Elfriede Meindl was born in 1926 in the small town of Magstadt near Stuttgart in the south of Germany. She was the second oldest of four daughters born to Emilie and Richard Vogele, a well respected local tailor and pattern maker. Elfriede’s schooling was typical for her generation. As a very young child she remembers attending a church-run kindergarten where a single Deaconess managed 85 children by reading them stories and letting them play games on the walled-in lawn of the local Protestant church. Like so many of her generation, her education was cut short by the drama of the Second World War.
When the war ended, she married Rolf Meindl, a young master millwright and her former classmate. At the time of their marriage, Elfriede worked for a local potter where she learned the principles of drying, glazing and firing pottery in large industrial kilns. It was her special task to decorate platters and vases with a traditional pattern of flowers and leaves. Working in the shop at the same time was another school friend who inspired the young couple with his project of emigrating to Canada. Within the year Rolf and Elfriede decided that they too would leave their economically devastated homeland and join Rolf’s sister in Canada where Rolf had been offered work as a mechanic in Toronto.
With $30 each in their pockets and a wooden crate of household items, the young couple set off on the ship Canberra. They landed briefly at the famous Pier 21 in Halifax before their ship continued up the St. Lawrence river to Montreal where they boarded a train for their final destination, Toronto. Despite arriving at midnight in the pouring rain, Elfriede remembers the joy and delight with which they embraced, repeating over and over, “We are here! We are here!”
Life was difficult in the first years as they struggled to support themselves and learn the language, but after a few years they were well enough established to purchase their own modest home in Highland Creek, a new suburb north-east of downtown Toronto. It was during this period that Rolf first encouraged Elfriede in her creative efforts. Remembering the charming Hummel figurines that they had known in Germany, Rolf suggested to Elfriede that perhaps she could create her own figurines. He used his skills as a machinist to build her first small electric kiln. During this period Elfriede honed her modeling skills by doing bas-reliefs using National Geographic photos as her inspiration.
After a few years their two eldest children, Susan and Patricia were born. Rolf became involved in the union movement in his trade and soon, with the encouragement of their pastor, he decided to manifest his interest in social service and train to become a Lutheran Minister. The couple sold their house and moved to Waterloo, Ontario where Rolf enrolled for five years in the seminary at Waterloo Lutheran University. The couple’s other two children, Carol and Rolf Jr. were born during his studies and Elfriede used every ounce of her native creativity to create a happy and fulfilling family life with few resources.
During this period she had little time to devote to her artistic work but she remembers fondly receiving a special commission to sculpt the head of a young boy from life. Convincing him to sit still was a challenge and she was particularly proud of the liveliness of his face and how well she modeled his curls (of which his hair-stylist mother was particularly proud!).
In 1965 Rolf graduated from seminary and received a call to join a team ministry in New Germany, Nova Scotia. It was here that Elfriede's creative life really rooted itself and flourished.
Towards the end of their first summer in Nova Scotia, the family visited the local Farmer’s Exhibition in Bridgewater NS, where Elfriede saw a display of local handcrafts including some simple ceramic ashtrays and bowls. When she asked about the possibility of exhibiting her own work the following year she was informed that there was another, larger, exhibition taking place in nearby Lunenburg in a few weeks. Elfriede entered a small collection of her handmade china characters and was delighted to see that she won a red ribbon… “first prize” in her category!
Before another day passed, she had received a call from a local craft shop asking to buy those figurines immediately. This began her connection with “The Teazer” in Mahone Bay. It was a happy relationship with one of Nova Scotia's premier gift shops which lasted through three proprietors and over 30 years until her retirement.
When the owner of the Teazer, recognizing a need for work with a local flavor, asked her whether she would be able to make sculptures of Nova Scotia fisherman, Elfriede and Rolf arranged to be on the dock one evening when some local fishing boats pulled in. Elfriede was was disappointed to see that the fisherman dressed in very ordinary clothes; boots, sweatshirts and baseball caps. Some research in the local library however, located photos and drawings from the previous century of Nova Scotian fishermen wearing the oil-skin coats and sou’wester hats which became the trademark costumes of the popular fishermen figurines that she created over the years.
In what she describes as a “once-in-a-lifetime stroke of luck,” the tourist industry on the South Shore of Nova Scotia began to take off just at that time and many gift shops opened in small villages along the Atlantic coast. It was not long before other shops tracked her down and began to purchase her work. What had begun in her mind as a way to make enough money to finance a family camping holiday, became first a part-time, and then a full time job.
Elfriede varied her stock continually, creating many, many variations on her well known fisherman and their wives. As time went on she created a large variety of other figurines in her unique style including the Annapolis Valley Farmer and his wife, the Acadian Girl, “Anne” of PEI, and an assortment of nursery rhyme characters such as the Goose Girl, Mary had a little Lamb, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, How Many Miles to Babylon and Jack and the Candle stick. Another favorite Canadian theme concerned Eskimos in various styles.
