Today it was a gorgeous, sunny, Sunday here in Amsterdam.  I have my artist friend Kathryn visiting me from the States this week and we wanted to “be tourists” today and visit a place where we could see all of the stereotypes that Americans think of when they think of Holland. Besides the Red Light District, that is.

A new friend of mine, Vicky, who is from here, and lives here, suggested that we go to Zaanse Schans.  It is about 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam and it has a number of very well preserved windmills and houses.

We have villages like this in the United States, where they celebrate the old world crafts like glass blowing and blacksmithing, and people walk around wearing traditional colonial costumes.  However, unlike our very austere craft villages, Zaanse Schans is one of the most colorful places I have ever seen.  My eyes hurt it was so pretty to look at, as can be see in these pictures:

I like craft. Not to be confused with arts & crafts projects, the busy work given to American children. And, not to be confused with art. I don’t think craft is art, but I truly appreciate the techniques of craft and the resulting objects made by a master craftsperson.

There is an ongoing debate amongst people who debate about these things, about what the difference between craft and art is and how it should be defined.  My favorite description so far of the difference is, “The concept of craft is historically associated with the production of useful objects, and art, well, at least since the 18th century, with useless ones.” What a great sentence!  I guess it all depends on your definition of “use value”.

During our afternoon in Zaanse Schans we got to meet a woman who was a fourth generation pewter maker.  Here I am buying some of her gorgeous pieces.

We also saw a man who still carves wooden shoes, a woman in traditional Dutch costume telling the story of how cheese is made, and people who actually run working windmills that grind spices, saw wood, and grind pigments for paint.  It was fun to see the celebration of Holland’s crafts, even if the tiny town was filled with a couple of busloads of tourists.

After my friend Kathryn and I fooled around on a gigantic wooden shoe and bought some cheesy postcards, (no pun intended) we had lunch on the river with our Dutch friend Vicky and then went back to Amsterdam to nibble on Dutch cheese and chocolate and to sit in the golden sunlight and think about making “useless” art objects.

One comment

  1. We spent some time in Zaanse Schans on one of many trips to the Netherlands. What a charming place. I too was surprised that it wasn’t a static, contrived tourist trap but instead a dynamic, breathing, entity–in part supported by tourism.
    Your pics brought back some wonderful, colorful memories. Thanks!
    and love,

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