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Saturday, December 27, 2014

HvS KIN | Heentie Kooiman-de Jong, daughter of Mary Boissevain

Maria Cornelia (Mary) Boissevain de Jong,
daughter of Charles E.H. Boissevain,
eldest son of Charles B. the newspaper editor.
Mary was the mother of Heentie de Jong
 Kooiman.
I received a nice note from my second-cousin Heentie responding to something I sent out about the family. As plans mature for another reunion of the Boissevain clan - it looks now that it will be in April 2016 - I would like to provide a place where some memories can be collected.

Here is what Heentie, who would be called Heentie de Jong Kooiman in the United States, daughter of Mary Boissevain de Jong, says:
I remember that somewhere in the 1950's the Marlin family came to Holland. My uncle Menso Boissevain had a very important birthday (60th?), celebrated in some small  hotel in Amsterdam. There were a lot of taartjes (little cakes) and I remember they were popular with all the children, nephews and nieces.   
I think some of the Marlin family were also at a celebration of a wedding anniversary of my aunt Heentie and uncle Dick Mesman in Amstelveen (in the 1960’s?). I think it was there that I admired a book with wonderful illustrations of Hilda van Stockum. My mother Mary de Jong-Boissevain [in the USA we would say Mary Boissevain de Jong] was a sister of aunt Heentie.   
When my husband Bas and I were in Dublin on a trip (in the 1990's), we went to a museum, and saw a self-portrait hanging there [probably the National Gallery of Art] of Hilda van Stockum. A wonderful surprise!!   
Nice that you are also interested in the Boissevain family. Thys Boissevain (in Connecticut) was busy writing a book, but he passed away before finishing it. I had heard his daughter was going to try to do it. 
My cousin Bob (Robert Lucas) Boissevain in Heemstede (Holland) is also always very busy with all the Boissevain news. 
We have the same great-grandfather Charles Boissevain, who started the newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad. Your grandmother was Olga van Stockum-Boissevain [Olga Boissevain van Stockum, mother of Hilda van Stockum], a sister of my grandfather Charles, and your mother Hilda was a first cousin of my mother Mary de Jong-Boissevain.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

HvS ART | Blog Reader Wins Auction for HvS Self-Portrait


Earlier this month we posted on this blog site the Whyte's Auction catalog item at left, a painting by Hilda van Stockum, HRHA (Honorary Fellow of the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin).

The winning bidder at the auction learned of the availability of the painting through that blogpost. The winning price was within the range set by Whyte's, so the auction house knows its market.

HvS art is primarily auctioned in Dublin and primarily by Whyte's. HvS is considered an Irish artist. A record of Hilda van Stockum's auctioned art is kept by AskART; her artist number is 133397. Subscribers (for a fee) to AskART have access to prices. 

Of course, the best of HvS art does not often come onto the auction market. It is retained by families or in museums (like Dublin's National Academy of Art, which has two HvS portraits of Evie Hone in its collection). The likely time for art to come onto the market is upon the death of an owner of her art. Estates often must sell some share of marketable objects to pay legal and accounting fees, taxes, and inheritances where individuals cannot store or do not want any of the decedent's belongings.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

HvS NATIONALITY | What Was Her Citizenship? Religion? (Updated March 19, 2016)

Hilda van Stockum with Fr. Potter and the Catholic
prayer group that met in her Hertfordshire
home in the 1990s.
I just saw an Evi Q&A with this question, followed by a Wrong Answer, so I thought I should clear it up.

Was Hilda van Stockum Irish, Dutch, British, American, Canadian or What?

Hilda van Stockum was Dutch from her birth in Rotterdam in 1908 until her naturalization as an American citizen on May 5, 1936. (She married an American, E. R. "Spike" Marlin in Ireland in 1932, where she had been an art student.) Her naturalization certificate is shown below.

She was an American citizen from 1936 until 1995, the year after her husband died. When her husband was working for the United Nations, she and her children lived in Montreal, Canada; Blackrock and Dalkey, Dublin, Ireland; and Sceaux, outside Paris, France. She moved in 1973 with her husband to Berkhamsted, Herts., England to be near three of her daughters and their children. From 1995, after her husband died, to her death in 2006, she was a British citizen.