When her husband Rolf retired from his Lutheran ministry in 1979, the family moved to the home they had built on the shore of the Bay of Fundy near Middleton, where Elfriede continued to work for many more years, until she finally retired in 2003.
After her husband died in 2013, life at the Fundy became too isolating and in 2015 she closed a personal circle, returning to Toronto where she now lives close to children and grand-children.
The next stage in Elfriede’s career development was participation in the growing circuit of Nova Scotia craft markets. As the craft markets became a more and more popular attraction, it was hard for Elfriede’s stock of individually modeled figures to keep up and she usually sold out before the end of the show. Another happy and long-standing craft connection, was created when Donna and Michael Susnick, who were then craftspeople themselves, invited colleagues like Elfriede to join them in establishing one of the largest, most successful and longest running craft shows in the province, “Christmas at the Forum” in Halifax, and it’s counterpart “Spring into Summer.”
It was also during this period that Elfriede’s children became old enough to create work of their own, their first childish attempts being given space on the corner of the table. Over the years Meindl Figurines developed into a three person family business as Elfriede’s two daughters Susan and Carol also opened their own studios and worked full-time, creating their own distinct stocks of characters.
Craft markets became family events as all 4 children and their parents worked collaboratively to set up, take down and staff the family craft show booths at the Forum, the Dalplex , the Annapolis Royal Craft Market, the Lunenburg Craft market as well as many other shows in Truro, New Glasgow, and Cape Breton.
Through sales to visitors at craft markets and gift shops during her long and successful career, Elfriede’s figurines have been disseminated across North America and throughout the world.
One story she enjoys re-telling is of the Texan who arrived at the very end of a craft market. He was delighted by her work and very much wanted to purchase one of her figurines. Unfortunately he had no more Canadian money, and the banks were already closed. When the Texan discovered that Meindl Figurines did not take credit cards, he was very disappointed. Elfriede packed up the figurine for him anyway saying, “Take it home and send me a check when you arrive.” “Really?” said the Texan, “You would trust me to pay you?”
A week or so later the check arrived in the mail along with a long letter saying how good it had been to visit Nova Scotia and meet people who had such a generous and trusting attitude. The Texan added humorously, “When I pass my fisherman figurine standing on my mantle-piece I say to it, ‘No need to wag your finger at me! I paid Mrs. Meindl.’”
Throughout her career, Elfriede was a staunch supporter of the handcraft industry in Nova Scotia, often helping or counseling younger entrepreneurs. An interesting example of this was her work in assisting the women of Tancook Island to develop a cottage industry making “apple dolls”. These dolls had heads created by carving apples and letting them dry into charming wrinkled elderly faces. The local women used all their traditional handiwork skills, knitting, embroidery, hand-sewing and recycling old clothing and fabric scraps.... often drafting their husbands to help with the wire work and whittling… to create the costumes and accessories for the dolls which were sold to gift shops locally and even in the USA, generating much needed family income.
While her business of creating small original figurines for sale occupied most of her time, in quiet moments Elfriede still found time to pursue her artistic inclinations. Always a story teller herself, she was fascinated by the legends and folktales of Nova Scotia. She found a real treasure trove of these stories when she was given the gift of an old Grade 5 Reader from 1891 “Stories from the Land of Evangaline,” which featured Nova Scotian legends and folk-tales. These stories captured her imagination and became the inspiration for her larger and more elaborate ceramic sculptures. Among the “big figurines” that she created over the years are, “Ulrica”, who walked from Lunenberg to Grand Pre alone to get a cow after the expulsion of the Acadians, “The Messenger Maiden of Minas“ and “The Light on Black Ledge.”
It is not surprising, that Elfriede’s figurines eventually came to the attention of the Nova Scotia government. Lieutenant-Governor John Schaffner and his wife recognized in her work a truly unique and locally produced handcraft suitable for presentation to distinguished visitors. In the 1970’s and 80’s Meindl figurines were kept constantly on hand in the NS Protocol office, as hand-crafted Nova Scotian gifts that could be offered when provincial leaders traveled or entertained.
In recognition of the uniqueness Elfriede’s work and its links to local history, she also received several prestigious commissions from the province. The first of these was to create the province’s gift to the newly invested Governor General, the Right Honorable Jules Leger in 1975. In recognition of his relationship to his beloved brother Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, she created a sculpture featuring a Catholic priest based on the Nova Scotian tale of “The Hunchback of Annapolis Royal.”
1974: “Claude, The Hunchback of Port Royal“
from Tales of the Land of Evangaline (pg 15)
"Stay, Claude," said the Father, reaching out his strong arm and putting it around the twisted little form." If it should be that I do not return—I will more than likely do so—but you know you and I always plan a day ahead, and enemies and strange ships are not symbols of security. But if I do not return, you will take the casket of gold and hide it in some safe place; then go up the river to Paul; he will care for you. While I am alive, though, I will care for you myself. Now, go, Claude, and wait the events of another day. No, do not say adieu; I will see you again."
Her second major commission was for the royal visit of the Queen Mother to Halifax in 1979. For this occasion she produced a sculpture, depicting an old woman bending to tend a fallen soldier, which based on another Nova Scotia story.
