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Church DNA

Photographer and architecural historian Peter Coffman tells the story of Nova Scotia’s Anglican churches before it’s too late.

“I don’t want to give the impression that this is just for people who go to church,” says architectural historian and photographer Peter Coffman. “This is about history and stories and the social and cultural history of Nova Scotia.” Looking at Coffman’s photos of gothic-inspired doorways and small community churches nestled among gravestones, it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from. Drawn to Nova Scotia’s built heritage after a few visits, Coffman applied for the Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship in Dalhousie’s department of history three years ago so that he could research the Anglican churches’ histories. His show at the Dalhousie Art Gallery is what he calls the culmination of his project, linking photos of select churches to short panels of text that “evoke the story, rather than telling it.” The gallery timed the show for the 300th anniversary of the first Anglican service in mainland Canada, though that isn’t what inspired Coffman’s research. “The reason I study churches is because...they are very self-conciously built with values and ideas built into them. So much of our cultural genetic code can be extracted from these buildings.” That genetic code is disappearing: Coffman says one church photographed in his exhibition is gone, one is abandoned and one’s about to be deconsecrated. Religious or not, that is something to be concerned about.


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