught classes, and enjoyed meeting prairie people who share strong ties to agriculture and the land.
Cole has worked with fabric for more than 30 years. By incorporating traditional women’s crafts of sewing, embroidery and quilting into her artistic practice, she has effected change and a newfound appreciation for these techniques. Her work goes beyond the processes involved, however, as she states in the publication, Herstory 2000: “I see my work now as all having a spiritual focus, a focus that is life-affirming, woman-centered and woman celebrating.” (Cole, 2000)