Artist and pattern fabulator, partner, dancer, friend. Born in North Bay, Ont., on Feb. 10, 1955; died in Toronto, on Oct. 26, 2013, of cancer, aged 58.
As an artist, Jeannie Thib would carefully cut up floral fabric patterns, rearrange them and transform them, using felt or metal or glass, to produce glorious sculptural constructions. She played with traditional images of nature to create fascinating formations that, although often small in scale, offered viewers passageways and entry points to her wondrous and inventive gardens.
Jeannie, an only child, grew up in the 1950s and ’60s in the southern end of North Bay. Her home was across from the public access to Lake Nippissing and she spent many hours playing amid the lakeshore’s tangled, scrubby bush. She later attributed her interest in the natural world to the inspiration she found there. She would collect small plants, moss and twigs in pie plates and arrange her found treasures into tiny miniature gardens.
As a young woman, she moved to Toronto to attend the fine arts program at York University. Her much-loved art studies were followed by a number of surprising jobs, including one in the men’s underwear department at The Bay. Soon, however, Jeannie found more suitable work at Sword Street Press, printing lithographs. She later taught classes at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and worked as a scenic painter for films, opera, ballet and theatre.
Eventually, she was able to devote herself full time to her own artwork, exhibiting widely both internationally and in Canada, including at the Leo Kamen Gallery, and more recently, Katzman Contemporary, both in Toronto. Jeannie had always wanted to be an artist so one of her great disappointments came last September when she had to admit that she could not continue doing what she loved, because of the cancer she had been quietly facing for more than five years, which had become unmanageable.
Her life was not all art and no play, however. For many years she and partner Bruce Holland went canoe camping in Algonquin, Temagami and Killarney. Later, they bought a cabin on one of the granite outcroppings made famous by the Group of Seven painters (an A.J. Casson painting, Morning on the Key River, portrays the point right next to their property). The two kayaked and swam, and read trashy novels – though Jeannie kept up with art theory and literary classics, too. In the late afternoon they would have aperitifs and watch for wildlife. A daily ritual was dubbed the “before-dinner dance party.” While preparing their evening meal, they would dance on the rock in front of the cabin as the sunlight faded.
People sometimes ask what an artist means by their work. In Jeannie’s case, both through her art and her life, she strove to mean something beautiful. Put simply, she “meant well.” This was evident in her good humour and her patience with daily life and then, amazingly, with the disease that took her life. Jeannie meant well with Bruce, with her mother, Ruth, who died last year, and with her friends and artist colleagues. Each of us knew this through her graciousness to the end: her ready smile, her ease in conversation, and the droll laugh that never left her.
Through her artwork, Jeannie meant profoundly well. She left a legacy of beautiful and powerful works that mean well for all of us, and for nature and the planet.
Patrick Mahon is Jeannie’s friend.