In memoriam Frederike Huygen

Dutch Design Daily


Last Sunday, July 9, design historian Frederike Huygen died in Amsterdam

Frederike Huygen studied art history in Leiden and Amsterdam and specialized in design. In the early 1980s she became curator at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Rotterdam where she built up a collection of design and organized exhibitions. She was also on the editorial board of Items magazine and published in other periodicals. Since 1996 Huygen has been working as a freelance researcher and publicist.

She researches and publishes on design in the broadest sense of the word. Writes articles, essays and books, and edits. Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. Initiator of the foundation Design History Netherland.

In 2015, Frederike Huygen wrote a series of articles for Dutch Design Daily on some of her favorite topics within Dutch design heritage. Today, on the occasion of her death, we repeat this series of articles.

ONE WEEK ABOUT Heritage by Frederike Huygen
Frederike Huygen is a writer and researcher on design. She worked in the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum Rotterdam as curator, teaches at VU university and chairs the Dutch Design History Society. She published many articles and books on design, for example about Wim Crouwel and Jurriaan Schrofer.

Design history and heritage, are these terms still synonyms for dull, dusty and boring? Numerous designers and industrialists have been plundering history in the last centuries looking for inspiration. New is not always new and recycling is a long-standing practice. Time and time again the past provides us with beautiful things and I would like to show you some examples this week. Such as: fabric sample books, some of which I saw at the Design Derby exhibition in the Boijmans Museum. Timeworn they may be, but they are far from dull. These examples date from the 19th and 18th century, some are from the collection of the Textile Museum in Tilburg, one of them (in black and white) is a handweaver’s pattern book. What a splendid subject to research and for a book!

Day 1 – Piet Zwart
The first design archive I ever studied was the one of allround designer Piet Zwart. He kept everything, including notes written in his miniscule handwriting which however, could contain quite severe criticism. At the time this archive was kept by his widow in their house. Every week some museum director would turn up at her doorstep because they were all eager to obtain the archive. Mrs Zwart happily played along since she loved the attention and kept each of them on a string, occasionally giving them something, as a dog gets thrown a bone. The whole archive thus was dispersed. Most of it is now again reunited in The Hague.

Zwart’s graphic work is still highly inspirational, for example these blotting papers he designed each month to be given to the relations of the Bruynzeel firm from the Thirties until the Sixties (9.7 x 22 cm). These are still waiting to be published in a book.

Day 2 – Jurriaan Schrofer
In 2013 I wrote a substantial monograph on Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-1990), a highly prolific and versatile designer, who created graphic works but also became a pioneer in photo books, an art director, a teacher, an art manager and a visual artist. Even though he often moved house during his lifetime, an astonishing amount of sketches, drawings and all kinds of preparatory art work survived. This is all kept at Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. I therefore decided to devote a smaller book to the designer’s sketch as a genre in its own right and to illustrate the now long gone production process of printed matter. Here you can see some drawings and pictures from the book – published by Lecturis.

Day 3 – John Ruskin
This year I lectured on John Ruskin, the famous Nineteenth century critic and writer whose life and theories still are hugely inspiring. He greatly admired the Gothic style and wrote on imperfection, since he fiercely opposed the civilisation and the standardisation of his own time. Instead he loved richness of detail and creative craftsmen who left their own mark, showed inventiveness and came up with variations on a theme. An example is these choir stalls in St. Mary’s Priory church in Lancaster in which each part is slightly different. Ruskin called this kind of differentiation Delight and in fact already developed a theory on ornament in relation to meaningful labour. He introduced other categories as well that might still be interesting to explore, such as Rudeness and Savageness.

Day 4 – Wim Crouwel
Right now I am working on a completely new book on Wim Crouwel which will appear in English and is being designed by Lex Reitsma. It is highly challenging to choose the pictures well and to create a visually interesting book; but this is a very exciting process too. I want to show as much work as I can from the Stedelijk Museum, since I feel we still really don’t know this well. Publications always show the same examples. Moreover, I discovered ‘the true story’ behind Crouwel’s  famous New Alphabet. Sometimes it takes a lot of searching to find something and you will have to keep going at it. Sometimes you get frustrated, but other times it pays off. Almost all Stedelijk-catalogues between 1963 and 1985 have been scanned (thank you Mariska Bijl!), a huge job. Here I give you a taste…

Day 5 – Matisse
The most beautiful, gorgeous, stunning objects in the Matisse exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum are the chasubles he designed in 1952 for the chapel in Vence. Their colours, shapes and patterns are a feast for the eye. The museum also shows an interesting and heartrending documentary film on the how and why of this chapel, for which Matisse designed anything: from windows to chalices. This total environment actually came about by accident and was the result of the special relationship between Matisse and a Domenican nun who took care of him. At the same time we can see chasubles and other rich and fabulously made liturgical vestments from earlier centuries at an exhibition in the Catharijneconvent in Utrecht.

Day 6 – Stedelijk Museum
Let’s stay a little longer in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. To collect and keep design is one thing, but how do you present it? In the coming year the design display will change but this will be quite a daunting task for the staff. How do you bring a number of static objects to life? A permanent collection is of interest to foreigners who are not familiar with the Stedelijk design collection. Others might want to visit and revisit the rooms. However, a permanent display may also lead to boredom and become exhausted. The presentation obviously will have to put the objects centre stage but will their presence be evocative enough? Should there be a neat chronological order or could it be interesting to mix and match all kinds of things in different ways, grouping them for example according to colour, shape or even in an associative way? The static nature of objects seems to be an obstacle, and a challenge…

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