Evoking smiles

Twillingate Gallery co-owner has association with iconic Canadian children’s programs

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on June 17, 2012

There’s something about artist Nina Keogh’s past that lights up the faces of people of certain ages.

Keogh, a third-generation puppeteer, was involved in the classic Canadian CBC-TV shows “The Friendly Giant” and “Mr. Dressup.”

And if you’re from the generations who watched those shows, you’re smiling right about now, curling up in your imagination in one of the Giant’s little chairs or rummaging through “Mr. Dressup’s” tickle trunk for a costume or funny hat.

“Look up, look waaaaaay up!” is a catchphrase you’ll never forget and Ernie Coombs (Mr. Dressup) and Bob Homme (Friendly) are celebrity heroes who never disappointed.

Keogh, who moved to this province in 2008 with photographer husband John Satterberg, and opened the Twillingate Gallery, has much more on her resume than those TV programs, including “Today’s Special,” which ran from 1981-87 on TVOntario and Nickleodeon and has a sizeable fan base in the U.S. She also first hosted the “Polka Dot Door” in 1971.

But she’s most used to the reaction over the “Mr. Dressup” and “The Friendly Giant” connection.

As a child, Keogh apprenticed with her puppeteer parents, John and Linda, who were behind the raccoons and cats who hung out in Friendly’s music room. The Keoghs were also well known in the 1950s for “Maggie Mullins” on CBC.

On “Mr. Dressup,” Keogh was behind the puppet Truffles, among the characters brought in when Casey and Finnegan puppeteer Judith Lawrence retired.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia for our childhood programs,” Keogh said during a chat at her gallery.

She laughed as she told the story of returning one time to Canada from the U.S., driving up to the Canadian customs checkpoint. She had a licence plate with a puppet on it. The officer aksed about it and Keogh replied she builds puppets.

“He said, ‘Oh yeah, what?’ I told him ‘Friendly Giant,’ ‘Mr. Dressup’ and he just completely turned into this little boy. It was hysterical,” she recalled.

“I just find that so often, people who have a certain kind of façade, as soon as they find out about their childhood show they love, they melt into these little kids and it’s really lovely to see.”

Much like this reporter who was riveted over Keogh’s association with Homme and Coombs.

She remained friends with Homme, lived near him and spent time with him a few hours before he died in 2000. Coombs died in 2001.

See ‘I’M,’ page A18

‘I’m home. I live here now’

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“They were the way they appeared. They were both really lovely, gentle men — very, very nice people,” Keogh said.

She had visited Newfoundland in the early 1970s and always had a fascination with the water and a love of Atlantic Canada.

Living in Cobourg, Ont., Keogh said she built a football field-sized pond from a bog in her yard.

“I needed to be around water,” she said. “But I never realized I would end up on a really big pond.”

Also on her bucket list was opening an art gallery.

Several years ago, she wanted Satterberg to see the province. They headed up to Gros Morne, but that area wasn’t what they were looking for. Something drew them to Twillingate and that was it.

“I don’t know what compelled us to be here, but we wanted to be on the coast. We drove in and you come over the hill and see the water. … It just took our breath away. Also we saw our first iceberg on the way up here. Seeing your first iceberg is like having sex for the first time.  It’s like whoa!”

Satterberg gave up his psychology practice and hasn’t looked back. A native of Oregon, his long career in Canada included teaching at the University of Toronto.

“I’m home. I live here now,” he said.

“I don’t understand why this is not the best tourism destination in Newfoundland, which I think it should be.”

His compelling photographs of surrounding communities, portraits and landscapes and Keogh’s art are featured in the gallery. She does traditional paintings, as well as whimsical scenes on wood, and has designed a label for the Auk Island Winery.

“I would have to say half of it for us is meeting people who come through the door. That brings us a lot of joy, just to talk to people,” Keogh said.

They have also drawn friends from Ontario to Twillingate. Many have never visited the province before. A couple have bought houses, others rent for the summer. Others are tempted to relocate, but aren’t quite ready for the transition.



John Satterberg and Nina Keogh operate the Twillingate Gallery. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Some of Nina Keogh’s whimsical hand-painted wood carvings. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram