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Virtual road trip to southern U.S. leads to scholarship win, solo show in Port Moody

Nicole Ponsart, a Dr. Charles Best secondary graduate, is one of two winners of the 2021 Kwi Am Choi Scholarship through PoMoArts. The Port Moody arts hub will show Ponsart's first solo exhibit starting May 20.

Ceramics artist Nicole Ponsart took a road trip when the pandemic lockdown hit last spring.

But she didn’t go anywhere — physically.

Stuck at home due to social distancing restrictions, Ponsart gathered travel books and atlases to virtually journey to Houston, Tx., where some of her relatives live.

She didn’t pick a straight route, though.

Ponsart selected different highways that led to the southwest of the United States and chose areas of interest to study their landscape.

From that research Ponsart created a series of abstract sculptures titled Places I’ve Never Been, of which five or six pieces will be on display at PoMoArts starting May 20.

It’s the first solo exhibit for Ponsart, who graduates from Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD) tomorrow (May 14) and is one of two winners of this year’s Kwi Am Choi Scholarship.

Named in memory of the late Port Moody artist, the scholarship provides $2,000 through an endowment fund set up by his family in 2007 to an emerging artist (Gillian Haigh, a recent ECUAD grad, is the other 2021 recipient).

The accolade also allows for gallery space for a month at PoMoArts (formerly known as the Port Moody Arts Centre).

“I’m very grateful because finding any space that would show a young artist is really hard to find,” Ponsart told the Tri-City News. “There are not a lot of places out there that will host you if you don’t have a repertoire. Those opportunities don’t exist when you’re fresh out of school.”

Now a Burnaby resident, Ponsart took a bit of a detour with her art after graduating from Best in 2007.

She studied at ECUAD in 2009-’10 — while the Olympic Games were in Vancouver — but, after her first undergrad year, she stopped to take a job in the hospitality industry.

“I felt like something was missing,” she said during her days as a manager with Joey Restaurants. “In high school, art was my favourite thing to do.”

She credits her Best teachers Gordon Foulkes (ceramics) and Joe Coops (geology) for planting the seed for her future. Coops, specifically, inspired her through his science club and field trips to the United States. His lessons about natural materials, elements and formations gave root to Ponsart’s creative designs.

For example, for her online road trip last year, Ponsart made a point of visiting Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley in Arizona; their earth tones and odd shapes influenced Ponsart’s sculptures for Places I’ve Never Been.

Still, for her master’s degree, Ponsart said she’s considering exploring Canada’s landscapes and the stories they tell over time.

• Nicole Ponsart will speak about Places I’ve Never Been on June 3 at 7:15 p.m. via Facebook Live while Gillian Haigh will present her series Enough Choice Makes a Steady Midnight on June 10 at 7:15 p.m. The two displays end June 20 at PoMoArts (2425 St. Johns St., Port Moody). The galleries are open weekdays 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and weekends 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit