December 29, 2013

The Book Pharmacy

"das buch der nature" by herman de vries at the Van Abbemuseum library***

Most posts I start with I'm reading this or that book. Last couple of weeks I didn't read a lot, but I did visit some wonderful places filled with books, the library of the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven) and Artis (Amsterdam).  They feel like magical places to me, where you can travel far and see things you've never seen before. Traveling through other peoples minds.

The title of this post is the translation of the Dutch title translation of the book "The Novel Cure".* In Dutch the title is translated as 'De Boekenapotheek' which literally means 'The Book Pharmacy'.
What a great way to see a library, a place where you can heal. I'm always wishing for more time to read, but it's not really time I need, it's rest to read. I'm jealous of people who read a lot and are therefore filled with information and knowledge.
Knowledge is power, I'm a strong believer of that, so when I'm interested in a subject, I love gathering information. The funny thing is that the knowledge I gather is not always the most useful, but I love the places it brings me to. I read books of all genres, fiction and historical, about nature and Batik. I love books in which I'm introduced to a world that is real, yet I haven't seen it before or it happend a long time ago. The characters in for example my Batik books were real people and I love imagining how it was and felt. Reading these books isn't different for me than reading a novel. Only I have to fill in more blanks. On the other hand you make discoveries with the people that wrote it, or make new ones by putting the dates and facts together. It's traveling in fact instead of in fiction.

On the 12th of november I went to the book launch of herman de vries book "die wiese / the meadow 1986-2013"** at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. I spent a lot a days in Eindhoven in October and November, seeing Vlisco Unfolded during the Dutch Design week, helping with a temporary carpet at the Van Abbe and looking at the lights during GLOW.
I was waiting to write about the book launch till Cees de Boer's speech was online. Unfortunately it's not online yet. It really inspired me, but because I was taking pictures I couldn't make notes. He told about the important role that nature plays in herman's work. And I know now that I have to write herman de vries, and not Herman de Vries.
His new book "die wiese" shows the growth of a meadow that is returned to nature. He bought a piece of land in Germany and only added some of his favorite trees, then he just let nature do the work. Only in the middle of his meadow he mows the grass to keep an open spot. If you flip through the book you see how the farmers land is turned into a small, wild forest. He just documents the development. A lovely project and what a joy it must bring to have such a piece of land. His simplized way of showing natures beauty, is something I truly admire.
In the Van Abbemuseum library where the book launch was held they also made an exhibition of herman de vries other books till the 10th of January 2014.*** Handmade, single publications, next to pressed leaves that are added to limited edition versions and handwritten notes. A true feast for booklovers!

Another great library I discovered was the library of Artis. Me and Koen visited Artis in September, but I never knew they had this classical, magical place filled with books about plants and animals.
Koen and I both entered a competition of Roots****, a magazine about nature with beautiful pictures, where we could meet Redmond O'Hanlon and see the newest episode of his series O'Hanlons Heroes.*****And we both won!
After Redmond and other members of the crew were interviewed on stage, we watched the episode about the ladies Tinne. In the break 25 people could see the library. I sticked like glue to the man responsible to make sure I could get a glimpse.
Oh how I would love to spend a day there, enjoying the beautiful book covers, gasping over hand colored images of birds and trembling of fear with every turning page, scared I might damage it. Hopefully soon I can, and I have to have a good idea of what books I would like to see. Now I just want to see them all!!

