Multiple disasters in one
It’s 1953, the night from January 31 to February 1.
There’s a Nord Western storm going around. A combination of storm tide ánd spring tide leads to an extremely high water level of 4.5 meters above sea-level. A tidal wave strikes the Netherlands, dikes break. Within a short period of time, the water reaches several cities and houses of many people. The Watersnoodramp (the flood disaster) of ’53 is a fact.
My grandparents, living at the coast of Zeeland, were attacked by 1,5 meters of water in their living room that night. They and their children were lucky to survive, 1836 persons in the Netherlands didn’t. Artist Miep van Riessen (1944-2015) made an remembrance monument for the victims, as shown above.
Assignment to herself
As a child, Miep van Riessen lived at Jutphaas. At school there were evacuated children who had lost their family through the flood of 1953. Years later Miep married Nico Wandel, who had lost 11 family members. Nobody talked about it. All the silence stimulated Miep to give a place to the disaster in her work. At the 50th Flood-remembrance day in 2003, her first thoughts about a monument for the Watersnoodramp evolved, she started drawing…
Her idea was to embroider (by hand) the 1836 names and date of birth of each victim, in alphabetical order. A monkish work, although she didn’t see it that way herself. In an interview Miep said to a journalist that “she hád to make this work”.
During day time Miep had to earn a living. Together with her husband Nico Wandel she gave occupational therapy, in a nursing home for demented elderly people. Later in life they divorced and the need to make a living increased. Nevertheless at that time Miep decided to dedicate herself more to art. Almost all her free time went to making it, she embroidered and embroidered … After 5 years she finished the work De Verdronkenen, by that time the monument consisted of 5 panels, seizing 1,34 by 2,36 meters.
How she went about it
First she painted the islands of Zeeland and Zuid-Holland with acryl paint on fabric. After that, she applied all names and birth years on the canvas, using carbon paper. Thereafter she “filled in” the names on the canvas with stem stitches. Using grey, green and white DMC glossy yarn. She used a linen fabric as canvas.
Because of the glossy yarn, the work looks different seen from different angels. From one direction one especially sees the names of the victims, from another direction one especially sees the islands.
Love at first sight
Me myself I remember quite clearly the first time I saw De Verdronkenen, it touched me immediately. The subtle and strong combination of colors… the immense amount of work it must have been making it, the size of the work… the beauty of it… But just as much the emotional part of it hit me. All those names… all those lives… the miracle of life… I realized the names of my family members could have been there also, in case they would have had less luck that night…
Route to her Magnum Opus
Looking back, we see a development in Miep’s art that all led to the work De Verdronkenen. Untill the nineties, Miep mostly made figurative landscapes using paint, textile and yarn.
Later Miep developed a more abstract style in which squares with different colors formed a kind of landscape in itself. In this works we already see a glimpse of the tone of colors she uses in her later work, De Verdronkenen.
The next step in her artistic development, was the use of numbers & letters in the squares. She started making smaller work, made use of poems and names of places with a personal meaning.
A final destination
In 2016 the Stichting Miep van Riessen got established in Amsterdam, led bij daughter Hester Wandel as chairman. Purpose was and is to manage the oeuvre of artist Miep van der Riessen and to make it known. And they did. As a result of that, after several temporary exhibitions in 2018, De Verdronken is given a permanent spot in the Watersnood museum (Flood museum): caisson 2 of the museum became it’s final “home”. A place that suits the remembrance piece of art very well, as the theme “emotions” is leading in that caisson. Lots of visitors are emotionally impressed by the work when they see it, often looking on the work for names of family members.
As you can see on the photo above, the museum consist of 4 caissons. Those were used in 1953 to close the gap arisen during the flood, in order stop more water entering the country. The building is a remembrance object also.
Look for yourself?
The Watersnood museum is situated in the beautiful landscape of Zeeland province, and has to be reached by car. For more information look at https://watersnoodmuseum.nl/ . Around the museum there’s a nice walk- and bikers way to enjoy the scenery. You can download the route here:https://watersnoodmuseum.nl/fiets-en-wandel-routes/
In the shop of the museum you can buy a book about the work De Verdronken. You can also order it by the webshop. See: https://watersnoodmuseum.nl/product/de-verdronkenen/
More information about the art work of Miep can be found via Stichting Miep van Riessen, see http://miepvanriessen.nl/. At this website you can find Miep’s works of a lifetime.
Enjoy. Remember. And let’s be aware of the water.