Naturalization of Hilda Gerarda van Stockum Marlin as an American citizen on May 5, 1936.
Image © by the Estate of Hilda van Stockum. Published here by permission of the estate.
Bottom line: She was Dutch for 26 years, American for 59 years, and British for 11 years. But she was married in Ireland, and spent more time at art school in Dublin than in art school in Holland, and she is considered an Irish artist more than a Dutch artist. It seems you are identified by the nationality of those who appreciate you most, which makes sense.

What religion was Hilda van Stockum before she became Roman Catholic?

She was brought up in Holland by two parents who were nominally Dutch Reformed Protestants, but neither of whom practiced their religion. Her mother was from an old Huguenot family in Holland but was more of a philosopher than a faithful member of a congregation; her father was a navy captain with unorthodox religious views. HvS was a member of the Church of Ireland during her early married years. She went to meetings of the Oxford Group with her husband, and wrote about her debt to the Group as well as its limitations from her perspective. Finally she converted to Roman Catholicism in 1939, when her eldest daughter Olga was five. A more complete story is here.

HvS ART | Books HvS Illustrated (8 books posted)


1936. Ninke van Hichtum, Afke's Ten. J. B. Lippincott Co.  Ninke van Hichtum, a popular Dutch writer, was the pen name of S. M. D. Troelstra Bokma de Boer. The translator from the Dutch was Marie Kiersted Pidgeon, who taught at the Benjamin Franklin High School in New York City.

1937. Rudolf Voorhoeve, Tilio, A Boy of Papua. J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia and London. This is an interesting book for several reasons: (1) It is the only book that Hilda van Stockum both translated and illustrated - usually a publisher divides this work because translators usually can't draw and illustrators usually can't translate.  (2) My sister Brigid has vivid memories of the book.
(3) When HvS was two months old, she went with her parents to Java, not far from Papua and likewise under Dutch colonial administration, because her father was a naval captain sent to suppress rebels against Dutch rule.
(4) After World War II the Dutch ceded control of most of Indonesia to Sukarno, the one-name head of state, who was succeeded by another one-namer, Suharto. But the Dutch stayed in Netherlands New Guinea until 1962, the year after which the Indonesian government started taking over. (It was that year that a team of anthropologists went to New Guinea to explore the region, and Michael Rockefeller lost his life on a solo sortie.)
(5) Especially since 1969, the Indonesian Government has had nothing but trouble with West Papua. The militant Free Papua Movement has engaged in guerrilla skirmishes against the Indonesian military and police, and has kidnapped non-Papuan Indonesian settlers and foreigners. West Papuans have sought independence or federation with Papua New Guinea. Many West Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian military. The Indonesian government has been compared to a police state in West Papua. The Indonesian Government restricts foreign access to West Papuan provinces because of this conflict. (Thanks to Brigid and Sheila for helping with this entry!)


1944. Catherine Cate Coblentz, The Bells of Leyden Sing. Longmans, Green & Co., New York and Toronto. This was the year that HvS' brother Willem was killed by the Germans occupying France. He was the pilot of a Halifax bomber, flying as a Dutch citizen for the RAF out of Melbourne, Yorkshire. He flew six missions before and after D-Day. That year, Cate Coblentz visited the Marlin family at their home in Washington, D.C. and wrote it all up in a wonderful article for the Horn Book.

1945. Delia Goetz, The Burro of Barnegat Road. Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York.  A farm in Connecticut.






1946. Mary Mapes Dodge, Hans Brinker or: The Silver Skates. World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York. Rainbow Classics. Introduction by May Lamberton Becker. The book was originally published in 1865.




1946. Louisa May Alcott, Little Women. World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York. Rainbow Classics. Introduction by May Lamberton Becker.





1948. The Book of Bible Stores. World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York. Rainbow Classics. Introduction by May Lamberton Becker.






1950. Louisa May Alcott, Little Men. World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York. Rainbow Classics. Introduction by May Lamberton Becker.