The white books are part of an exhibition by Lynne Leegte******

* "Van lezen word je beter, article in De Volkskrant on Saturday 21 december 2013
** To order "die wiese / the meadow 1986-2013" by herman de vries, see
*** "herman de vries books and editions", library exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum. Till 10th of January 2014
**** Roots,
***** More information about O'Hanlons Helden on
****** The white books are part of an exhibition by Lynne Leegte. Till 31th of January 2014 at the Artis library. More information on

December 14, 2013

The best kind of prize is a *sur*prise! *

On the 20th of November I was really lucky to get a guided tour through the Vlisco factory in Helmond (NL). A friend of mine won it in a contest, but couldn't go. She asked if I wanted to go, lucky me!
With a group of twelve women, mostly readers of the magazine that gave away the prize, we got a good look at the proces of a cloth becoming a Vlisco fabric. We weren't allowed to make pictures, due to the problem Vlisco is having with the copying of their products. New designs are kept secret as best as possible, so they can release a new campaign without fake wax-prints taking over the market.

I had my notebook with me and put a lot of interesting facts on paper, but how was I to make a nice blog post without pictures? Then I realized I had this great book about Vlisco I received by snailmail. I was really happy with the postal gift. After my lecture De reis naar Batik: making a statement, during the Najaarsdag of the Nederlandse Kostuumvereniging in Amsterdam, I got an email asking if I was interested in a little book about Vlisco made in february of 1989. It included a square cloth as well. The lady that send me the book knows a lot about chintz. I was talking with her on the Najaarsdag after my lecture. She finds Vlisco fascinating because of the link it has with the chintz brought by VOC from India to the Netherlands. I still love to learn more about this subject, and now have some good literature tips were to start. And I can always send my questions to her, how wonderful.
In the booklet from 1989, after a short introduction about Vlisco and its history, they tell about the making process with pictures!!

The postal gift included a copy of an article from the Textielhistorische Bijdragen and an invitation of a Chintz exhibition written and curated by the sender of the package

Booklet 'Expressief in Textiel' on the square Vlisco cloth

First page

Wax, Indigo, Color stamp

Big piles and roles full of Vlisco

The Vlisco factory is in the former castle garden. This makes their location unique, so near the center of a city. The oldest building on the property is the water tower from 1880. The building that should have prevented fire, was the only building that survived the fire in 1883. Before P.F. van Vlissingen junior started Vlissingen & Co in 1846, there was already an blue (indigo)dye house on that location from 1802.
There are many theories why Vlisco became so popular in West-Africa, but from a historical point of view it most likely had to do with the impact of trade by sea. The Gold coast was a stopping point on the shipping route to the Dutch East Indies. They used that point for stocking up provision. Cloth was and still is a popular product for trade. Chintz, Batik and eventually Wax Prints found in this way their way on the African Market.

All fabrics start with one thing: A Cloth. Vlisco uses raw cotton from China, but tries to get it more and more from Africa. After a process to get the raw cotton soft and able to absorb the dye, the printing of the patterns starts. Big rolls in which the pattern is engraved apply it in wax (resin) on the cloth. The wax is only applied once. Totally different from Batik, where with every color dye a new layer of wax is applied. Because the wax is only applied once it needs to be very strong. Of course the breaking, and the craquelé affect it leaves with it, is part of the process, but it needs to stay intact till the end. This makes designing for Wax Print difficult. Thin lines can't be used and in the drawing the lines need to be connected to make it stronger.
After the wax is applied the cloths goes through its first dyebath. Originally this first bath was indigo, Blue, but today more base colors are used like red. Indigo is a difficult color to make and to keep fade resistant. The cloth is dyed seven times before it has it's typical Vlisco blue base color.
The now indigo colored cloth goes into a special breaking machine. This machine breaks of the wax and leaves some dots of wax on it. This gives the cloth an irregular wax pattern, and makes every Wax Print unique. The pattern is never the same.
After the breaking machine colors are stamped on the cloth. This was done by hand, the last hand print was in 1993, but this is now done mechanically. Big rolls, like the ones that apply the wax, with orange and green felt like patterns put the dye on the cloth. To keep the misprinted feel of the hand stamped Wax Print, they print wrong on purpose.

