Monday, January 24, 2011

Pennsylvania Dutch Art: A Tribute

Helena Jacoba Therese Wijdekop van Leeuwen
1 Aug 1924 - 17 Jan 2004

I've never met her but she's everywhere around me. On bookshelves, cabinets, walls, floor and bed. And for over a year now, I have wanted to memorialize her. It has been 7 years this month since her passing, so now is when I pay tribute to her...Astrid's mom.

There are two quilts on our bed during the winter months, both on which the quilting was done by hand. As often happened 'back then,' nothing was wasted. If you squint (or click to enlarge), you can see her initials (HWL) embroidered on the left one, from 1981.
I see them every day when I make the bed...both the quilts and the intials.

On the headboard of the same bed sits the doll she knitted from scratch for Astrid when Astrid was around 2 years old. Astrid named him Beremans ( = Bear Man). Originally he was made from t-shirt fabric and had no clothes, but after Astrid loved him to death, literally, her mom re-stuffed him and then knitted skin and clothes for him from scrap yarn.
Astrid never played with dolls, she says (she always poked their eyes out).
This was her only stuffed animal, still standing the test of time.

Everything else sits around the apartment on ledges and shelves, the floor and the wall, as testament to her artistic flare. She was a Leo, a lover of beautiful things. After a year, I still do not take any of it for granted. She was a prolific painter and gave much of her handiwork away. The pieces we have are ones Astrid saved from going elsewhere.

This cozy little trinket box sits in the curio cabinet Astrid's mom gave Astrid for her September wedding back in 1983. Astrid's 29th birthday was on 24 August that same year. If you squint (click to enlarge), you can see the HWL initials in the top-left image (above)...and Astrid's wedding garter, of course, as a keepsake.

The handiwork of a Dutch artist!
And now I know where Astrid gets her own artistic knitting, drawing, creating, building, fixing, and...what have you! But that's another post, another day.

Today is my turn again at Vision and Verb, where I talk about tole painting (or hinderlooper schilderkunst), Pennsylvania Dutch art, and how crazy-making such terms can be!


  1. what lovely pictures of all the crafts you have around the house, how beautiful. my mother also immortalizes all our walls, pictures of her everywhere...not just that but things she also left me. from my point of view i sometimes worry that it might be overwhelming..say for james, who never met her. i don't want it to be my mother's shrine, but there is so much a part of her in my life and i think we have the balance right. hope to see astrid's work here one day too :)

  2. Eliza: You’re a sweetheart to comment here. I’m glad to hear of someone else (James) in the same place as I am. I am not anywhere close to being overwhelmed by all the things we have around the house, reminding me of Astrid’s mom. If I’m overwhelmed by anything, it’s by how talented she was. But then, I also have the same feeling about Astrid! It helps to know where it comes from. :)

    Thank you so much. This will also mean the world to Astrid.

  3. So many beautiful things Ginnie. Her painting looks very much like Kurbits painting from Sweden you can find examples if you follow the link.

  4. Oh how glorious!

    The quilts. Is anything more beautiful than hand stitches like that? I can't get enough of delicate thread patterns stitched by hand. I know what it costs the tips of fingers, even with a thimble. To touch those precious blankets is a treasure.

    Oh "Beremans" . . . he is gorgeous. I smiled that Astrid poked her dollies' eyes out, and that she loved her Beremans so well.

    The tole painting! How splendid. The chest, trays, all the pieces are fantastic. I am so drawn to this kind of thing, and it's part of our Swedish roots too, something I am letting sprout in me with my new little paintings. I am completely inspired, already was, but now seeing Astrid's mom's work, I feel the universe is encouraging me even more. We want to redo the kitchen, with inspiration from Carl Larsson, and this kind of work.


  5. We have the same proverb with cat and mices:)

    You have plenty of beautiful stuff at home, it's good to have an atrictic soul around. I have also-my sister could create everything from anything. I could only destroy everything:)

    I love the painted pieces!
    Have a nice week!

  6. It is truly what makes a house a home. Precious heirlooms such as these, so beautifully painted. I adore the bright vibrant colors and the detail! Gazing upon such things lifts my heart while I am at home ... and now I will have a beautiful blue bird soon to enjoy! :) I have looked and tried to pick out a favorite - but I just can't. The blue flowers on the black tray and the yellow bird on the green with the red swirls really catches my eye. And the way you have stacked the boxes; lovely.

    I knitted a few scarves... the teddy bear is amazing - and she probably didn't need a pattern!

