|Sandra Niessen - The Gardener's House|
Oosterbeek, a town in the municipality of Renkum, The Netherlands, is the home of my ancestors. My father evacuated it on the third day of the Battle of Arnhem. Battle of Arnhem is actually a misnomer because most of the battle took place in Oosterbeek. My family’s ties with the town ended with that battle. When I moved back in 2001 it was to reconnect with my heritage. Our oral history was never passed down, so I spend alot of time in the local archives trying to piece together the framework for the family stories that once lived.
The Gardener’s House is part of that larger project. It is a little labourer’s house, more than 150 years old nestled against the edge of the same valley (Zweiersdal) where my father grew up. It was dilapidated in his time and had all the magnetism to his youthful imagination of a haunted house. I now live on a piece of what used to be – until the Battle of Arnhem - a larger estate named Bergoord. The little house is a remnant of that estate. So The Gardener’s House project is also part of the exploration of the corner of the world where I now live.
As I gathered local stories about the house, I was increasingly amazed by the number of artworks that had been made of the house by local artists and artists passing through: more than a dozen paintings, etches, prints, sketches, pen drawings and photographs turned into postcards. It appears that the house had been a kind of architectural mascot for the village. I exhibited them in the local library (De Bieb) in October and November 2008.
The reception of exhibition, especially on the part of what we call here “old Oosterbekers” was so enormous that I was encouraged to put together a book about the history of the little house and what it meant to each successive inhabitant and each successive era in the history of the village.
Because WW II and, in the case of Oosterbeek, particularly the destruction caused by the Battle of Arnhem, brought an abrupt end to the history as it had been unfolding, I invited present-day artists, many of them local, to resurrect the now almost-forgotten little house. Their work will be exhibited in a little Gallery (De Rotteval) on the opposite edge of the valley to coincide with the launch of the book.