Meeting Mendelson Joe

Artwork by Mendelson Joe

There are a few regular contributors to the letters section of the Huntsville Forester and Mendelson Joe is one of the more prolific ones.

Never having really met the man in person, when he wrote, “I want to paint you,” at the bottom of one of his letters, I wasn’t sure what to think, so I just shrugged it off and went about my business.

I know now that when Mendelson Joe wants to get a point across, he can be pretty persistent.

Next came a letter addressed to me directly, with the typical Mendelson Joe colours on the envelope.

It contained postcards of ladies he referred to as “working women” such as Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, Kiki Misumi, R.W. Haviland as well as beautiful landscapes. One even had buttocks with spaghetti stringing out of it with Brian Mulroney’s hairstyle on top. Unfortunately it was lunchtime when I saw that one — a tea sufficed that day, thank you.

His letter spoke of the fact that his next book would be about neighbours, likely to be published sometime in 2013 or 2014. “I would like to paint your portrait,” he reiterated, and all I could think of was the postcard depicting Mulroney.

“What if he hates me?” I asked a colleague. “What if he paints me as an arse?”

She laughed and offered to accompany me on the adventure.

“I need you for three hours alone some morning from 9:30 a.m.,” continued his letter, which I read aloud. I looked at her and she raised her eyebrows.

“Yikes,” I said. “What if something I wrote really ticked him off?”

The letter further stated: “I provide veggies, fruit and H2O.” When you’ve got an overactive imagination, those words alone could conjure visions of being locked up in a cellar with the best vintage but no corkscrew and the occasional tray of raw vegetables and H2O.

My colleague later directed me to a YouTube video of the artist being visited by CBC’s Rick Mercer and trepidation turned to excitement and interest. If Rick Mercer could do it, so could I. I wondered what his home might look like, would it be splashed with colour like his envelopes and signature overalls?

On the day of the sitting, not wanting to arrive late, I left for Emsdale and arrived about 20 minutes too early. To my pleasant surprise Mendelson Joe was standing at the entrance to his property waving his arms with a huge grin on his face. He reminded me of a big kid and suddenly I felt as though I had arrived on our play date.

It was a warm welcome. Perhaps he appreciated how difficult it might be for someone to bring herself to a perfect stranger’s house to be alone with him for three hours, and just in case there was any last minute hesitation, he was there to show her the way in.

He showed me where to park, asked me to sign an agreement stating I would receive one of his landscape portraits for my time and we proceeded to his work area. I noticed a painting of Stephen Harper with red eyes staring at me from the canvass and later one of Condoleezza Rice with the same eyes and horns and fangs.

It’s hard being still, especially if you’re a little restless by nature. If I moved he would reprimand me in a very serious, but tacit way.

When you’re sitting in front of someone for that length of time, there’s not much you can do but talk. Mendelson Joe was open to questions, even personal ones. He even asked some pretty interesting ones himself. At the end of the session, I came away with a better understanding of the very eccentric, talented and highly opinionated Mendelson Joe. You don’t spend three hours sitting with a person in a room and not get to know him or her a bit more.

He is a romantic. He moved to Muskoka for love. He donates a portion of his paintings to Mike McIntosh to help with bear rehabilitation. Perhaps he feels that like him, bears are misunderstood. He has a strange fascination with psychopaths, noting that Brian Mulroney and Condoleezza Rice Fall under that category, but not Stephen Harper. He is a quirky crusader. It’s refreshing to meet someone with such strong convictions — especially about the world we live in, the need for justice and fairness as well as the need to remain engaged. Mendelson Joe is engaged. Without him our community would definitely be duller.

Thank you for the experience.

Tamara de la Vega, News Editor for the Huntsville Forester

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