The big rolls full of one design, average 1200 meters per design, are gathered in one location to be checked, cut into 6 yards and packed for transport. I liked this part of the factory the best. Big rolls, next to pallets packed with new Vlisco's and bundles with exotic destinations on them. Even though most of the work is done by machines, the final check can only be done by eye. The big rolls are visually checked on flaws. Flaws are part of the quality and recognizability of Wax Prints, but they have to be small flaws. On sight the seams of the cotton, too big misprints, holes in the fabric and other flaws are marked. After this the cloth is cut into the right length for sale. The waste product, the misprints, are burned. Before, parts of cloth were given away for free, but were then sold as original Vlisco. On the selvedge was their name and the number of the design. To protect the quality of the brand, the misprints are burned.

Our guided tour ended with a visit to the boutique. I always love to see the new collection with my own eyes. And to see the outfits used for the campaign. I'm totally in love the with the turquoise with pink jacket!
In the factory we saw the limited edition Angelina's. They are made to celebrate her 50th birthday. Also celebrate the 50th anniversary Vlisco invited Facebookfans to draw an outfit made out of the Angelina fabric. I participated with a dress painted on paper, you can see the dress here: Today is the last they of the contest, so your vote is still very welcome, thank you!**

* Quote from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Willy Wonka
** More about my Angelina dress for the Vlisco contest on my website, see "Vlisco's Angelina Contest"

November 26, 2013

Not Dutch enough

Photo by Koen de Wit

In my previous post "Let me tell you about the birds and the bees" I shared some photos I made during my visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Next to all the animals I spotted, I was really enjoying the restored architecture.
The monumental ornaments in the Gallery of Honour, the Front Hall, the Night Watch Gallery and the stairwells are returned to their original glory. Why they ever left beats me, but I'm happy they returned!

"The architect, Pierre Cuypers, had drawn up a historic design for the Rijksmuseum, which combined the Gothic and the Renaissance styles. The design was not generally well-received; people considered it too mediaeval and not Dutch enough. The official opening took place in 1885.
The current renovation reinstates the original Cuypers structure...Paintings, applied art and history are no longer displayed in separate parts of the building, but form a single chronological circuit that tells the story of Dutch art and history.
The building is thoroughly modernized, while at the same time restoring more of Cuypers original interior designs."
First thing that caught my eye in this text is that people considered it not Dutch enough. It is very Dutch to find something not Dutch enough or un-Dutch.
As you might imagine I was looking up a lot to admire the patterned filled ceilings. I even totally forgot to make pictures in the library. I remember imprinting the patterns in my mind, yet I didn't make one photo there, strange... Good thing you can see it on the Rijksmuseum site, "Cuypers Library".

What I also really liked about the new Rijksmuseum was the giftshop. Not just postcards and books with artworks, but magnets, buttons, umbrellas, dresses, jewelry, all sorts of stationary stuff, toys, you name it they had it. I treated myself to Pierre Cuypers wrapping paper. I don't know if I can put myself to actually wrapping something with it...I love that they used all his patterns to make this patterned filled paper. On the photo the wrapping paper is in the good company of fabric from the market full of Butterflies, a wooden batik stamp from Taman Indonesia and two roles of washi tape from De Vlieger. All holiday souvenirs. Can't wait till our next holiday!

On the NAI site I found this color scheme for the Rijksmuseum. Their website is really well to see more sketches and things like that go to and

* More information on the Rijksmuseum website,

November 19, 2013

Batik Statement XVII

Foto bersama Pak Sigit Witjaksono, pemilik tempat pembatikan khas lasem "Sekar Kencana".

cc Sabine Bolk Remember this person?

When I saw this picture on Facebook, it made me so happy. I met Mr. Sigit Witjaksono myself in Lasem. He didn't remember us meeting, Aris wrote to me, which doesn't surprise me, because he is like a living legend getting visitors all the time.
In the wonderful documentary "Batik, Our Love Story" they also visit Mr. Sigit. He is such a strong character, I found it reassuring to find out that he is just very temperamental. His love for Batik, and especially Batik Lasem is strong. And how he talks about it is inspiring. I only met him shortly but I remember it very clearly. Also I still cherish the Batik I bought there.

