Gratefulness is the fruit of all the seeking-1

Jan van Velzen, 1 month before his death

In memory of my father Jan van Velzen

sculptor Jan van Velzen in 1992On Sunday 19 January 2020, at 1:14 a.m. , my father Jan van Velzen. passed away. He was also a sculptor, an artist, but above all someone who practiced the art of life. This is evident from his sayings, of which the title of this blog post was one that I had never heard of him before. He made this statement in the last days before his death, a period in which he looked back on his life, full of gratitude and love.

Jan van Velzen was by no means a woolly kind of person. He had been a small scale farmer and flower bulb grower and worked hard all his life.

A poor hamlet

Onderdijk, lower path with canal

old photo of the village OnderdijkOnderdijk in 1931 was a poor West Frisian linear settlement village in North Holland. It lay on either side of a high dike and many houses had their own bridge over the canal to the foot of the dike. His father, also called Jan van Velzen, was like most of the villagers a market gardener or small plot farmer, who sailed with a barge to his piece of land across the lake to grow onions, cabbage, carrots, red beets, tulips and potatoes. After the harvest, the boat also carried their produce to the sailing auction in Medemblik.

Longing for beauty

Mother Cornelia van Velzen-de Vries with Jan van Velzen, 2 th anniversary this yearJan was the second child, a rather quiet, sensitive boy who only started walking when he was two. He was horrified by the drab hopelessness of the hard work and the humdrum grind with which all the brilliance and beauty was brought back to 'just do normal and go on'.. He had an intense desire for beauty and talked about the delight he could feel when he heard beautiful music in the church. His father was a warm-hearted man with a lot of wisdom. On his deathbed, Jan told how he still could see his father on Sunday mornings, in his shirt, throwing the shaving water into the ditch with a swing, singing loudly and with a swarm of children around him.

Early creativity

Jan van Velzen, probably 4 th anniversary this yearAs a child, Jan was already busy with creative expressions. Sculpting clay dolls or making boats by folding and bending large tin cans to form whole battleships. But whereas I had enjoyed the creative time in kindergarten, he had experienced that same daily grind at the custody school.

Apparently the "teacher’ had the view that the children just should be kept quiet, because they had to sit still and weave mats, otherwise they had to go into the spider cupboard. To him, weaving mats was one of the symbols of "this is how it should be done and that is how it goes". Awful, because all creativity was suppressed.

Jannish constructions

Jan actually didn't feel like becoming a market gardener at all, but his father fell ill and the eldest sons, though still in their teens, had to take over the work. He would much rather have apprenticed to the blacksmith, because he was much more interested in making things from iron with your hands and welding . The blacksmith was regarded with awe by the little boys. His younger brother's legendary answer to the question of what he wanted to become later was "Fat blacksmith Kees Slaman!’

Jan lived near Slaman's smithy

It was hard work in the heavy sea clay around Onderdijk and everything was done by hand: digging to sow, digging to harvest and digging two spades deep to prepare the land. Jan hated hopelessness, so his creativity was expressed in all kinds of "Jannish constructions": inventions meant to make everything just that little bit easier. He was therefore one of the first to bring the floor of the barge to the very top, so that you could drive in the wheelbarrow instead of laboriously lifting everything in and out.

Flippus the Dreamer

His solutions were not always appreciated. "Jannish constructions’ was not really an appreciative term, and because he sometimes had his thoughts elsewhere, he was also called Flippus the Dreamer at home. He had a somewhat philosophical streak and also spent time observing his surroundings. Looking back, it is also understandable why he was born in that place: for him it was a way to go all the way from heaviness to light, and he was able to bring his light to a time and environment that was mainly focused on survival.

Injury time

At the age of 20 his number came up for military service. But the hard work had already had its consequences: he needed surgery to his knees and had to recover in the military hospital. To his horror, the therapy consisted of weaving mats! But in the classroom next to it, modeling lessons were given. At his request he was transferred and there his talent was soon discovered by his instructor. This man even arranged an introduction for him at the art academy in Tilburg.

