By Roy L Hales
From the beginning, Meinsje was been a prominent voice in Cortes Island’s artistic community. She taught art at the Linnaea school for fifteen years and is a director of the Old School House Art Gallery. Meinsje’s “Dream Caravan” dance troop, her performances at Cortes Island Lip Syncs and Cabarets, puppetry and paintings continue to captivate viewers. In this morning’s interview, Meinsje describes what it was like living between two worlds.
Living Between Two Worlds
“I did some courses. I bought Betty Edwards’ book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” – which is a great thing for artists to work with. It teaches you different ways of looking at the world and it makes just way more sense. I worked with it so much that I could feel the shift in my brain sides. It was like, ‘Ah, now I see like an artist; now I see like a person … That’s a beautiful moment, when you see the world as a painter … I feel like often I am in between the worlds.”
“I make art because I have to … I go crazy if I don’t make art. It’s part of who I am. There are so many pictures in my mind. They have to come out, because once they’re out then I’m okay,” says Meinsje.
“We all have our shadow sides and sometimes its the shadow side that comes out. Sometimes its another side. It tells you something about yourself. I’ve always wanted to be an art therapist, but I’ve never had the money to be one; or the patience to study. I’m more of a doer than a studier – though I do like to study …”
“I am an autodeduct [i.e. – self taught] in that I did not go to art school, or theatre school, or school school … Everything I know I can proudly say … my trials, and my downfalls and my mistakes – it is all me. I have learned [from] but I am not following a teacher.”< “I’ve been a sculpture all my life and I never stopped doing that. I’ve always been a painter; I’ve always been a performer.” ”
Growing Up In The Netherlands
She comes from Zeeland, the westernmost province of the Netherlands. Meinsje’s mother was an actress, best known for entertaining troops during the war. Her father was an oyster grower: “ … but I know him as an inventor and he would always come up with these great ideas. Everything his eyes could see, his hands could make. I think I have a lot of that from him, as well. That was my dad and he was a quiet man. My mom was the crazy one and kept everyone entertained.”
When she was a toddler, Meinsje made sculptures out of the sea clay she found in the garden. She cried with frustration when they crumbled. So her mother bought some plasticine.
Her first public performances were in restaurants, where Meinsje would go from table to table with a little guitar her father made for her.
“ … I played a lot with dolls, because I saw them as my characters in a big play.”
The whole family was called upon to listen to her stories and puppet shows. She used to make up stories, then perform them in front of the family. “When I was nine, I made my first puppet.”
This creative activity continued into Meinsje’s school years: “If I had an assignment, I would always write a play around it. I would find people who were into being my characters. I would dress them up … I wouldn’t write papers; I would do a play.”
Meinsje left school at the age of 14. She later applied to enter art school, but was turned down – which only served to spur her independent development.
Coming To Canada
At the age of 28, Meinsje and a friend decided to explore the vast expanse of North America. They bought a Volkswagen van in New York. For the first time in her life, Meinsje was not in close proximity to the ocean – and found the experience disconcerting. So she skipped the prairies and took off to California. She and her travelling companion were reunited in British Columbia:
“We decided to take the ferry to Gibsons and the moment I was on those ferries I felt, ‘Oh yah, this is what I am talking about! This is really good. I like this. There is ocean, there is sunshine. Mountains I found a little creepy because the Netherlands is very flat. To me, every time I looked at a mountain or a little island, it was like I was looking at a monster that could stand up at any time and surprise us. I guess that was my little stories going around in my head.”
“I never really grew up, and that’s good. I think you have to stay a child to be an artist and still see the world through those eyes. For some people that’s not true, but for me it is because it always stays new and there is always something more to explore.”
She loved the funkiness of Gibsons and the hippy scene that Meinsje identified with. This is where she met the father of her three children.
“When I went back home [to the Netherlands] I discovered I was carrying a Canadian baby, so I thought it was probably a good idea to go back again and here I am, still there.”
Moving To Cortes Island
Her eldest son was born in 1986. Two more children followed and for a time Meinsje’s creativity was primarily expressed through more domestic avenues.
Meinsje and her “wasband” moved to Cortes Island around 1990.
“My oldest son was two years old. He was very social and wanted to play with the other kids. And that didn’t happen much [where we were living] in Galley Bay, so we thought ‘well, we need to move. It’s very remote where we are.’ We would come to Squirrel Cove on our ‘town trips.’
“We always visited Doreen, who had the store there, and at one point I told her ‘Doreen, I would love to live on Cortes. This would be my place. There’s a school. There’s a big art community. There’s a big craft store.’ And she said, ‘Well my daughter is going to move and she lives right up the hill.’”
Meinsje’s family moved into Ray Noble’s little house.
