YAM gets a sneak preview into an art-filled 1916 Fairfield character home featured on the upcoming AGGV Home Tour, and discovers a family whose life is as artful as their impressive collection of antiques, heirlooms and works by some of Canada’s most revered artists.
By Kate Cino // Photos by Jeffrey Bosdet
There was a time, before TV, when our front porches were our meeting places. People sat on their porches and watched and chatted with the neighbours, picking up the news and entertainment of the day. Long before Spotify, they played instruments and sang on the porch, off-key. It didn’t matter; just being together was good enough.
A home with one of those old-time front porches is featured on this year’s AGGV Gallery Associates House Tour, which takes place on Sunday, September 22, and visitors who climb the front steps to the porch of Maryan and Eric Meek’s home might want to linger for a while. This area is a repository for antiques and family heirlooms, and it holds many clues to the wonders unfolding inside the house.
The front porch of the Meek residence sits quite high off its Fairfield sidestreet. A place to see and be seen. Thanks to a 2005 major house restoration, it’s in excellent condition. Don’t miss the clay relief carving to the right of the front door that shows Jack Meek (Eric Meek’s father) playing an early musical instrument called a crumhorn. Jack’s many talents and adventures are expanded upon throughout the home.
On a table at the far end of the porch sits a wooden bust carved by Thelma Meek (Eric’s mother). The classical features, flowing headdress and rough-hewn quality of the sculpted wood are striking. Thelma’s artistic talents and art collections are also featured throughout the home.
Eric’s penchant for antiques (he owned an antiques business during the 1980s in Victoria) has resulted in some fascinating additions to the home. The porch holds two of his collectables: an antique Fahrenheit thermometer and a wooden wheel form with faded red paint that Eric purchased from Ramsay Machine Works (founded in 1903) before Ramsey moved its Store Street business to Sidney.
“Almost four feet in diameter, the form was used in the production of mechanical wheels,” says Eric.
And have you ever experienced a mangle or wringer? Well, here’s your opportunity. This fascinating washing machine tool has three roller heads (instead of the usual two) and a metal crank for operation. Guaranteed to squeeze out every last drop.
“I liked it because of the red colour, which matches the wheel,” says Eric.
On a porch table, sits a delicate lampshade festooned with feathers. Maryan learned the exacting craft of lampshade design from her mother-in-law Thelma. One of Maryan’s spectacular lampshades is in the living room.
Maryan and Eric are sharing their historic and storied residence in support of a good cause. Since 1953, the Gallery Associates have assisted the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria with their annual house tour. The five homes featured on the September 22 tour each have a special connection to the arts and a working artist on-site.
Pat Preston of the Gallery Associates is proud of each of five homes on the 66th annual tour. “But this one is truly unique,” she says. “The owners have preserved the family home, art collection and memorabilia, which are full of fascinating stories.”
Maryan Meek has lived in the house for 57 years. Growing up there, she walked across the fields to St. Ann’s Academy. Today, the original stately glass doors she walked through as a student now grace the studio/guest house in her garden. Her husband Eric bought the doors for $75 and a case of beer.
Maryan is a sculptor, painter, creator of exquisite lampshades and stencil designer for commercial lighting projects. And a gracious hostess. As she guides me through many rooms on her home’s first and second floors, all included on the tour, we weave past antique sofas, armoires and a fireplace mantel, featuring her original sculptures. Each wall, alcove and stairwell holds an intriguing mix of outstanding treasures.
Casual sophistication rules in this home. The kitchen area, designed by Maryan, features one of the couple’s favourite paintings: “View of the Sylvia Hotel,” a contemporary work by Adam Curry. She and Eric often visited this heritage hotel in West Vancouver with Thelma.
“It’s a piece of our hearts,” says Maryan.
The artist’s own striking paintings with feminist themes share wall space with the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. There are two paintings by Franz Johnston.
“He was famous for his snow scenes,” says Maryan.
Johnston exhibited with the Group of Seven only once, in 1920. He then moved to Winnipeg to become principal of the Winnipeg School of Art. There are also artworks by Maxwell Bates, Sybil Andrews and local carver and painter Godfrey Stephens.