I had always understood that it never was followed up because Jan was needed at home and because his mother always said: "Fiddlers and pipers don't go to heaven". But that was not really the biggest deterrent. Last year he told me that he was very shocked by the unkempt figures with long hair and feral beards walking around, and that he had felt very uncomfortable and out of place. But his teacher was very disappointed that he missed out on this opportunity. "Stupid cauliflower shrub!’ the man had called him, probably out of frustration that so much talent was being lost.

Business partner

marriage of Alida Vink with Jan van VelzenJan van Velzen is building a tulip flower cutting machine Jan married Alida when he was thirty, a girl from that same village of Onderdijk, in which he recognized something of playfulness and beauty, and of being free from all the conventions of the village. He started his own business, but times had changed. The number of small scale farming businesses declined rapidly and many self-employed people had to work at a factory in the Zaanstreek, going there every day in a van. Jan was looking for solutions with a number of like-minded people and decided to expand considerably with his two brothers. They had also already focused entirely on flowerbulb cultivation for a number of years. He used his creativity in this work as well: he built his own machines for cutting the tulip flowers and for washing the bulbs, and adapted many machines to make them work better.

-Read here ↑ an earlier article about sculptures by Jan van Velzen-

-to be continued- is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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Flying buttress figurine: Saint James the Greater

copy of sculpture of Apostle James the Greater

The last Apostle

copy of sculpture of Apostle James the GreaterAnother part of the Eusebiuskerk has been completed by us: we have now finished carving all the flying buttress figurines of arc no. 14 and 16, the ones with the musicians and six apostles, for St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem, the Netherlands. The last figurine in this series was Apostle James the Greater, and I tied it to a pallet last Monday, ready for transport.

James the Greater is known to most people for his place of pilgrimage Santiago de Compostela. He is depicted on St. Eusebius's Church with a hat, a shell and a sword. To me, it was a very nice sculpture to work on, because of all the attributes and structures in it. A coarse beard, a thin hat and sword, big hands, a fur coat, a big nose and a hollow shell.

James as a Pilgrim

Acopy of sculpture of Apostle James while ago I carved his colleague St. James the Lesser in new limestone. Why the shell, hat and sword with the Greater? From what I've read about it, around the year 44 James was beheaded by order of Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem. Around the year 800 legends arose about James, that he would have preached the gospel in the Iberian Peninsula, and that his body was brought to Galicia after his death, where it was buried by his disciples in the place that would later be called Santiago de Compostela. His grave was discovered at some point in the 9th century. In the Middle Ages, there was a lot of money to be made from the miraculous healing power of the relics of saints, so that started a great flow of pilgrims, which continues to this day. James himself is therefore usually depicted as a pilgrim, with hat, staff and shell.

flying buttress no. 16 St. Eusebius's Church, 6 apostles

the old statues from flying buttress no. 16 before disassembly

Only six out of twelve

Only six of the twelve apostles are depicted on the flying buttresses of St. Eusebius's Church. At the time it had been intended to give all twelve apostles a spot on the flying buttresses, but the work was completed at some point, and the last four arches were already decorated: large flower shapes (crockets), dating still from around 1920 and an earlier restoration. These statues date from the 1950s and were made during the restoration of the bombed church. Inside the church the statue of apostle John can still be found, James' younger brother, with a poison cup in hand. It was never installed on the church.

The sculptor's progress

old flying buttress statue of James in tuff, by Eduard van KuilenburgSculptor Eduard van Kuilenburg had taken his own path with this group of sculptures. His work had become less figurative, heavier, maybe become coarser, but had gained in expression. The apostles sit on the arch like massive humps, hardly liberated from the shape of the tuff blocks from which they were made. In some areas you can still clearly see how the sculptor worked: he traced a side view onto the stone and began to carve right away. We noticed it well during the copying process: we had to remove much less material than in, for example, the Seven Sins. The sculptures were still quite close to the surface of the original block.

face of JamesThe heads of the apostles are equally massive: big noses, rough beards and angular faces. But they do give a very strong atmosphere. The expression of an artist who has grown in his work. There were, as I mentioned earlier, complaints from the church council that these statues were too large and massive for the flying buttresses on which they sit. But now that we are working on it, I would almost say that it is rather the fault of the church that it is too small, than that the statues should be too big. Yes alright, they are heavy and coarse, but they are just right in their own way, and they have been worked on with care. That also makes it fun for us to work on the copies.

