Manette van Hamel dies at 98

When the challenge of raising children alone in a foreign country became too daunting for her mother — a concert pianist — she returned to Holland with the children and earned a living giving violin and piano lessons. Manette said music helped her survive many difficult circumstances. Joyfully, she recalled playing difficult duets with her mother as fast as they could move their fingers. “I flew away on the music,” Manette wrote.

Having earned a music diploma from the Conservatory in Amsterdam, Manette was asked to join what had been an all-male string quartet. “As I was the only woman,” she wrote, “I was extremely nervous and shy, especially of the viola player sitting across from me. His face was a closed book, which intrigued me very much. He seemed much older than I, but only by two years, I found out later. He turned out to be shy too. This is how I met my future husband.”

Manette recognized that she was “not an easy personality,” in contrast to her diplomatic husband. “They balanced each other,” daughter Martine recently observed.


Artistic creativity sprang into high gear when Manette met Woodstock painter Rolf Scarlett while visiting Woodstock during the 1960s. The van Hamel family, then living in Toronto where Dick was stationed, spent vacations camping by the Sawkill in Shady, on artist Frank Brokenshaw’s property. “Brock” built huge bonfires by the stream and attracted a salon of nature-lovers. Scarlett inspired Manette to experiment with ceramics, painting, sculpture and jewelry. He remained a mentor and family friend for the rest of his life. In later years, Manette picked up silver crafting again with Woodstock jeweler Sylvia Margolis.

“When my husband and I talked about retiring, we decided not to return to Holland,” Manette wrote. “As unbelievable as this may sound, years later, we indeed retired in Woodstock, the place of my dreams. I could not imagine returning to Holland after having rediscovered the wonderful place of my youth. I must have influenced my husband who often teased me, saying; ‘What is so different about Woodstock, compared to other towns of that size here in America’? I answered, ‘Of course Woodstock is different! Just look around for another place to live, and you’ll agree.’”

Strong and energetic, Manette did not take well to inactivity, according to her daughter Martine van Hamel, principal ballerina of the American Ballet Theater during the 1970s and 80s and the co-founder of Kaatsbaan International Dance Center. Martine and her husband Kevin McKenzie described Manette this week during a tour of the airy home and garden by the brook in Woodstock where the van Hamels lived.

Manette’s abstract paintings and her acclaimed “sculpture to wear” jewelry of silver and stones are displayed on the walls and under glass. A beloved piano and furniture brought from Europe remain in the home like treasured friends. Martine and Kevin weekend here while Kevin works in New York City as Artistic Director of American Ballet Theater, now is in the midst of its season. Martine and Kevin described Manette as passionate about everything she did. She remained active and rode a bicycle well into her 90s.

When the van Hamels purchased the 1904 home by the stream in 1968, it was a modest one-room cottage with a very low ceiling and rocking chairs on a screened-in porch. The van Hamels renovated the house upon their retirement, and Martine and Kevin recently expanded the space further. “We realized we love it here,” she said.

Manette didn’t talk much about the artistic process. “She was a doer, not a teacher,” Kevin explained. Nevertheless, Martine found a statement on the subject written by Manette:

When the artist has completed the work, it is sold or given away and all that remains is the experience and the hope and dream that the receiver will love and care for the piece of art which was once so dear to the artist’s heart, but nothing can be taken for granted and the artist must go on.

“She was a real artist at heart,” Martine said. “Everything she did was inspired. We were very close. She loved Kevin.”

Kevin observed, “She was a huge inspiration on how to age successfully, carefully deciding what to give up. Her friends became younger and younger. She was the queen of adaptation,” he said.

Manette van Hamel is survived by daughter Martine, of New York City and Woodstock; two sons, Alfred van Hamel of Toronto, Canada; Jan-Willem van Hamel of the Netherlands; three grandsons, Anton van Hamel, Leonard and Derek Colldredo Mansfield also survive, and her beloved dog Fritz.

Services and internment were private. A memorial gathering will be held in August. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Historical Society of Woodstock, 20 Comeau Drive, P.O. Box 841, Woodstock, NY 12498 are gratefully appreciated.

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