Aris Yaitu's meeting with Mr. Sigit Witjaksono was part of the Widya Mitra Heritage Walk. Great to hear that this legacy is shared with younger generations. And great that the young artist Aris Yaitu, who I met in Semarang, makes the same journey as I did in 2009 to Lasem.* I hope the Batik Lasem legacy will continue and be kept alive for many generations to come!

This photos wasn't send to me as an official Batik Statement, but when I also received the photo by snailmail with a nice artcard by Aris, I knew that this is a very important statement. Two artists, beginning and legend, traditional and contemporary, sharing the same heritage, making a Batik Statement!

Post package from Aris Yaitu

Photo by Tommas Titus, October 2009

* More about my visit to Lasem in October of 2009 see my blogposts "Route to Lasem" and "Batik Lasem"

November 6, 2013

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees

What is no longer important in five years? This haunting question stands on the Simplify Your Life weekplanner I got with my Flow (magazine)*. The first thing I thought was that I would still found nature important. It startled me that it wasn't Art. But in five years I'm sure Art will still be my life. I'm not so scared for the future of Art, maybe my path in it, but not the existence of Art itself. We just need it. It's our way to express and learn about ourselves, our emotions, our society and that of others, and of course to understand nature.
I do fear the future of nature. I believe that nature can endure anything, yet I have the fear we might win our battle against the forces of nature.
What will happen with Art if our favorite subject disappears? About a year ago I made the decision to use my Art as a way to help my muze(s). I'm already trying the same for Batik by reading, learning and blogging about it. For nature I try it with neighborhood participation projects. By improving a little part of my city I hope to give our other inhabitants a home.
During my and Koen's short holiday in september we went to Artis, Taman Indonesia and the, restored to its former glory, Rijksmuseum**. When I looked back at the photos I made during that week, I noticed that I hadn't stop spotting animals when I was looking at our Dutch history of Art. It also became clear to me that in our history nature always was import, what changed?
I have one answer for the question, that answers this and the question I started this blogpost with: Money. Can we forget about our crisis and just plants some bulbs instead? I believe that we feel much happier in a greener then in a richer world. Why else is our history filled with Art of nature?

Greenhouse in the garden of the Rijksmuseum

"Tea Brick", by Ai Weiwei 2006

At the asian pavilion

Delftware birdcage

Lacquer box at the asian pavilion

Java Sparrows, detail from Oriental Screen

Details from cabinets from around 1700 made with the marqueterie technique.* I wrote about one of these cabinets before, see blogpost "Traditional Dutch", but photographing wasn't allowed. Now you can take pictures of everything at the Rijks. Which is great, because I can get all these details for you!

Using different pieces of wood, like a mosaic, decorations are made on the cabinets. The decorations are mostly of plants, birds and insects, both indigenous and exotic.
In the last photo you see a goldfinch, it's made lifelike. Really amazing, what a craftsmanship! So if you're at the Rijks make sure to look at the cabinets!

By Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1660-c. 1683

By Jan van Kessel, c. 1660-65

The Rijks has of course a really nice collection of paintings. Next to the well known paintings, they have a brilliant collection of still lifes. Vanitas with fallen glasses, skulls, hourglasses and other symbolic things for the temporary state of life. And ones filled with flowers and insects. I wish I could photograph the butterflies in my garden like they are painted here!

Dinnerware by Th.A.C. Colenbrander, 1886

Bear by Ernest Chaplet, c. 1891-1895

"Weeping and captive caryatids: Remorse and Penance", by Artus Quellinus, 1650

* More about Flow on And Flow created a line of products for the Rijskmuseum giftshop
** More about the Rijksmuseum on
*** More cabinets made using the marqueterie technique can be found in the online collection of the Rijksmuseum