After teaching her students the skills of painting for 26 years, and building a studio that in some ways served as a community centre, Jackie Neufeld has permanently closed the doors of Tiggy’s At Crescent due to COVID-19.
Neufeld launched her studio in 1994 in Ocean Park before moving it, two years later, to its most-recent location at 12185 Beecher St. Throughout that time, Neufeld has been hosting group art lessons to classes of eight students. COVID-19 restrictions forced her to reduce her class size to four students, and she was no longer allowed to assist her students on a personal level.
“It just made it untenable. I just couldn’t go forward with it,” she told Peace Arch News Wednesday (Jan. 6).
While some of her students over the years have developed into professional artists in their own right, what Neufeld said she will miss most about her businesses is the people.
“That’s going to be the biggest thing I miss, for sure, is just the companionship, the friendship. Just all of the things that we exchanged in classes, tips and different life stories,” Neufeld said. “Every single class is an experience. In that way, I’ve had students tell me that it was better than therapy.”
While some students came for the art, others stayed for the friendships, she added.
“It became kind of a meeting place for a lot of people. A lot of people would come to the classes because, yes, they were improving their painting skills and making something great for their house, but also they were meeting lots of other people in the community and making a lot of friendships.”
One of the people who made life-long friendships through the studio, and agreed with the notion that it was, indeed, a place to meet others, was Zimbabwe Gecko Society founder Susan Janetti.
The Zimbabwe Gecko Society is a non-profit organization based in South Surrey that started as a response to horrendous circumstances facing orphaned children in Zimbabwe. The society raises money for Zimbabwe families by selling their hand-made crafts to South Surrey and White Rock residents.
Janetti has been a regular student, and now friend, of Neufeld since Tiggy’s first opened its doors in Ocean Park.
A mental health worker, Janetti first signed up for a class because she saw it as a productive way to relieve stress, she told PAN.
“I didn’t know anything about art at the time,” she said.
Janetti said the classes not only taught her art skills, but it allowed her to see things in a different light.
“When I opened my own practice again, I used some of her techniques of art to help students through chronic depression,” Janetti added.
She said that not only has Neufeld been a great supporter of the Zimbabwe society, but so have her other art students.
“What am I going to miss most? Just the camaraderie of the whole place. We’ve gotten followers in the Gecko Society from that, but it’s just the camaraderie. And also, in my field of mental health, I’ve got nowhere to refer people. And when I say that, I mean there’s art classes everywhere… but her class, I thought I could safely send people to knowing that they’d be nurtured,” Janetti said.
Janetti said that after Tiggy’s closed, Neufeld donated boxes of art supplies to her so that she could send them to Zimbabwe.
“So within a couple of months, the people in Zimbabwe will have new paints and brushes and all kinds of things to use. It’s huge because it gives them tools to make money with,” Janetti said.
Neufeld, meanwhile, plans to retire, sort of. She intends to continue offering some online instruction and hosting video classes. She will also keep her website up-to-date, she said.
One of the saddest aspects about closing the shop, she added, was the way in which it had to be done.
“I’ve been sort of contemplating retirement for about a year and I think COVID was just the push. I mean, I wouldn’t have closed it now, and I wouldn’t have closed it in this way. It was such a fizzle out… It was just, I couldn’t have a gathering of any sort with all of my faithful students. I couldn’t do anything to honour the end.”
When PAN made a suggestion that she could have a painters reunion once COVID-19 restrictions lift, she said the idea had already been pitched to her.
“That’s what my students say. Exactly. I have a feeling that will probably be in the future for sure,” she said, adding a special thanks to Ramona Yager, who helped her run the business for 24 years.
“She kept the studio and both students and me organized and on track,” Neufeld wrote.