If not for a Dutch doctor’s desire for a country with open spaces, Halifax would never have been blessed with Studio 21 Fine Art Gallery. The contemporary studio was founded by Ineke Graham who came to Canada as a 17-year-old in 1954 with her parents and all but two of her 11 siblings. “It was a tricky age to make such a big move; you leave all your friends behind. But I was adventurous and curious.” The family entered through Pier 21, which later inspired her studio’s name. Sponsored by the Dutch Reform Church, they settled in Belmont outside Truro. The beautiful sound of the peepers impressed Ineke. “It gave me such a sense of space, the largeness of the country.” Her parents fell in love with the province’s beauty, but their primitive living conditions were a contrast from the sophisticated family’s large home in the centre of Rotterdam. Her dad interned for a year, making house calls in the middle of the night, and then worked in a medical practice in New Glasgow for many years. Although Ineke had studied English, French, German, and Dutch literature, she attended a country school to become more fluent and worked as a housekeeper to practice speaking English.
Deep down you still feel Dutch; after all, you’re a bit of a transplant. But I’d never want to go back to live. In that sense I’m totally Canadian. I love the space; I love the quiet. It was a good move in every way.
Having inherited artistic skills from her mother, Ineke spent two years at the Ontario College of Art and then two years in drawing, painting and printmaking at the Rotterdam Academy of Art. Returning to Nova Scotia, Ineke was her father’s temporary receptionist. She married and raised two boys and two girls in Bedford, but eventually left the marriage. “I thought, now what do I do? The only thing I knew about was art, but had no degree in business.” She boldly started the downtown gallery and traveled to build a clientele. When visiting her sons – both geologists – in Calgary, Ineke demonstrated business smarts by selling art at law firms and oil companies there. She operated her highly-regarded gallery for 28 years, hosting shows by notable artists. Despite a staff of three, she worked every day. “It was a wonderful challenge to teach people about how to look at art and appreciate it. Not just understanding the subject matter but how they did it.”
It wasn’t easy, but Ineke succeeded. “I loved every bit of it. My clients are my friends. My artists are my friends. I still call them my artists. I have art in my home by all of them.” She remarried and is now retired but daughter Maria works in the gallery. Daughter Laura is a graphic designer. Ineke has eight grandchildren from 11 to 22. Her siblings have settled throughout the world and three practiced medicine in Nova Scotia. Ineke paints portraits and spends time with family. She dreams of taking a cooking course in Italy, but Canada is home. “Deep down you still feel Dutch; after all, you’re a bit of a transplant. But I’d never want to go back to live. In that sense I’m totally Canadian. I love the space; I love the quiet. It was a good move in every way.”