Artists Nana Cook and Ken Kirkby hold the SOS Grateful Heart at their Nanoose Bay home. The couple is doing a fundraiser for SOS to help feed residents in need during the pandemic. (Lissa Alexander photo)

Artists Nana Cook and Ken Kirkby hold the SOS Grateful Heart at their Nanoose Bay home. The couple is doing a fundraiser for SOS to help feed residents in need during the pandemic. (Lissa Alexander photo)

Art fundraiser to help feed Parksville Qualicum Beach residents in need

COVID-19: SOS reliant on donations to continue essential services

By Lissa Alexander

Two renowned Parksville Qualicum Beach area artists are using their artistic talents to help feed residents in need.

Ken Kirkby and Nana Cook are doing an online fundraiser, selling 50 original paintings for $500 each, and they are giving 50 per cent of the proceeds to Society of Organized Services to help keep its essential services operating. The paintings would normally retail from $1,000 to upwards of $5,000.

“We started hearing about the need happening, that people can’t pay their rent or get their medication,” said Cook. “So we thought, let’s do something positive.”

Kirkby and Cook posted the details of the online sale to their Facebook Page, ‘Ken and Nana Share-Out’ on April 25, and after the first week of the sale, more than half of the paintings sold.

“I was delighted, thrilled,” said Cook when asked if she was surprised at the response. “But I keep hearing that people want to help. People are donating to causes, putting hearts in their driveways. People want to be participating, and this is an opportunity for people to participate and take home something to hang on their wall; a positive reminder.”

Kirkby is well-known for his arctic paintings, but his work in the fundraiser doesn’t include any of those.

“When I moved to the Island 20 years ago, I couldn’t sell a painting unless it had an Inukshuk in it or an iceberg or something,” he said. “Now people don’t want that anymore, they want this,” he said, referring to his Vancouver Island paintings.

READ MORE: PQBeat Podcast: SOS executive director Susanna Newton

Kirkby, once a pilot himself, has been flown over Vancouver Island on numerous occasions, and that’s when he started noticing things in the forest.

“You look down and you see a roadway, a trail, a clearing,” he said. “It got me really fascinated because there is a soul to this place that is not what I thought it was.”

Upon closer inspection, Kirkby realized these were abandoned farms. He explained that the Boer War and the First World War claimed the lives of many early Vancouver Island farmers, and since they didn’t return home, their farms ultimately failed.

Cook’s paintings in the sale include work from her Arbutus tree series, along with a painting of the lake where she and Ken got married, and one of Spider Lake. She said ever since Kirkby taught her to fly fish, she has been fascinated with painting lakes. She is also working on a series of birds.

“I started painting birds this winter,” she explained. “During the last snowfall I was snowed in for a few days, and Thrush and Towhee were coming to the garden. So I just sat there and watched their bright colours against the snow, and then I went up to the studio and got to work.”

She is currently painting a quail – large scale – with all of its intricate details, and she is loving it, she said.

Kirkby said he and Cook are similar in that they can’t wait to get up in the morning and do as they please. One of the results of that, he said, is that they paint what they want, and they sell it.

“This ain’t no Van Gogh tragedy,” he said, explaining that he has no interest in being a rich man or dying a rich man. But he feels rich every day he gets up. “Whether you want to be a misery or a joy is up to you.”

Kirkby said he heard something once that really resonated with him. The words, spoken by Winston Churchill, essentially said that a nation should be judged by how it treats its less fortunate. This applies to the individuals who make up the nation, Kirkby said.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Parksville woman one of many to continue volunteer efforts amid pandemic

Cook said they chose SOS as the recipient for the fundraiser because it serves all of District 69, and they wanted to ensure people from all of the local communities could benefit, and get the help they need during this difficult time.

Since the SOS Thrift Shop had to close its doors in March, the charity lost its main source of revenue and has become reliant on donations to continue operating and offering essential services to residents. These essential services include emergency assistance and advocacy, for things like food and medicine vouchers, Meals on Wheels, grocery shopping and friendly phone visiting for seniors, counselling referral, and the Homeless Prevention Program.

SOS began a Grateful Hearts fundraising campaign in April to keep these services available, with a goal of raising $500,000 by September. To make a donation, visit or call 250-248-2093.

To help spread the word about SOS essential services and to help raise funds for the cause, SOS is taking photos of clients, volunteers, supporters and donors with a Grateful Heart cutout, and asking them what they’re grateful for.

Cook said she’s grateful for her family, including her new granddaughter who she got to hold a few times before she had to go into lockdown. And she’s grateful to have Kirkby in her life.

Kirkby said he’s grateful for his father, who was the most gentle, brilliant, strongest human being he has ever met. He’s also grateful for a fisherman named Francisco who lived in a shack next to his home in Portugal and taught him so much about life. He’s grateful to the Portuguese people who took him in for many years. He’s grateful for the time he spent in the Arctic, and the incredible people he met. That experience helped him become a more evolved human being, and all of those experiences have contributed to his ‘delicious life’ and the life he has now has with Cook.

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