HvS and Her Granddaughter
Christine Marlin Schintgen.
2001. Christine Marlin, Pamela Walks the Dog. Bethlehem Books. It is probably safe to say this is the last book that HvS illustrated that was published during her lifetime, which sadly ended in 2006. It was written by her granddaughter, Christine Marlin (now using her married name Schintgen), and is pegged at children aged 3 and up. HvS's book illustrating career therefore spanned 67 years from A Day on Skates to Pamela Walks the Dog, unless we can identify an earlier book than 1934. There was an Irish reader she reportedly illustrated in 1932, but I have not been able to track it down. She also illustrated a book on windmills for Jan den Tex, which many years later led to the Winged Watchman.

Friday, November 14, 2014

HvS | In Eight Languages (Updated May 12, 2016)

The first HvS book to be translated into
Japanese was A Day on Skates in 2009,
75 years after it was first published!
The following is a representative list of 17 translations of or by Hilda van Stockum. It is incomplete (some illustrators are omitted) and subject to changes (cited copyrights may have been transferred). The full list of books is likely to be closer to 30.

Hilda van Stockum's books have been translated from English into seven other languages–Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese and Portuguese.

Her translations into English are from the Dutch or German. (Her French wasn't bad either.)

Six HvS Books Selected for Translation

A Day on Skates (1934) was translated into Japanese as A Skating-Picnic (2009).

The Cottage at Bantry Bay (1936) was translated into Dutch (1958), Hebrew (1961), Japanese (2009) and Portuguese (1971). With four foreign translations, this is van Stockum's most-translated book.

Pegeen (1939) was translated into German (1963).

The Mitchells (1944) was translated into Danish (1964) and Portuguese (1974).

The Winged Watchman (1962) was translated into Danish (1968) and French (1991)

The Borrowed House (1975) was translated into Dutch (2012).

Danish (2 books)

The Mitchells was translated by Rose-Marie Tvermoes (Lene Andreasen also listed–was he the editor?) as Miller-Bornene and published in Copenhagen by Forlaget Fremad press, 1964.

The Winged Watchman was translated as Pa post i mollen by Host & Sons Forlag in Copenhagen, 1968.

Dutch (2 books, plus five Dutch-English translations by HvS)

I have asserted elsewhere that the first book of Hilda van Stockum to be translated into Dutch was The Borrowed House, translated as Het Gestolen Huis in 2012 and published by Mozaiek Junior. I was wrong, because...

The Cottage at Bantry Bay was previously translated as Het Huisje aan de Baai ("The House on the Bay") Translator: Joh E. Kuiper, Tony Holst. Publisher: N.V. Uitgeverij, A. Roelofs Van Goor Meppel, 1958).

Translated from the Dutch by Hilda van Stockum:

Pothast-Grimberg,  C. E. Corso the Donkey (Constable, London, 1962). Originally published as Het Ezeltje Corso (Van Goor Zonen, The Hague, Holland).

Selleger-Elout,  J. M. Marian and Marion (Viking, NYC, 1949). Copyright to the original Dutch book by N. V. Servire, 1934. Viking translation published on the same day in Canada by Macmillan.

Thyssen, Theo. Young Kees.  Manuscript of translation and adaptation donated to the Grummond Center on Children's Literature at the University of Southern Mississippi. Publication status not yet determined.

van Iverson, Siny. The Smugglers of Buenaventura (William Morrow, NYC, 1974). Originally published as De Smokkelaars Van Buenaventura (Uitgeversmij n.v. H.P. Leopolds, The Hague, Holland, 1964).

van Iverson, Siny. The Spirits of Chocamata (William Morrow, NYC, 1977). Originally published as Schaduw over Chocomata (Uitgeversmij n.v. H.P. Leopolds, The Hague, Holland).

French (1 book)

The Winged Watchman was translated into French as Le Veilleur.  Translated from "the American" by André Divault. Published in paperback by Hachette Jeunesse, 1991, acknowledging the Collins edition in Toronto as the original (1962).

German (1 book, plus two German-English translations by HvS)

Pegeen was translated as Polly und die Culainskinder, published by Matthias Grunewald-Verlag-Mainz, 1963.