“It was a little simpler to find houses back then. Not much, because it was just at the time that people started to sell and make money from their property. So you got a promise of staying somewhere for two years and it turned out to be two or three months.”
Around 1994, Meinsje’s family bought into the eco-community at Tiber Bay.
“My husband bought a prawn boat. So he started to fish and I tried helping him. In between potty training kids on boats, it was a little tricky. Yes, I have stories there, but I am not going to tell them right now.”
She started up a few businesses: making T-shirts and jewellery. Though she still found time to draw and read, a large part of Meinsje’s creativity was now channeled into her children: “creating my children; creating the future; creating place; and working with my art [and] with my kid’s.”
Diving Back Into My Art
“When my kids were a bit older, I could dive back into my art. I got back into just making my dolls again, which was great.”
“Then just a few years ago I was looking at my dolls and thought ‘wow, are they ever cute and also very disturbing, so cute is not the word.’ The way I make them is just the way they sit. I make a doll sitting and a doll sits for the rest of its life. So I thought would it be great to make them moving. Actually, at first I thought wouldn’t it be great to be a doll – to be one of my dolls!
“So I started doing some research on the computer. Don’t google ‘being a doll’ because a lot of weird things come up! Anyway, I came across this artist and she had the same idea. She wanted her art to move so she made these outrageous costumes with dolls, faces, characters and put it on music.”
“And I thought, ‘music, this is interesting.’ Music has always been a part of my life – making music, singing – but its never been a part of performing. So I started to collect pieces of music that really talk to me. When I had a piece of music I would see my dolls come to life and I would create it in such a way that it could move. So I would make it into a hand puppet, or a little Bunraku stick puppet. Then I started to have more of those pieces and I glued them all together. Then I said, I am going to dress myself up as one of my characters.”
The resulting show was performed at the Old School House Art Gallery, on Cortes Island.
CKTZ’s station manager, Howie Roman, was in the audience.
“He came to me and said, ‘Wow, your doing puppeteering. I am so happy about that because of my whole background and my family [who were puppeteers in New York].’ We really hit it off on the puppets.”
“He said, ‘Oh, you know I’m doing this Lip Sync.’”
“And I said, ‘Yes, I’ve heard about it. I was working hard in a restaurant. I was the manager of the Cove restaurant [in Squirrel Cove], but I’ve stopped doing this … I love what your doing, so I would love to look at this. So I went to a show and that was fun”
In 2013, CKTZ brought Elvis Priestly to Cortes Island for an Elvis-Las Vegas Lip Sync.
“He wanted to set up this whole Las Vegas vibe and I have a troop, the Dream Caravan, they are my dancers. So we said ‘We’re on and we’ll do some dancing’ – because there is no Las Vegas show without dancers. So we did a little piece …”
Though the show was originally scheduled for two nights, Howie did not have enough acts until Meinsje offered to take up the slack.
“You’ve never done this before,” said Howie.
She responded, “What do mean! You can see what I can do!”
To which he replied, “Well it has to be related to dance.”
Meinsje had an idea. One of her dance troop was a belly dancer. “There is this singer, Natasha Atlas, who sings in English and does all these beautiful old Rolling Stones songs – which she puts to Middle eastern music and then dances.” So Meinsje’s first Lip Sync act was as “a frustrated belly dancer.”
“Afterwards, people said, ‘Wow, we didn’t know you could do this. We know all your other art. You do three dimensional, this is four dimensional art. That was really cool.’”
That was it, Meinsje was hooked on Lip Syncs.
Bringing Puppets Into The Act
“I said next time, I’ll do something with a puppet. so I looked again through all my music because it turned out music is my gateway drug. If I find a good piece of music, I can make a play around it. I can see the characters coming, but I do need music.”
Meinsje found a really great piece of music sung by two hillbillies. “In Spite Of Ourselves.” She did not feel that accomplished working with puppets yet, but Howie pointed her towards a workshop on Quadra with Tim Gosley, who worked on shows like Fraggle Rock and the Canadian Sesame Street. Only it was scheduled for the same weekend as the Lip Sync. It seemed that Howie had shot himself in the foot, only a snowstorm intervened. The Lip Sync was postponed and Meinsje was able to perform.
“That’s how I got into the puppets and then the floodgates were open and puppets came from left right and centre. And then I went, I’m single so I’m going to make myself a new boyfriend. So I created Charlez and he has been a big part of the Lip Sync ever since.”
The Dream Caravan now performs at festivals throughout Vancouver Island . Just prior to our interview, they were in Nanaimo.
“Nowadays, we only go to paid festivals because it is a lot of work.”
On July 21, Meinsje will be performing at the Campbell River Art Festival.
Meinsje will also be performing at CKTZ’s Summer Lip Sync: 7 PM at Manson’s Hall, Cortes Island, on August 25
You can hear more details in the podcast, above.