Deliberate structures

flying buttress figurinesThat is very different from when we were carving the invalids a while ago, by George van der Wagt, on the south side of the church. In some of those figurines we still found the machine cut surface of the original stone, and it looked like they were made with some indifference, as if the sculptor had said: 'There you go, another one finished. Next!'. Ugly things without attention to their finish.

Rough-carved is not the same as indifferent. Sometimes a coarse structure has a function for a certain image, and Van Kuilenburg knew that. The pointed chisel for the mantle, the claw chisel for hair, the grater and flat chisel for other parts. Van der Wagt seems to have made everything with just 1 chisel, a flat chisel of 25 mm or 1 inch wide.

What next?

Broken flying buttress statue Fortitudo Seven Virtues, man with lionWe don't have to worry about work for the time being. We recently got confirmation for the last 10 flying buttress figurines, namely the Seven Virtues and three blocks that will be placed at the top of the four arches with the crockets: a man with a watering can near a flower, a goat eating a flower, and a two-headed eagle. They are in bad shape, some are missing many parts and all are broken.

Next I have to make a gravestone for my father, which I have been designing in between all other jobs, and I still have some private assignments. We also have the prospect of all kinds of other work, about which I cannot say too much at the moment. And finally, we are not afraid of a quieter period, because then we finally get to make our own work. I have all kinds of ideas for that, and it would be nice to work them out. Facade reliefs with the four cardinal directions, the four Seasons, the four or the five elements, I also have ideas for entire entrances… bring it on!

on to the next flying buttress figurine→ is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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Flying buttress figurine: St. James the Lesser

copy of flying buttress statue of James the Lesser in Muschelkalk limestone

Two Jameses

The next flying buttress figurine of St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem was one from the series of apostles of arc no. 16. It represents a heavily built man with a club. This could either be Judas Thaddeus, or James the Lesser. He was called the Lesser because he became an apostle later than James the Greater. The other James was, along with his brother the apostle and evangelist John, a son of Zebedee, a fisherman. They were inspecting their nets when Jesus arrived and asked them to become fishers of men.

Brother of the Lord

copy of flying buttress statue of James the Lesser in Muschelkalk limestoneBut James the Lesser was called "brother of the Lord". Then how is that possible? Well, according to the Medieval stories, that everyone knew in those days, the carpenter Joseph had been married before and he had a number of children from that marriage, but his wife had died. He was a widower when the young girl Mary (Miriam) came to live under his protection. She took care of the children, and especially James was very fond of her because he was very young when he lost his mother. Maria was about 14 years old when she came out from the temple protection to live with Joseph. Her father and mother, Joachim and Anna, had miraculously been gifted child in their advanced age and therefore entrusted her to God as a temple maiden. So she was brought up very pure and trained in high spiritual knowledge.

When she was 16 years old, she suddenly turned out to be pregnant and Joseph wanted to distance himself from her, but the angel confided to him that she was carrying a great miracle. He decided to marry her. Mary became the mother of Jesus, and James grew up with him. He was at least seven years older, but was among his most faithful disciples.


copy of flying buttress statue of James the Lesser in Muschelkalk limestoneThe club that the apostle James carries with him shows a different way of thinking that was common in the Middle Ages. Emphasis was placed on the suffering and martyrdom of Jesus and of his apostles and saints, therefore, the club with which he was put to death was given a prominent place in the depictions of James. Now this is not a Medieval statue at all, but made in 1956 by Eduard van Kuilenburg. In the Dutch language book on the sculpture of the Eusebius Church Elisabeth den Hartog and Ronald Glaudemans write that the themes for the sculpture were presented by Arnhem city archivist Mr Schaap. That could explain why Van Kuilenburg gave the saints such traditional attributes.

Traditionally, James the Lesser was sometimes depicted with a fuller's stick instead, a heavy piece of wood that was used to felt wool, because he was supposedly been beaten to death with it. So who else could have become the patron saint of all wool felters other than James? Those inimitable twists of thoughts of those Medieval people though…

Today we would be more interested in the life and works of such an apostle than in his martyrdom. The lurid details and emphasis on martyrdom for the Church are definitely from another time.


on to the next flying buttress figurine→ is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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and Twitter↑
and on YouTube↑