Translated from the German by Hilda van Stockum:

Achim Bröger, Bruno, William Morrow & Co., NYC, 1975. Originally published in German as Der Ausreden-Erfinder und Andere Bruno-Geschichten, by K. Thienemanns Verlag, Stuttgart, 1973.

Achim Bröger, Outrageous Kasimir, William Morrow & Co., NYC, 1976. Originally published in German as Steckst Du Dahinter, Kasimir? published in Stuttgart by K. Thienemanns Verlag,  Stuttgart, 1975. (Story of someone who alters people's behavior by getting inside them.)

Hebrew (1 book)

An Israeli edition of The Cottage at Bantry Bay was published in 1961.

Japanese (1 book)

A Day on Skates (1934) was translated into Japanese as A Skating-Picnic by Yoshiko Funato in 2009. The cover is shown above. It was published in 2009 by Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, Japan.

Portuguese (2 books)
The Cottage at Bantry Bay is translated as Quatro Crianças e um Cão (Four Kids and a Dog). A Portuguese-language edition was published in Porto, Portugal, by Livraria Civilização Editora in 1971, authorized by the Viking Press, NYC, which published the original work in 1938. A paperback edition of The Cottage at Bantry Bay has been published by Bethlehem Books by contract with the author and (since 2006) the author's estate. All residual rights have been transferred by the estate to Boissevain Books LLC, in NYC, of which the sole managing director is John Tepper Marlin. Illustrations are copyright until 2076 (70 years after the death of the illustrator). The literary copyright is valid until 2056 (50 years after the death of the author).

The Mitchells: Five for Victory is translated as A Família Mitchell (The Mitchell Family). A Portuguese-language edition was published in Porto, Portugal, by Livraria Civilização Editora in 1974, authorized by the Viking Press, NYC, which published the original work in 1945. A paperback edition of The Mitchells has been published by Bethlehem Books by contract with the author and (since 2006) the author's estate. All residual rights have been transferred by the estate to Boissevain Books LLC, New York City, of which John Tepper Marlin is the sole managing director. Illustrations are copyright until 2076 (70 years after the death of the illustrator). The literary copyright is valid until 2056 (50 years after the death of the author).

This blog is sponsored by Boissevain Books, which publishes books by Hilda van Stockum. To buy a book and support keeping her work alive, go to www.boissevainbooks.com.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

HvS KIDS | Art by Brigid Marlin in NYC (Tepper Marlin Collection), Daphne and Apollo

"Daphne and Apollo", c. 1975. Mische Technique on
Board. 19"x27". Reproduced by permission of the artist.
I didn't plan on getting a catalog started so soon of Brigid Marlin's art, but sometimes serendipity takes over.

Today I received an edition of the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay that combines the ones in A Few Figs from Thistles (Harper & Brothers, 1922) with those in Second April (Harper & Brothers, 1921).  This edition was published in 2000, the year that Millay's copyrights expired - 50 years after her death in 1950. You might call a publisher like this a copyright-expiration chaser.

As I read through the poems, one in iambic tetrameter caught my eye, because it matches one of our paintings by Brigid Marlin, "Daphne and Apollo". That's Daphne at left, having chosen to become a rooted laurel rather than allow herself to be ravished by Apollo. Here is Millay's poem, which seems to have been addressed to an over-eager lover. This published the year before Millay and her husband-to-be, Eugen Boissevain, met, so the reference is not to him.

Daphne
Edna St. Vincent Millay (from A Few Figs from Thistles, 1922)

Why do you follow me? -
Any moment I can be
Nothing but a laurel-tree.

Any moment of the chase
I can leave you in my place
A pink bough for your embrace.

Yet if over hill and hollow
Still it is your will to follow
I am off; - to heel, Apollo!

Here is a version, slightly abbreviated, of the story as told by Bullfinch:
Daphne was Apollo's first love. It was not brought about by accident, but by the malice of Cupid. Apollo saw the boy playing with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent victory over Python, he said to him, "What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them.... Venus's boy heard these words, and rejoined, "Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you." So saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and sharp pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the leaden shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart. ...
Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her ... He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her lips, and was not satisfied with only seeing them. ... It was like a hound pursuing a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and the virgin - he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear. Her strength begins to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river god: "Help me, Peneus! open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!"  Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became leaves; her arms became branches; her foot stuck fast in the ground, as a root; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing of its former self but its beauty, Apollo stood amazed. ...
"Since you cannot be my wife," said he, "you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay." The nymph, now changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.
Millay was Hilda van Stockum's aunt and wrote the introduction to her first book, A Day on Skates (1934). They met once in Holland - described on pp. 268-270 of Nancy Milford, Savage Beauty.