1979: “Old Mag: The Scarlet Spectre of Sandy Ridge”
from Tales of the Land of Evangaline (Pg 217)
“In and out among the sick and dying men she went; what comfort she could give them, she gave. Water was their want, and to the thirty, disheartened men there seemed no prospect of getting, it. But the strange woman knew where was a deep and pure spring, and hour after hour, in their small tin cans she brought it to them, cool and fresh…
Constantly the strange red-coated woman attended to their wants. The captain was to her crazy mind her long-sought son, and for him she had special care. But all the men were "her boys," and to all she filled a mother's place: closed the eyes and laid the swollen, still hands over the quiet hearts, and when no one was left strong enough, she digged the narrow beds in the sand, and laid the dead away to rest.”
In 1983, she was commissioned yet again to create a gift for Princess Diana when she toured the province with her husband Prince Charles. Thinking of the Princess’s experiences as a young mother, Elfriede chose to create a figurine of a brave young mother pulling along a tired young son.
1983: “The Tired Boy”
A Nova Scotian story
In honor of Princes Diana, who was by then the mother a young young son herself, Elfriede created a sculpture based on a story she had heard of a pioneer mother who walked alone through the forest trails from New Glasgow to Truro with her young son to give him the opportunity to go to school and be educated. The boy is depicted hanging back as they near their destination, tired and wary of the strange experiences that lie ahead for him.
Always interested in stories, Elfriede was inspired to try her hand at writing herself when she was already in her 70’s.
She wrote and illustrated a series of three full-length childrens’ novels which describe the adventures of Christopher,a young boy whose fate sets him to wandering through the world. Christopher’s adventures combine Elfriede’s personal knowledge and experience of old-time methods of farming and housekeeping with a colorful collection of imaginary and magical creatures who the boy meets along his journey. Books two and three bring in the character of Angeline, an even younger child for whom Christopher and his friends take responsibility.
The books were intended for children in grade 4 or 5 but adult readers have also been known to enjoy their whimsical charm.
A limited edition “Christopher“ figurine was created to accompany the first book.
Elfriede Meindl, “Christopher,” Nova Scotia: Gaspereau Press, 2002, ISBN-10: 0973162201, 9780973162202
Elfriede Meindl, “Christopher Book 2; The Adventures of Christopher and Angeline,” Nova Scotia: Gaspereau Press, 2007, ISBN-10: 0980884004
Elfriede Meindl, “Christopher Book 3: The Magic Stone,” Nova Scotia: Gaspereau Press, 2008, ISBN-10: 097316221X
Each Meindl figurine has been individually constructed using the simple household-kitchen tools which Elfriede had at hand. A rolling pin, darning needle, paring knife, and tea-strainer were her main tools, supplemented by bits of lace and knitted fabric that were used to make patterns on sweaters and decorate ladies’ gowns. Each figurine is an original hand-made creation. Absolutely no molds were ever used in their production. Each figurine was sold with a hang tag describing it’s production and individually signed “E. Meindl.” Each Meindl figurine is also individually signed on it’s base: “Original, E. Meindl, Nova Scotia.“ This characteristic signature at the base of all her figurines is the guarantee of their authenticity
After the death of her husband in 2012, life in her beloved house at the Fundy became too isolating and Elfriede moved to an apartment in Crosskill Court, Bridgetown where she immediately engaged her love of gardening and took over the planting and care of the community’s hanging planters. She transplanted naturalized tulips and daffodils around the buildings which will delight the eyes of the residents every spring for years to come.
In 2015 she closed a personal circle and returned to Toronto to live nearer to her adult children..Her arrival at Toronto’s Christie Gardens Residence was greeted by an invitation to inaugurate their “Artist in Residence” showcase with a lecture and an exhibition of her unique and beautiful figurines which instantly made her a recognizable figure in the building community.
Even so late in life, Elfriede’s creative spirit remained strong. She celebrated her 90th birthday by building one last fisherman... her eyes still sharp for detail and her hands rock steady. She continued to entertain herself with coloring and painting right up to the last weeks of her life.
Elfriede lived a life which had many challenges and changes which she met with cheerfulness and an enterprising spirit. She established herself in a new country, learned the language and raised a loving family. She was proud of the work that she had produced and very touched by the affection and appreciation of her loyal customers, many of whom became family friends over the years.
Elfriede died August 17th, 2020 at age 94, of complications from a hip fracture. She passed peacefully surrounded by her family. Elfriede was herself “an original”.... a talented artist, loyal wife, loving mother and grandmother who will be missed by family and friends.
This website was created by Elfriede Meindl’s children with love and admiration and in honor of her 90th birthday. It is our tribute to our mother, Elfriede Meindl’s, talent and imagination
Thanks to Elfriede's granddaughter, Laurie Waxman, for the website design and development.
While we would enjoy hearing your stories and comments about Meindl Figurines in the Guest Book, the family can offer no identification, authentication or price appraisal of her work. No figurines are for sale through this website.