By Constance Scrafield
“I had a very happy childhood,” Susan Mein affirmed. “We were living in Tottenham, in the country, and it was just perfect. Now, my husband and I are living back here, in Hockley Valley, it's so wonderful.”
Pleasant thoughts, indeed.
“My mom bought me a set of paints when I was four or five years old and that was it. My mom bought little art kits over the years to indulge me. I am self-taught but I have been driven by my passion with no formal training. I paint the way I see.
“My family moved to Tottenham in 1959. It was still a remnant of Victorian times. Dad had a business in town, an auto repair shop, Tottenham Garage.
“It's still there,” she said. “It was perfect for a child. We rode on our bicycles and tobogganed on the hills. We skated on the pond in the winter. My paintings of memories, skating on the pond. The early years in Tottenham.”
She had brought a portfolio to our interview, drinking coffee and enjoying the ambience of the fireside at Hockley General Store in Hockley Village. She had photos of her paintings of gables in Tottenham and of Hockley Village and Sheldon Mill up the Mono-Adjala Townline.
The painting of her father's home as a child is her most typical and favourite piece.
“This is the house where my father was born,” she related. “There were eight children in the family and it was just north of Schomberg. I have a little signature animal in all my paintings,” she pointed to it, “a little white cat.”
That family home was a family centre. “This was a gathering place for family and all the grandchildren. We had a wonderful time there. Such fun to paint these pictures. I love it.”
In her early days of painting, Ms. Mein “started painting in watercolours. It just didn't feel satisfying as though something was missing.”
She said, “Then, one day, about 25 years ago, I saw some examples of Folk Art and I had come home. My pieces are different from traditional Folk Art. Mine are relatively in perspective, the people and animals to the buildings. In Folk Art, the people can be the same size as a house.
“I love houses and painting buildings. I look at older buildings in the little towns as the unsung heroes of heritage Ontario and Canada.”
Having moved around Ontario and Quebec with her husband's work, they came back and “we built a house here. My husband worked for Transport Canada and he is retired now.”
Their two sons are both high school teachers.
“Our sons both love history. They have travelled a lot. Tom just spent six years in China, teaching. He's come back here but he's teaching in an private school in Toronto, teaching Chinese children.”
Her other son, Andy, teaches within the umbrella of the Toronto District School Board.
“When we came back here to build, we built a big house. I wanted some place for my sons to come to.”
Although we had seen Ms. Mein's work at the French Press Coffee Shop in Orange-ville, we did not actually meet her until we attended a gala at McMichael Gallery of Canadian Art. Fifty artists had been invited to bring their work for a show and sale as a large fundraiser for the gallery. Artists had to apply or be invited. This was Ms. Mein's second time at the gala and she admitted, “it was very good there this year.”
However, she has plans for some changes for the new year. “I have no goal to be in shows,” she remarked. “Maybe, larger canvases, bigger paintings with more street scenes. I love the look of the snow in the villages streets. The average time it takes me to do one of my paintings is 25 to 40 hours. I give each a little story ”
Thoughtfully, she considered the question of heritage in small towns: “I would like to see small towns protect their heritage. I know sometimes that's not easy with everyone wanting to build and the pressure from developers.”
“What I knew as a child was – I was happy. I'm thrilled to be back living here.”
She remembered with pleasure, “My dad was no push-over; he was a strong man in touch with reality but wanted to live on the happy side of life.
“He was a happy man.”
To see Susan Mein's work, her website is www.susanmein.ca Prints and cards of her work can be found at the South Simcoe Art Council, 41 Victoria Street in Alliston and there are cards of her paintings at the Rosemont General Store.