Meanwhile, I did make a little progress on posting a catalog of Brigid's art. Here is the first page. It takes a long time to scroll through. It was pasted in using Numbers, the Mac version of Excel.

Title Year Painted  Year Sold Purchaser
Ben by Window
1953
1953
Dorothy Oakley
Dalkey with Ben
1952
1952
Mary Shaw
Shane O’Neill
1954
1954
The O’Neills
Alan Jones
1954
1954
Mr/Mrs Alan Jones, The Mall, Tralee, Eire
Oakley Mother
1954
1954
Dorothy Montgomery, Berrawinnia, Rice Hill, Cavan, Eire
Under the Pont des Arts
1955
1961
Jack & Jill Hesketh, South Hill Close, Hitchin, UK
Self Portrait
1955
1955
American (Iowa?). (Gallery Living Art; Exhibition, Dublin; reviewed.)
Red Cabbage
1955
1967
England (Gallery - Hampstead Open Air Exhibition)
Marcella
1955
1968
Mr/Mrs E R Marlin
Muirrean
1956
1966
Eliz Russelle, 35 Merrion Ave., Blackrock, Dublin (One-man show, Dublin 1964)
Rue de l’Abbaye
1955
1957
Margot Munzer, Berlin
Noreen
1956
1960
Noreen Wall, 41 Burton, Montreal
Lorraine
1956
1960
Mrs. Vincent, Montreal
Eleanor
1956
1965
Mr/Mrs Tom Paulsen, USA
Yellow Trees
1956
1960
Kevin Dwyer, Canada
Autumn Storm
1956
1960
Jacek Makowski
Red Trees
1956
1957
Mr/Mrs Randal Marlin
Spring Birches
1956
1960
Mr/Mrs Des Gibbons, England
Blue Nude
1956
1956
Mary Grohman, England
Kathleen
1956
1956
Kathleen Franc, NY
Blue Vase
1956
1964
Mr/Mrs E R Marlin, Washington, DC (gallery sale)
Montreal houses
1956
1960
Lost
Susie
1956
1978
Richard Jones
The Old Dancer
1956
1960
Mrs. Makowski, Canada
Blue Shell
1957
1958
Shane O’Neill
Yellow Self-Portrait
1957
1969
Millie McKelvey (special mention, one-man show 1964)
Baby and Snake
1958
1960
Mr/Mrs E R Marlin, Washington, DC
Aubergine
1958
1964
Mrs. Moy, England
Mexican Boy
1958
1961
Canada (Montreal Spring Exhibition, special mention)
Des Portrait
1957
1957
Mr/Mrs Des Gibbons, Bulbourne Close, Hem Hemp

I tried to paste in a table that includes thumbnail photos of the art but the photos did not come through the process. I will include below one of the photos I don't know how to process - the van Stockum still life with onion and egg shells (1961). It is located in the home of Mary Ann Raven Anderson in Heathrow, Florida, 12 miles north of Orlando.

HvS "Spring", Still Life,
1961, at home of Mary
Ann Raven Anderson. 
Brigid Marlin Art Owner
Subject
Thumbnail Photo
Year/Notes
Raven, Jayne Marlin, Brigid, “Sheila”, the year before Sheila went to Holland to study art, Montreal, Canada.

