One of the things I've always admired in the sculptures of my father is the spots he has chosen to put them. My dad is a sculptor from the village of Onderdijk, Jan van Velzen. With several of his sculptures he got the opportunity to personally pick their destined spot, something that is not always left to the artist. His first big sculpture was The Dijkwerker, a labourer building the Dutch dikes, a bronze statue of a man digging. Unlike most sculptures of dikers, this one is not of a man placing blocks of basalt, because in these areas the dykes were originally built from clay, that was moved with shovels and wheelbarrows.
It was his first major assignment. He was noticed as a sculptor when he made a design for a statue of St. Gerard Majella some years before. The parish existed 70 years and as part of a cabaret with drum band and great fanfare at the end a 'new statue ’ of St. Gerard Maiella was unveiled, supposedly for in the church.
I think my father cannot be dienied a certain quirkiness in those years. Apparently he had nothing with the traditional devout image of Gerardus, because he decided that Majella had been a simple man, and chose to portray him as the people around him: a small scale farmer, on his knees in the clay. Bare-chested.
What happened was to be expected of course: Little Gerard on his knees was a step too far for the parishioners. Worth a smile in hindsight. So I don't think my father expected that this image would seriously get a place in the Church. That was never the intent. But the modelling had fueled his creativity again and was the incentive to get asked for making the Dike Worker.
I was seventeen at the time, and thought I might perhaps be a little bit creative, but that I could never be a sculptor like my father. I had so little confidence in myself in that respect that I've never tried getting to an art academy.
But I found the work on the Dike Worker fascinating. For my father working in this scale was all new, too, and while he learned, I learned along with him. Working with Styrofoam and wax, enlarging, modelling, Moving the wax model on location to discuss the best place. I wrote a paper about it when I did a training at the MTS of Graphic in Amsterdam.
The image is now placed in a large open space, at the end of the village, approximately in between Onderdijk and Wervershoof. When around the end of 1980 while walking with my mother he had chosen this place, us children were horrified at first. It was still one big mud hole at the time, with a new pumping station and a few big canals, in a place where few people bothered to look with interest. Didn't such a sculpture fit better in the heart of the village?
In hindsight, I can only say that he had been right all along. The statue immediately draws attention because of the lack of all kinds of disturbing elements, the mud gave way to grass and trees and blossoming Roxy, and the Dike Worker has become a landmark for the village .
It strikes me that an appealing statue has the ability to influence the environment. I am thinking, for example, of how 'The Best Navigators’ on the pier of Medemblik have made a prime spot out of a place with an end-of-the-world feel, because all of a sudden it became clear that the environment needed care. The mess gets cleaned up, The path is paved or updated, the shrubs and grass are kept and what was a forlorn place gets allure. Same way with the piece of land behind the Drommedaris in Enkhuizen, that because of‘Paulus Potter’ from an empty dog's field suddenly gets focus and turns into a photo location.
Yet there was a man from Wervershoof who said he thought it was a Onderdijk oriented sculpture, and asked: 'Didn't you overdo it a little too much?’ How come, asked my father. ‘Weeeeellll’, was the West Frisian answer, 'It's a nice sculpture alright, no arguing, but he's turned his ass in the direction of Wervershoof, that's why!’