    Thank you for sharing this artwork. (How do you get the black background? Is that "photoshopped in or is it a black sheet?)

  7. My mother never had a dull moment, she was a hard worker, and loved to make things.
    Her profession was making clothes, since she was 15 or 16 years old, she made her own clothes, according to the latest fashion.
    The painting came later, maybe the last 25 yeasr of her life.
    She took some lessons and after that she was on her own.
    sometimes we went together to all kinds of places to get some objects, she could use for being painted on, as cheap as possible.
    My dad could draw very well too, maybe in that regard I have some genes that have to do with being artistic, I never would point though at myself for being an artist....
    Thank you lieve schat, for this wonderful tribute to my mom.

  8. Frida: I Googled Kurbits and I agree. I really have gotten my education with this post! Thank you.

    Ruth: All of this still amazes me, sister. I had no clue I was marrying into so much beauty. I knew Astrid was/is an artist, of course, but had no clue about her mom. I love that YOU are starting to tole paint. Let's see where it takes you! :)

    Ola: But you COOK! So you do your own thing in your own way and that's what counts. :) Thanks for commenting!

    Margaret: You are so right. These little touches everywhere I look are very soulful to me. I will guard them with my life. The black background is actually easy but very time-consuming: in Photoshop I fill in all the background with black, zooming in close enough to get the black right to the edge of the piece. As I said, it just takes time! But I love the effect. Thanks for asking.

    Astrid: I have learned so much about your mom...and YOU...because of these art pieces. Almost every day I learn something new, it seems. Now I need to find out more about your dad. In the next weeks we can maybe see what HE did...and put something of his up in our home?

  9. Prachtig gepresenteerd, Ginnie.

    I was very surprised when mom started painting at this level. Most likely it was all part of being away in the Lage Vuursche Forest where she had her cottage.

    Fortunately I also possess a few pieces.

    You probably portrayed the best photo of her that I know of.

    Dank je wel, Ginnie!

  10. Beautiful and awe-inspiring! All of it! Astrid's mother was definitely an artist to be proud of.

  11. Sander: Thank you for your graciousness in this comment! You are, of course, most welcome. This was my pleasure! I know there were many “issues” with your mom but lately Astrid has been able to say your mom had a very hard life. I wish I had met her.

    Tim: Thank you. As I have told others, I wish I had met her.

  12. A lovely tribute to your "mother-in-law"! A very industrious and artistic soul indeed. How lovely for Astrid to have so many mementoes of her mother. I hope that the next generation will keep them as safe as Astrid has.

  13. Wow - what a creator and artist!!!
    Her work is so stunning. I just love how much is around, what a lasting memory... :)

    I LOVE the quilts and the doll the most. Quilts are my weakness although I don't own one really. I keep crossing my fingers that my mom will make one some day..

  14. Sham: I'm sure these pieces will pass on to Astrid's son...and his own children, in time. That's the beauty of heirlooms like these. It seems strange to call her my MIL since I never met her...but she IS nonetheless!

    ET: I feel very fortunate to have these beautiful objects around to tell me about who this woman was. I know many stories but these pieces also tell many more.

    I wish for you a quilt one day...maybe from your mom!

  15. I'm late for my "In Soul" fix this week because I was visiting my brother Robin (half-brother, 9 yrs my senior by way of Dad's first marriage) and also had the chance to visit with nephews and their families. Unlike the beautiful heirlooms that surround you... my brother's life is filled with "stuff" he has collected over the years... "stuff" that will mean nothing to anyone after he is gone but yet he cannot bear to let go of any of it while he is still here. I wish I could get him to read your lovely tribute to Astrid's mother... perhaps it would make him appreciate how valuable it would be for him to leave his sons something meaningful as family heirlooms rather than all the STUFF! I did tell him that it would be meaningful to me to have something of his that HE wanted me to have for whatever the reason... I'm not sure it registered.

    About the black backgrounds you spend time producing in Photoshop... I'm amazed that is how you do that! (such patience) A trick I learned about black backgrounds is to use either a piece of black velvet material or a piece of black poster board (matte finish). I've not tried the trick with material (jewelers use that trick) but I've had some luck using black poster board as a backdrop for shooting flowers indoors in winter.

    A childhood memory I have is of my Swedish grandmother making all the grandchildren shirts out of gaily decorated flour sack cloth. Of course, none of those shirts survived to today! We do have one of my other grandmother's oil paintings... the agreement between me and my siblings is that each of us gets to have it to enjoy for awhile and then passes it along to the next... one way of sharing the heritage.

