As the publishing date of my book Circles looms ever-closer, my mind travels back to my travels through the Netherlands
Researching the story of my Aunt Gisele took me down many roads, and few were as delightful as the one I took last year to Roermond – a small city located 175 kilometers south of Amsterdam.
In my reading, I have come across the name often and indeed this place played an important role in the Gisele’s life. Her parents lived there during different periods, as did she. Her mentor, Joep Nicolas, had his studio in Roermond, and this was where she learned the art of making stained glass panels.
I felt so lucky to be invited to the opening of a retrospective of Joep Nicolas’ work at Roermond’s principal museum, Cuyperhuis. Flags flew along the entrance way into the city because Princess Beatrix was to inaugurate the event. In the Netherlands, security is tight around the royal family, but I did see Her Royal Highness, from a distance.
Inside, a large collection of Nicolas’ stained glass windows and paintings were on display, including two fine portraits of Gisele. There were vintage family photographs and also several interior and exterior shots of the studio. I was pleased to re-acquaint with Joep’s grandson, Diego Nicolas, and to meet Mariska Dirkx. She and her husband Dick van Wijk are the current owners of the property. He is a renowned sculptor and she is the gallery curator.
Galerie Mariska Dirkx has been an art studio for over 120 years. She invited me to visit the following day.
Nestled into the historic city walls of Roermond, and surrounded by a whimsical sculpture garden, the actual studio has been modified very little since Joep Nicolas worked there. Mariska showed me all around and allowed me to take photographs.
As I clicked away, I saw a small door at the back of the upper mezzanine of the studio. “People hid in there during the Occupation,” Mariska said.
With other new friends, I also visited Roermond’s Munsterkerk. The stained glass windows of this centuries-old church were destroyed during WW II bombing, and my Aunt Gisele re-made the ones at the back of the altar.
The only downside of the trip to Roermond was the drive there and back. Not that it wasn’t pretty – it was charming – but I felt terrified, wedged in between powerful Mercedes, BMWs and gigantic trucks barreling along at speeds of 120 to 140 kms. They zipped in and out of the lanes with just inches to spare between their bumpers. OMG! I wondered if we’d make it!
Nonetheless I did manage to get a couple of nice pictures. It is a tribute to my new Nikon that the shots were not just a blurred mess!
My vocabulary in Dutch is growing a little each day. I can ask for the train station, bathroom and menu now. I must say, Ik wens je een prettige dag – Have a nice day – doesn’t roll off the tongue too easily, but I do have a few of the other greetings down pat.
And during the paralyzing road trip to Roermond and back, I heard some expletives that aren’t fit for print.
So… Ik wens je een prettige dag!