The tanning laboratory

Merel Karhof

Product | Craft | Material

Every year the Zuiderzee Museum approaches the creative sector with a commission. For the theme year of 2017, the commission went to designer Merel Karhof. The museum asked her to develop a project based on one of the many Zuiderzee crafts.

Merel’s grandfather used to be a fisherman in Den Oever. As a child she often played in the old fishing shed, which stood in the garden behind the house. In those days nets were knit, repaired and tanned in these sheds. When her family’s old fisherman’s shed was cleaned up, an original wooden box with catechu and an old tanning kettle were donated to the Wieringen Eilandmuseum Jan Lont. This box with catechu has become the starting point for Merel’s research into new applications for and with this traditional product.

Merel experimented with the preserving effect of the tanning process on the skins of salmon and perch. She kept clean fish skins for several weeks in a closed pot with a solution of catechu and water. After this treatment it appeared that the fish skins could be processed as leather. She used these skins for the upholstery of a stool.

Merel gave all elements of the tanning process a part in her research; ranging from the materials that were used to produce the catechu, the catechu itself, the processing of the catechu up to its traditional application. She turned the fish market at the Markerhaven into her laboratory and stepped into the role of a lab technician. There she presented the different results of her research to the visitor.

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