1958. Painting given to her by the daughter of a friend of her mother, Patsie Kottmeyier. They lived in Montreal in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Hilda van Stockum Art Owner
Subject
Thumbnail Photo
Year/Notes
Anderson, Mary Ann Raven van Stockum, Hilda,  “Spring” (Still Life: Onion and Egg Shells)

1961
Raven, Jayne van Stockum, Hilda, “French Scene”. 

1955. Painting purchased by her mother.
Owner Email address Notes Location
Anderson, Mary Ann Raven maryaraven(at)aol.com Sister of Jayne Raven. Correspondence by email with Brigid and John, May 16 2014. Heathrow FL (Orlando) - sister of Jayne Raven
Raven, Jayne jraven(at)shaw.ca Sister of Mary Ann Anderson. Correspondence by email with Brigid and John, May 16 2014. Montreal and BC

HvS BOOKS | Dec. 5 - St. Nicholas Eve, "Black Peter" and "Kersti" (Comment)

van Stockum.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of millers, sailors, Holland and New York City. My mother Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006) loved St. Nicholas, as is clear from her book Kersti and St. Nicholas (1934). St. Nicholas appears each year on the evening of December 5, the day before his feast day.

This is a "Speculaas Moulin",
 a Dutch windmill cookie for 
St. Nicholas Day.
Around St. Nicholas Day, in Holland and Belgium they bake a lot of Speculaas (Speculoos in Belgium) cookies, a virtual sample of which is at right. The edible version includes almonds and ginger spices.

The cookie has a windmill on it because it's a specialty of Holland and other low countries threatened by floods. Windmills - besides grinding corn and wheat, and generating electricity - pump the water out of "polders", the areas inside the dikes that defend against water. We had reason to remember all this in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy in 2012 shut down much of New York City. If NYC had more of the Dutch skill at keeping water out of areas below sea level, and more of the famed foresight of its Dutch founders, Hurricane Sandy might not have done such damage to the areas of NYC near water.

The Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam was founded in Manhattan largely to support trapping beavers and sending them to Europe for women to wear. The New York City coat of arms has two beavers on it as well as a four windmill wings in honor of the Dutch settlers.

First published in 1962, The Winged Watchman
has sold 50,000 copies in reprint since 1997 and 
is currently optioned for a television miniseries.
The Port of Rotterdam is a great example of Dutch engineering to keep water at bay. It is also where my mother, Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006), was born because her father was a naval captain and stayed near ports and naval bases. Hitler bombed Rotterdam in 1940 as a warning to the Dutch to let his troops march in and occupy the country.

Seal of the City of New York..
Note windmill wings and two
beavers.
Her book, The Winged Watchman (1962), republished in 1997 after 20 years being out of print, is about the Dutch Occupation. It has sold nearly 50,000 copies in the reprint version and is currently optioned for a television miniseries. The book's themes echo in light of Hurricane Sandy, which caused most damage from flooding and lost most of  economic activity because of the electricity outages The story is about a family that lives in a windmill during the Nazi Occupation. Two boys aged 10 and 14 join the Resistance. The book shows how the windmill did their work when the electric mills were starved for fuel during the Dutch famine.

The Dutch have been facing floods for many centuries. Their world preeminence in building windmills to pump out water also made them experts in making sails for the mill wings and this helped make them a global naval power for a time. After the English took over the Dutch colony in 1664, they renamed it New York. The city grew most rapidly when the Hudson River became the gateway not only to upstate New York but also, after the Erie Canal was built, to the Great Lakes.

The "Black Peter" Debate

Will the Netherlands give up "Black Peters"? Or will Pieterbaas 
just lose the blackface?
The "Black Peter" controversy was told in a New York Times story last year by John Tagliabue, reporting from Amsterdam.

In Holland, someone dressed in a St. Nicholas bishop's attire arrives in each town by tradition in November. Then at festivities on December 5, St. Nicholas Day Eve, St. Nicholas appears at each house.

Children go to sleep wondering whether in their shoes and stockings, left by the fireplace, there will be candies and toys. If they have been bad, they get a switch or a lump of coal.

Controversy has erupted over the person accompanying the saint, "Zwarte Piet" - "Black Peter" or a multiple of "Black Petes". They are dressed in the costumes of the Moors, who are Spanish Muslims descended from the ones who invaded and overran Spain in 711 A.D. The Black Petes are in blackface and feathered floppy hats, often with oversized earrings. They do stunts. They are comic figures. They are ordinarily played by athletic white Dutchmen. They are a kind of mascot for the saint and do practical things like take care of the presents.

