The artist as employee in making new antique clocks. ( auto-biography)


The VW Kombi

The first weeks were spent getting good bedding and turning the heating on. It was early May and still surprisingly cold.  We enrolled both our daughters in the local kindergarten school.  Our son  stayed home as he was still a baby.  Soon after we bought a VW Kombi bus. The VW bus  popularity was a world-wide phenomenon. There was an unwritten law that drivers of those VW buses would dip their headlights while passing each other on the road. Most often those drivers were anti-war. Both sexes grew long hair, smoked bongs, drank cheap red wine and listened to Bridge over troubled Waters.

We also had to establish our citizenship and get enrolled into all the different levels of the Dutch bureaucracy which is fairly complicated but generous. Child endowment, unemployment relief, all sorts of taxation requirements, getting banking accounts fixed. All went reasonably smooth and when things had settled I enrolled myself at an employment office seeking work as an ‘artist’. Much to my surprise and within a few days I was notified about a vacancy for an artist. An artist skilled in landscape techniques. It was about a twenty minute drive from where we were living. I was so intrigued. Can you believe this?

I turned up for the interview which was at a factory that made imitation grandfather clocks. Those clocks were apparently selling like hot cakes, exported world wide, especially the ‘Friesian stand-up clock’ with a swinging pendulum and hand painted clock dial. All had to be genuinely ‘hand painted’. This is where the job of the artist came in, specifically my skill as the artist landscape or sky/sea scape specialist. If possible it would be best if the clock dials were painted in a genuine ‘style’. A kind of mixture between a Hobbema or Vermeer would do.

I felt that it might be well worth the experience and after whipping out a quick little sample of a wind-mill and some sea-gulls was given the job. From what I could see on some of the clocks with hand-painted dials the previous painter wasn’t really skilled in faking an old master in any genre. The factory making the clocks was actually part of a much larger consortium doing all sorts of things including exporting tulips to America. I was in good hands. The salary was not bad either. Remember how I had taken lessons from Ronald Peters at the Parramatta ambulance hall in the late fifties early sixties in painting landscapes with a receding sky and dappled effects on gum tree trunks? Well, all this was now coming to fruition at the clock factory.

Those clocks were really amazing. The actual body of the grandfather clock was made from something that was poured in a mould. When taken out of the mould a brown stain was sprayed over it and, lo and behold, it looked like ‘genuine’ oak’. The actual grain of the oak was part of the mould. Amazing fake that could not be improved upon. Of course, today everything is fake. Reading only yesterday on a bottle of maple syrup at Aldi in small lettering  ‘flavoured’.

At the same time as my clock dial painting career took off, we also bought an original Dutch farm house with a soaring upwards part tiled and part thatched roof typical of that Northern area. Many traditional old Dutch farms had both people and cows inside during winter under the same roof. Hay that was cut during summer was stored inside together with cows and people. One reason for those high roofs was to stack the hay. It was all very cosy, intimate and above all in winter nice and warm. The cows heated the place up better than central heating ever could. Of course we did not keep cows and did have central heating installed.

The clock dial painting went very well. The management was very happy. A lot depended on the attractiveness of the clock face. They were bought solely on their looks.  The seagulls especially were very real. The manager said ‘they seem to follow me around the room’. I was emboldened to such a degree I managed to do the production of clock dial painting at home on the farm. Once a week I would drive over and hand the works of art in and pick up a box of blank  clock faces in return. As long as I did about fifty dials a week, all would be happy. I had achieved a fairly relaxed way of earning a salary and as yet had no need to apply for the Government artist salary. That was yet to come!

Of course, the clocks were super kitsch and some might query the moral fibre of someone happily doing that, but…who was I to not experience the life of a paid artist. Did not Jan Steen (1626-1679) run a tavern, had nine children and two wives.? What about Pieter Brueghel before (1525-1569), with his rejected ‘The Blind leading the Blind?’ There is hope for all Dutchmen!

We all make the best of circumstance.


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19 Responses to “The artist as employee in making new antique clocks. ( auto-biography)”

  1. Yvonne Says:

    Gosh, I do like your life story. You and Helvi have done so much.


  2. Dorothy brett Says:

    ANother gReat insight into the lives of an Oosterman.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Says:

    Clock painting is a good call. I did all sorts of things in my life as a sculptor and I think keeping your hand in the paint is probably better than serving coffee or similar. My daughter, an artist, does house painting, restoration and sewing among other things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thank you ,Hilary.

      I had Helvi doing the sky and foreground while I filled in the windmill, little river or the sea. It had clumps of grass at the bottom and seagulls on top. I could easily do about fifteen by lunchtime. Of course, it was conveyer belt painting but we were free to do other things in between. We were pretty free and earned a living.


  4. Lottie Nevin Says:

    How wonderful to think of your clock faces, ticking away like a beating pulse in homes all over Holland. I hope that they are still going strong. But painting clock faces is not really art, it’s decoration and I would imagine that being an artist, after a while you would have tired of it? Longing to hear more of this story, I’m in awe of you and Helvi.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I think most of those clocks were exported overseas. I have till now never seen an ‘original’ Oosterman clock yet. I keep looking in clock shops and have seen similar clocks.
      Of course it wasn’t real art but it was a real income. Doing it together with Helvi on the farm had its rewards allowing me to do ‘real’ art as well.
      Our children in that Kombi. How sweet a memory!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lottie Nevin Says:

        I’m happier now that I know that you still had time to make your own work, that’s what is important but with mouths to feed it was great that you could get paid work so quickly. I bet your children loved the Kombi, it must have been such an exciting adventure for them. Wonderful memories.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. elizabeth2560 Says:

    This sounds like a fascinating experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. nonsmokingladybug Says:

    I didn’t even know there was such a thing as clock painting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The genuine old Dutch grandfather’s clock did have hand-painted clock dials. My parents had an old clock hanging on the wall. It used to bang away each half hour as well as on the hour. It banged very slowly in tandem with a much slower life.
      Now we have the dreadful angst laden ring of the IPhone, a kind of terminal shriek. I can’t but sink in a terrible feeling of dread and anxiety each time the IPhone lets off this shrieking sound.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Oh how i loved this glimpse into your clock painting days! I once repainted a clock face for a friend who had bought an old clock from a yard sale. The manufacturing of the clock molds fascinates me. What material was used?
    Your days in the VW van sounded much like the same time period here in the states. A bit after my time, but I knew many artist friends living that kind of life. It sounded like a lot of fun. I was teaching sculpture and fine art at college level during that period, and some of my students were camped out in fantastically painted VW buses.f

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it was the beginning of much camping trips. If there is one thing we did well was to give our kids the excitement of nature and camping. Boy, did we camp. We have albums full of proof. There isn’t a better country than Australia for camping. On our return the first thing we did was to buy another VW Kombi and tents. Even here now, in Bowral Australia we had our grandsons camping in the back yard.
      Now they don’t listen to Bridge of troubled Waters, but thta’s fine too. Different times.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Sorry, Kayti. I forgot your question. The clock moulds were of some epoxy and the main body of the different clocks were all different. I don’t think they were sold as genuine antiques. Probably as genuine -antique imitations-.
      The company went broke some years later. Even so, as a result of having worked in a bank and clock painting and some teaching we now have a modest income, all compliments of the Dutch Government and their generous social benefits. Helvi being my partner gets the same Dutch pension.


  8. gerard oosterman Says:

    One could also say:
    Zoals het klokje thuis klikt, klikt het nergens”.
    As the clock ticks at home it ticks nowhere!


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