    Once again... rambling on and on... maybe I'd better start my own blog on memories for my ramblings! Meanwhile, as always... your photographs amaze and delight! And the tribute to Astrid's mother is wonderful. (oh, I too, never played with dolls but instead passed them on to my sister who was the "girly girl child in our family)

  16. Astrid's mother was bounding with talent. I love the plain back of the quilt and the simple running stitch in white.

    Beremans reminds me of a harlequin doll I knitted in school when I was in first grade in Amsterdam. He had a three-pointed hat with a jingle bell at the end of each point. This bear is much more skillful though.

    Her elaborate paintings are wonderful. My favorite is the coal bin with the "reiger". (Had to throw in a Dutch word for you.)

  17. Victoria: Welcome back, dear friend. I figured you'd come eventually. Your words are so kind and generous. After a major move from one country to another, I guess you could say I learned what was junk and what wasn't. Now we seldom buy things anymore. Just experiences that we can remember!

    I have done some black backgrounds like you have mentioned, but not all. These pieces were easy to move around...or maybe it's the therapeutic exercise I like, I don't know. I have a feeling I do a lot of things the hard way, however, never being taught but just flying by the seat of my pants. HA!

    Don't we love what we learn of our heritages! I learn something new almost every day. I feel so enriched by every tidbit.

    As always, thank you for your comment. You sure know how to make my day!

    DB: Yup, you taught me a new Dutch word! Bedankt. This was such a fun post for me because I really lived her art for several days. I feel like I know her better than I did! Thanks.

  18. Ginnie, the boxes are absolutely exquisite! Is it a Dutch thing? There are a number of Dutch women I know here in France who do this kind of thing, and very well indeed. They paint plates, trinket boxes, stones...all of it lovely.
    This is a lovely tribute to your beloved's mother. It's so good that you recognize the place these things have in Astrid's heart.

  19. Deborah: Interesting question as to if this is a Dutch thing. I have no clue. My guess is it's more of a German thing that has crossed over the border, based on my V&V research. But who knows!

    As I said in my text, I have wanted to do this for a year and am glad I finally got around to it! Thank you.

  20. What a lovely, lovely tribute to a woman who obviously was brimming with talent. I'm reminded of William Morris' advise that we should have nothing in our homes that is either beautiful or useful. Best of all, of course, is the combination of beautiful AND useful, and here that goal has been met, beautifully.

    Many of the patterns on the boxes remind me of the embroidered borders my Swedish grandmother would create for my dresses and doll clothes. There was no painting in our family, but the needle arts substituted well. I wish now I had some of the painted objects they had brought with them from Sweden, but I have her recipes, and they provide their own kind of art.

    I've long since sold or given away my dolls, but my Raggedy Ann still sits in my child's rocker in my bedroom. Her dress is original, though her pantaloons and pinafore had to be replaced. Sixty years is pushing it for dotted Swiss!

  21. Ah, the eyes are failing me - or the mind. The sentence about Morris should read, of course, that we should have nothing in our homes that is not either beautiful or useful!

  22. Ginnie & Astrid, how very blessed you both are, such a feast for the senses!
    It's so wonderful how these treasures are cared for and appreciated in your home and we are all so lucky that you shared here with us! Thank you,

  23. SA: I knew what you meant about what William Morris advised, of course. I think it's Thomas Moore who talks about the importance of being surrounded by soulful things in our homes. I agree. They are so inspiring.

    I had kept daughter Amy's Raggedy Ann from when she turned 1-year old. The hair was all worn off and the pinafore needed some TLC. She had no room for it when I moved and neither did I, so it got tossed...after 36 years. It broke my heart. 60 years would be a milestone!

    WS: You of all people, Susan, can understand the effect of these soulful objects in our home. They need to last forever! Thanks.

  24. I clicked to enlarge each one to admire the beautiful artistry! She was amazing!

  25. Mad: Thank you. Thank you. That was so sweet of you!

  26. What a talented artist and seamstress Astrid's mother was and how lucky you are to have all these handmade keepsakes. Like a mini-museum! Such treasured memories.

    Yes, I think different countries developed their own styles of tole painting - there seem to be German and Scandinavian influences around, painting on different materials and using different sets of colours. My dad used to paint furniture like that and I've also tried my hand at it but it takes some work to get it right.

  27. Christina: I love learning about this art form late in my life and figuring out where it all comes from. Folk art is so interesting everywhere but to see it seep across borders and oceans is something else!