In the hallway, a majestic mountain landscape hangs above the wardrobe. I inquire as to the artist’s name. Maryan replies “somebody famous,” then brings a magnifying glass and hovers over the faint signature. Gradually, the letters H.J. DeForest appear. Henry Josiah DeForest was a Canadian painter (1860-1924) who spent time in Banff and Vancouver. The couple purchased the painting, dated 1904, at Lunds Auctioneers & Appraisers.
Another charming painting in the dining room is titled Bungalows near San Francisco, by British artist Leonard Richmond (1889-1965), whose artworks are much appreciated by international collectors. The well-educated artist shared his painting techniques in a hardcover book, available for viewing on the tour.
Rifles to Romance
The source of some of the artworks in the collection is Kay Meek (1906-2004), a wealthy businesswoman who was based in Vancouver. Kay was married to Thelma’s brother and gifted her sister-in-law with many artworks. The Kay Meek Arts Centre in West Vancouver is named to honour her generous funding.
Another prominent member of the Meek family is Eric’s father Jack Meek. In the Second World War, Jack was a navigator on Lancaster bombers and received a medal for Conspicuous Gallantry. After the war, Jack took up a post in the Yukon with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
On top of the wardrobe in the hallway is a collection from his years in the Yukon. First Nations’ regalia includes a wooden rattle, a walking stick, a painted four-legged stool and beaded and fringed hide gloves. Two .44-40 Winchester rifles, one inside a decorated beadwork case, are on display.
From rifles to romance, this tour has something for everyone. Maryan shows me the lampshade she made as an engagement gift for Eric.
“There is much time involved with these lamps,” she says, “and the materials are becoming scarce.”
The lampshade is constructed of red silk, hand sewn onto a wire base. In one area, the silk is gathered into a fan shape which glows gently. Covering the silk is semi-transparent black velvet fabric. The patterns in the velvet create an exotic visual effect. The beaded fringe is hand sewn. The crowning glory is the jewelled finial.
This glorious lampshade illuminates a nearby display of Thelma Meek’s keepsakes.
This “homage to Thelma” holds glittering mystery objects: shells, jewels and baubles, artfully arranged. There are marble eggs, a brass tin with a cloisonné lid and a painted wooden chest. A tiny beaded tortoise swims across a sea of pearls. Mysterious amber light emanates from a Lalique glass turtle.
JC Scott, of JC Scott eco Design Associates, often calls upon Maryan’s talents in his commercial projects. Her stencilled designs can be viewed at Fiamo Italian Kitchen on lower Yates and at Artisan Cafe on Fort.
“Maryan is an artist who lives and works in a sustainable way,” he says, “maintaining a flexible and creative environment.”
Scott moved to Victoria in the 1980s. Biking around the city, he often saw family members on Maryan’s porch. He laments the loss of character homes in our city, and he praises Eric and Maryan for upgrading and restoring the 1916 classic. Scott believes preserving a single family home, in the face of excessive densification, is admirable. The studio/guest suite in the backyard is a good example of “sensitive urban infill” with minimal impact on the environment.
Where Artists Feel at Home
The Meek home holds many original artworks by local artist Godfrey Stephens. Maryan commissioned an original painting by Godfrey for one of Eric’s birthdays. It features a dashing young Eric, illuminated by swirling colours, with birthday greetings added in Dutch. The artist, adventurer and boatbuilder was the subject of an award-winning book written by his niece Gurdeep Stephens in 2014. Wood Storms, Wild Canvas features over 100 selections and personal anecdotes about the artist.
In 1989, Godfrey was on his way around the world in a handcrafted sailboat when he ran aground in Mexico and lost the boat. Returning to Victoria, the Meeks offered him a place to stay in one of their rental properties. He greatly admires their eclectic art collection and enthusiastic support of contemporary and historical artists.
In fact, Godfrey thinks they should be included in the House Tour.
“Eric and Maryan are the art,” he says, “as they are so accommodating and connected with community.”
The 2019 AGGV Gallery Associates House Tour, featuring five of Victoria’s most unique homes takes place on Sunday, September 22. Local artists will be working on location at each home. Tickets are $35, available from September 1 at the AGGV, GardenWorks (Oak Bay, Saanich, Colwood) Munro’s Books, Ivy’s Bookshop and Dig This (Broadmead and Sidney). aggv.ca
This article is from the September/October 2019 issue of YAM.