“Basically, the Dutch are lazy — they pick something that
already exists and abstract it further,” jokes Dutch museum director Erik
Schilp at the ZuiderZee Museum in northern Holland.
Schilp is a mover-and-shaker in the process of transforming the
60-year-old ZuiderZee from a one-dimensional open-air museum of fishing and
farming culture into a hipper destination that incorporates contemporary
culture, design and art.
Schilp is saying, playfully, that modern Dutch design — and
it is everywhere in this tiny footprint of a country — is rooted in
Or, put another way, that rather than jettisoning what has gone
before, the best designers incorporate long-honoured craft in a way that is
unique and modern.
It was reality I’d appreciate again and again as we drove north
from Amsterdam through the provinces of Noord Holland, Fryslân (or Friesland)
and back south and east to the province of Gelderland.
In 1932, the Dutch government dammed the north side of the
salt-water Zuider Zee (“southern sea”) to create two vast fresh-water “lakes”
— one of which is the Ijsselmeer. Around that time, more than 100
historic buildings were relocated to the harbour town of Enkhuizen and
reassembled as the ZuiderZee Museum.
For years this collection that includes fishers’ cottages, a
functioning bakery, a warehouse selling huge wheels of cheese, steam laundry
and a smokehouse where you can sample herring and eel, has drawn hundreds of
thousands of mostly Dutch tourists.
However, “the interest in history for history’s sake is
declining,” Schilp said, so he invited, for example, the Dutch fashion duo of
Viktor and Rolf to put their trendy spin on traditional fishing garb and
textiles, and hang their garments in a museum gallery.
Visitors still explore the delightful village, with its Church
District, canal, harbour and polder with sheep and windmill. But at the
individual houses or shops you’re as likely as not to encounter an exhibit of
contemporary graffiti (on a historic theme) or an avant-garde take on
traditional Delft pottery.
We dined at an elegant restaurant in Enkhuizen and slept on a
ketch moored on the Ijsselmeer. In the morning we headed north on Highway A7
and across the incredible 32-kilometre-long dike (that created the Ijsselmeer)
At the village of Makkum, we pulled up to a “factory” called
Royal Tichelaar Makkum. The modern single-storey building looked unassuming,
but when we stepped into a large foyer filled with trestle-like tables laden
with ceramic objects of art, I knew this place was unusual. The sale items
— richly decorative bowls and plates, tiles and sculptures in traditional
and contemporary design (and not inexpensive; no souvenir trinkets here)
— were invariably knockdown gorgeous.