Artist keeps the memory of 'The Goat Lady' alive

Aug 17, 2018

When Jane Bregoli moved to Dartmouth in 1988 to get her master’s degree in painting from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, she didn’t know anyone in town. But a house on the corner of Lucy Little Road she passed each morning caught her eyes because it was surrounded by goats.

She was intrigued, and when she had to make ten paintings on a subject, she decided to ask Noelie Houle — known around town as "the goat lady" — if she could paint her.

To her delight, she said yes, and they began a deep friendship.

Bregoli’s paintings were well received, and she went on to write and illustrate a book about Noelie. She also taught art in public schools for twenty years, and worked on other projects, including etchings, work in ceramics, and oil and watercolor paintings that tackle social themes.

Since retirement, Bregoli has been able to revisit older works that she did not have time for during her working life, and happened upon a number of unfinished drawings and paintings of Noelie Houle.

“I’m bringing those works into the light, so that other people can experience them,” Bregoli said. “They aren’t just memories anymore.”

The image and story of Noelie Houle’s life has continued to live on through Bregoli’s work, even though Houle passed away in 1993. Bregoli has even been invited to Houle family reunions in Canada, where Houle grew up.

Houle, the youngest of ten children, was born in 1899 in French Canada. She moved to Dartmouth, following her sister, and worked at a corset factory. She married a local man and they eventually moved to his family’s farm at the intersection of Chase Road. and Lucy Little Road.

When Houle developed arthritis as an older woman, there was no medication to treat the condition. A doctor recommended that she buy a goat and drink its milk. She told Bregoli that when she first got the goat she was almost bed-bound by her arthritis pain, but within three months of getting the goat, she was able to work again.

Grateful, she began raising goats — and at one point owned as many as 90. When she had too many goats, she donated them to Heifer International, an organization that provides people with livestock and training to help lift them out of poverty.

Eventually, due in no small part to the positive attention brought by Bregoli’s book and paintings, Houle was accepted and celebrated by the community that had called her goats a nuisance.

Bregoli's book has since been cited as one that helps teach children compassion for others who may seem different. Houle, Bregoli, and Bregoli’s children even got to ride in a limousine in Dartmouth’s 4th of July parade one year.

Bregoli’s “Goat Lady” paintings, along with other works including portraits, etchings, and seascapes, were on display in her studio at 89 Sharp St. as part of the South Coast Open Studio Tour from August 18-19