By Sue Tiffin
When Annie Coltman takes an interest in something, it leads to joy and delight from others. But there’s more to it than that, for Coltman.
“It goes way back with me,” she said. “It’s part of my journey of healing. I’ve had a lot of tragedy within my life, so to me, I always found that through the trials and tribulations of what life deals us, I’ve always found my art and passion for creating has always helped guide me through life, and to help other people.”
Coltman moved out of her parents’ home when she was just 14. At 28, she had just started her nursing career when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At first she had strep throat, but then found she was getting weaker and weaker. Soon she developed a feeling of wearing a tight sock on one leg, a burning in the back of her neck, and felt like someone had plugged into her and sucked her energy out.
“Back then, they didn’t know at first what was wrong,” she said. “I had a lot of issues going on, different things, sensations, I was very fatigued, I went fast.”
Coltman went through several tests, including a lumbar puncture and MRI of the head and spine.
“Then they diagnosed me with MS,” she said. “It took four months for the results. It was a long wait. From there it was like, OK Annie, you’ve got this.”
It was about nine months from start to finish, getting her energy back, getting her strength back, and Coltman didn’t look back, moving forward rather than dwelling on “what ifs.”
Then at 36 years old, she learned a half-sister she didn’t know about had been looking for her for 14 years, and from that, something she had never known: she was adopted.
“When I found out at 36 years old, it derailed me,” she said. “It really derailed me. I was lost for very many days. I got that news in a very good environment with my husband and my family, my children and my in-laws. They helped keep me grounded but my world just crumbled. As time went on, I lost my identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore. My mom wasn’t my mom and my dad wasn’t my dad.”
Coltman decided to meet her half-sister many months later, in an attempt to help her process the life-changing information.
Her sister, Darlene, had been raised by their birth mother.
“My birth mother was unwed,” said Coltman. “She got pregnant with me and, back in the ’60s you couldn’t be unwed with a baby on the way, so she had to give me up and didn’t have the means to keep me.”
Later, her mother married a man – her sister’s father.
“When our mother met Darlene’s father, she told him of me, that she had had a baby and had to give it up,” said Coltman. “Well, he wanted to go get me.”
Together the pair went to the orphanage to inquire about Coltman, who had been there for two years, but just missed her after her adoption went through.
At one point, Darlene asked Coltman if she had the little yellow dress.
“Well, that’s going to be the name of the book, if I could ever write a book about it,” laughs Coltman.
Her adopted mother had given her the dress years after she had moved out.
“It’s the only thing I ever had of home,” said Coltman. “I hung on to that dress.”
Through Darlene, she learned that her birth mother had purchased that dress for her before bringing her to the orphanage.
“When she said, can I see the dress? Of course she was just crying,” said Coltman. “I put my girls in that as well. I have pictures with my girls in the same little yellow dress. It was a connection through all – from my birth mother to my adopted mother giving it to me, to my sister knowing about it.”
Looking for further answers, she began searching for her birth father, for whom she didn’t have a name.
“I wasn’t going to give up,” she said. “Whether he was dead, alive, or whatever, I needed to know, for closure of who I am,” she said. “I didn’t even know if he knew about me, I knew nothing.”
Eventually Coltman learned that her birth father had been in a tragic car accident around the same time that she was born, when he was 25, and had known nothing about her – that her mother was pregnant, that she was put up for adoption. She was about a year old when he had the accident that affected his short-term memory and began living in a Belleville brain institute, where she has met him and where he has lived for 50 years, now with a photo of his daughter and her horse by his side.
“It was another piece of the puzzle,” she said.
Coltman said she has found strength in creating through her art and gardening, to turn her own pain into happiness and a safe place to be.
“I just find that everything I do has always come out through creating, or making happy places, happy environments,” she said.
For many years, her incredible flower beds drew people in.
“When I wasn’t nursing I was in my flower beds, or I was painting,” said Coltman. “Gardening was my passion. I was always creating things within the garden – I would bring things in my garden to life.”
This passion, paired with profound creativity and natural artistic skill, brought Gnomeland to life, a magical world on Coltman’s property where flagstone pathways led to trees in doors and waterfalls flowed; full-size reindeer made of plywood that delighted passersby as they drove past her house, and decorative gourds that Coltman collected from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania and carved, woodburned and painted.
“I love it all, and I can’t get enough of it,” she said.
Through trial and error, she’s learned how to preserve turkey feathers and fungus, painting intricate scenes of seasons changing and realistic hummingbirds.
“I just have this thing of bringing things to life,” she said.
Coltman said that growing giant vegetables has brought along a fascinating growth within herself, too.
Her first attempt was two years ago, when she purchased giant pumpkin seeds from TSC.
“That is something different, and I’ve always liked different things,” she said. “Well, I can grow a giant pumpkin, can’t I?” She was less than enthused with the outcome of the pumpkins, which turned out to be big, but not as big as she had hoped.
Then she got up the nerve to stop in at Phil’s in Cameron, because she was intrigued with the giant pumpkin he had on display. As a result, he mentored her last year, guiding her along and inviting her to join the GVGO – Giant Vegetable Growers of Ontario. Her pumpkins ended up growing to be about 600 pounds, earning her 15th place in a contest in Port Elgin.
“That was an experience in itself,” she said. “I thought, here I was the only nutbar in my backyard trying to grow a giant pumpkin, but boy, when you get down there you realize it’s quite a sport. It’s a real big hobby.”
Coltman said she got talking to the other growers, and was delighted to find connections: “You go, wow, these are my people!”
Now, she’s growing giant beets, giant tomatoes and giant pumpkins, all documented on her Coltman’s Creations Facebook page.
“Now, this year, I was hoping to meet 1,000 pounds,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to meet that, because of all the humidity this year. We were talking and we figured, maybe we could still get close to a 500 or 600 pound pumpkin, which is OK for me. I’m still setting my goals. You can never give up.”
Coltman said she loves putting a smile on others’ faces with her unique look at life.
“You always hear of the negativity, the bad,” she said. “I’m not out for a pity party. It doesn’t matter what life gives you, what it offers you. It doesn’t mean it’s always going to be doom and gloom and it doesn’t mean it’s always going to be negative. You need to find some positive as to, why is this happening? Why did this happen?”
With the love of her family, through the relationships she’s made with her horses, and through her gardening, imaginative creations and storytelling, Coltman has found strength and healing.
“It’ll never stop,” she said. “I was born to create and I’ll always create. I just love it.”
To learn more about Coltman’s Creations, visit facebook.com/ColtmansCreations