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PeopleCorrie Van Rijn

Corrie Van Rijn

‘I was born in a small fishing town called Katwijk aan Zee in the Netherlands. My family was very religious; there was church twice on Sundays and prayers before and after every meal. The town itself was quite conservative, and my family fitted the community. I was number 6 of 7 children, and despite the emphasis on religion, it was a lively household, full of music. My 5 brothers all played an instrument, and I loved to sing. I have very happy memories of that time, and I still do singing and voice workshops. In my early life, my father captained a barge carrying freight along the many Dutch waterways, and if I was lucky I went along too for short trips, which I loved. Later he started a business supplying the large fishing fleet in our town with tackle such as nets, chains, etc., which was a great success. Things definitely looked up from then, my eldest brother joining the business. For my parents it was a big improvement in their circumstances, having come from very humble backgrounds. When I was only 2 my mother was diagnosed with cancer through which she lost her voice, which was devastating so that looking after all us children was extremely difficult. My eldest sister played a major part in managing the family, and my mother lived until I was 13. As I grew up, for some reason I was attracted to the weird and wonderful, and couldn’t wait to leave the constraints of family life.
We lived in a street which was owned by the air force, housing families from various different countries. There was a Spanish family next door, who had dug a hole in the floor to grow a palm tree in their living room and had pictures of bullfights on the walls, all of which was completely outlandish to my innocent eyes. Also at secondary school, I was mixing with people from all kinds of backgrounds, discovering the diversity I had been craving. And of course it was the sixties, there were hippies, and I just loved all that stuff; but I was the only one of my family that embraced the counter-culture of the time, which made me the black sheep.
When my father remarried I left home and got a job in the town, then moved to Leiden, a larger university city, and ended up in a squat there, in a street of condemned grand houses lining the canal, full of artists and musicians. It was very bohemian and psychedelic, but I moved out of that to be with a boyfriend and get a bit more on the straight and narrow. I had an aunty who was a very good dressmaker, who had been teaching me to make dolls’ clothes from the age of about 4. My parents bought me my first sewing machine when I was 10, so I was making things for myself from a very early age. I knew a lot of local musicians, and I began making clothes for them, revelling in the glam rock style of those days. I also became quite entrepreneurial, successfully selling a lot of clothes at that time.
Having turned out so different from my family, I had a strong sense of needing to belong somewhere. At first, I felt I belonged to the community in the squat, but when I began work in a nursing home I felt I fitted in there. They accepted me for who I was, and I felt valued. I did some training and began to help with creative and fun activities with the patients. Once a year they would hire a big boat, park it close by on the Rhine, and then with all the patients, including some of the quite infirm elderly folk in their hospital beds, go on a 2-week cruise all the way down the Rhine, having huge amounts of fun. They all loved it, and so did I. It was my first foreign trip.
I then worked at a number of creative jobs in Leiden, some with local kids from deprived areas, and later for the educational department of The Museum of Anthropology, working to pay the bills as I always have done. In my early twenties, I met a guy, an artist, and we had a son. After a lot of training, I was teaching handicrafts to young children whilst bringing up my son. That was also a period when I started to take an interest in Satipatthana Meditation, going to workshops with John Garrie Roshi. After I was divorced, it was at one of these workshops that I met Alan, and at the age of 28, having come for a long weekend, I moved to the UK and stayed.
We lived in a small village in Oxfordshire, quite a big change for me after Leiden. Everything seemed so tiny and rural and with the old pubs, it seemed like the middle ages. So I was in Oxford a lot, and got into Aikido, and trained in Shiatsu. I was still making clothes for people and using textiles as a medium for other creative projects. Then Alan and I went to live on a country estate in Brightwell Baldwin, in the servants’ quarters of a crumbling mansion. Alan had a workshop there, enabling him to develop his furniture making skills. We lived there for 3 years and then were offered this place in Askerswell, which has been our home since 1986. My son went to school in Holland, came here for vacations, and now lives in Amsterdam. He’s in the music industry, has two lovely children, and we see a lot of each other, either in Amsterdam or here in England.
Here in Dorset, I did a 2-year City and Guilds course in Fashion at Exeter College, then a year’s teacher training, during which I was teaching at the A Level Art and Fashion course. I also got involved with the drama department of Exeter University, making costumes for shows including a Japanese Noh production. After that, I decided to do a degree in Textile and Fashion Design, in Bristol, as a mature student. While I was there I made friends with a film director and worked on several productions here in Dorset, some Thomas Hardy-related productions, and a series called Harbour Lights. I worked with a German film company FFP Media on costumes, later sourcing extras and English actors for small roles. That was an incredibly busy time for both Alan and I, because we were producing work for Dorset Art Weeks right from the beginning. One visitor to our DAW show, Deirdre McSharry, was curating a 50th Anniversary exhibition at the American Museum in Bath, to which I was invited to contribute with my textiles. It was a lovely exhibition lasting 6 months, and my part in it was a Shaker-inspired collection. Deidre was very well connected, which led to some really good publicity for me, and I enjoyed 5 to 10 years of success with my work. Alan and I did many shows together, often opening our whole house to show our work together in joint exhibitions.
After 2007 the recession began to bite, making buyers more hesitant about parting with their money for what both Alan and I were offering. Dorset Art Weeks had become bigger and more expensive to participate in, and some of the local artists in our area moved on, making us feel a little more isolated, although I had one particularly loyal client who continued to buy my work, and who must have bought nearly a hundred outfits over the years. Since I first was interested in it, I continued to practice the Meditation and Yoga. In my late forties, I decided to train as a Yoga teacher which I did over a period of 4 – 5 years. I started to teach from the beginning of the course, which one is encouraged to do anyway to get teaching experience. I now teach here in the village hall, as well as Bradpole and South Perrott, and there will be a Summer Yoga programme in the Bull Hotel in Bridport, in July and August, for beginners and experienced yogis, where people can work with a different teacher each week. So the creative side of things has taken a bit of a back seat but has never really disappeared. Throughout my life, from when my parents first encouraged it, my life’s main interests have been creativity, music, and physical activities such as gymnastics and athletics when I was younger, and now Yoga.
I love world cinema, I was on the committee of Bridport Film Society for 5 years, and I love travelling, my particular favourites being India, Morocco and the Middle East. Japan was a big trip for me too, and I love going to places where I can discover textile processes. I prefer independent travel, opening up to expansion, so that it becomes an adventure, you meet the local people, and possibilities open up, connections are made.’

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