Having played Santa Claus a few times, I like the idea of having a helper. But the tradition in Holland is now being challenged. Minorities and progressive reformers in the Netherlands are protesting the inferior status of Black Pete:

  • One-third of Dutch respondents to a poll say that the tradition is a problem.
  • Yet at the same time two million Dutch computer users signed onto a Facebook page defending the Black Pete tradition.  What do we make of this?

Comment

Kersti and St. Nicholas 
with snowflakes.
Changing a tradition is difficult, but it may be necessary to keep up with social changes. In this case, the problem could be taken care of with two changes:
1. Drop the "black" part of Black Peter and use the other name for him, Pieterbaas (Peter Boss), instead.
2. Stop the blackface. A Moor can be all shades of skin color and doesn't have to have blackface.

Will it happen? Will it suffice?

 St. Nicholas was a central figure in our family's childhood, thanks to the fact that it was a central figure in the childhood of my mother Hilda van Stockum.

When we her children were growing up, and even long into our adulthood, she delighted in dressing up as St. Nicholas. She always made it clear that St. Nicholas' gifts were rewards for good behavior, and that there were less inviting presentations for naughty children, notably a lump of coal in the shoe on the morning of December 6.

The threatening side of St. Nicholas' visit was removed in the American version of the saint. "Sinterklaas" in Dutch became Santa Claus in two phases. First, the jolly saint appeared when "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (beginning "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"), first published in 1823 in Troy, NY; this poem portrayed the saint as a jolly old elf bringing gifts with the help of twelve reindeer. Clement Clark Moore claimed authorship and as in previous years the poem will be read out on December 15 at 6 pm at St. Peter's Church in Chelsea where Moore lived. Thomas Nast finished the picture with a jolly Santa Claus popularized by Coca Cola.

Hilda van Stockum wrote Kersti and St. Nicholas in the late 1930s, during the time she was converting to Catholicism, changing her citizenship from Dutch to American (1936), and having children (1934, 1936, 1938). By the time Kersti appeared in 1940, she had four children, Hitler had bombed her native Rotterdam flat, and Hitler's troops and S.S. police had occupied her country.

Mother's natural instincts were to support the dual role of St. Nicholas as a dispenser of both rewards and punishments. Light is defined by darkness, good by evil, and vice versa.

But with clouds darkening over Holland, and HvS's new conversion to a religion built around unending forgiveness, Kersti becomes a proto-American - a Dutch girl who wants presents for the naughty children as well as the good ones, on the principle that getting a present might be just the encouragement that a naughty child might need to become good. Kersti wants a Santa Claus and so, I think, does every parent. When children are small, it's hard to leave them a piece of coal.

When Kersti came out, the book was widely praised for its illustrations, although they were drawn for a book's spine to be the short end of a rectangle (like A Day on Skates) and they were printed one-fourth the size when the book was published with the spine on the long side. The war in Europe may have created shortages for publishers and restricted their options.

The reviews were enthusiastic about the art, but children's librarians - who were big and loyal fans of HvS - were upset by Kersti's challenge to conventional views about right and wrong. In the original version of the book, good children didn't get presents because St. Nicholas ran out of them. The librarians agreed with Pieterbaas, the voice of convention, who objects to St. Nicholas's listening to Kersti's advocacy of naughty children.

In the second edition of the book, on sale since 2010, the ending was changed by the author's six children, who are all blessedly still living (Olga has just turned 80). Elisabeth did the primary rewrite. St. Nicholas now tells his servant to bring out presents from the "reserves", so everyone gets their presents. The second edition also removes a picture of Pieterbaas looking devastated as he puzzles over St. Nicholas's instructions. It also changes the language to remove the dialect that was given to Pieterbaas. The second edition has been selling well - thank you for buying it. We only get the sales figures from Amazon, not the names of the buyers, so we don't know who you are or we would thank you by name.

But maybe we now need a third edition depending on which way the wind blows in Holland. Will St. Nicholas carry his own bags? Will Pieterbaas be used more commonly than "Black Peter" and will he lose his color? Traditions can be changed, but they need something to change to. We are paying attention. Send me an email if you have a point of view - john (at) cityeconomist.com.