Teacher and Artist
Muriel James Neilson was born in 1909 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. A brilliant student, she earned degrees in English, Chemistry, and Math. However, upon graduation the Great Depression hit, which made job prospects few and far between. So Muriel took a job as a teacher, and shared her knowledge with her students. During the 20’s and 30’s, she experimented with cooperative living. One can imagine that this informed her generosity in welcoming friends into her home, and her passion for community.
In 1947, Muriel’s friends Mary and Watson Thompson introduced her to an interesting character – Einar Neilson. Originally from Norway, he worked in Winnipeg, Banff, and eventually Bowen, driving taxis and doing odd jobs. He and Muriel became friends, traded letters for months, and got married on Christmas Day of that same year. It was then that Muriel moved into Lieben, the beautiful cedar-and-driftwood cottage that Einar built on Bowen. Located in the Eagle Cliff area, it had gorgeous views of the ocean. Most everything inside was handmade, thanks to Einar’s carpentry skills. In its heyday, from 1946-1965, they invited all their artist friends to visit Lieben. It was a perfect getaway for making sculptures, paintings, and pieces of writing. Many artists appreciated Lieben for the peace, the view, and of course, the Neilsons’ hospitality.
But this wasn’t all Muriel did for arts on the island. She soon became a teacher at the Bowen Island Community School, and started the school choir. They won several awards, and created their own records, one of which we are lucky to have in the museum. Even after retiring, Muriel continued helping out at BICS, supervising field trips, pageants, and other events. In appreciation for her efforts, she won Citizen of the Year in 1980.
Muriel and Mary, still friends after all the years, were also involved in anti-war, and anti-nuclear activism. Muriel said: “We choose to ally ourselves with the human urge to survive, continually nourished by the spirit of hope.” Her hopeful and creative spirit inspired many Bowen residents and visiting artists, which, as a legacy, is pretty extraordinary.