With the plans in the making for several years now, this year we have officially entered the realm of saying goodbye to Constants house. Shelfs with books, letters and folders, paint and brushes are being documented for future research in preparation for their journey to new owners, a new location, a recycling center or the dump.
To my surprise it’s more emotional than I expected it to be. The house, previously a burden of old, empty real estate, has now morphed into a palace of memories and discovery. There are several people, who have embarked on this journey to document the house with us. We have two project employees who help us document the library, Freek and Eliane and two metal restorers who volunteered to document Constant’s home studio and archive, Janine van Reekum and Iris Mahu. Then there is Sam, who takes care of the house when we are gone and who took many photos of the house over the years. There were the interns, who documented part of the archive and the other photographers Jojo, Krien and Rik. And then there are the visitors, who come to say goodbye to the house one last time or who want to see the house for the first time before it’s no longer Constants house.
Throughout this process I’m seeing the house and its contents through the eyes of all these people and I see things I never noticed before. With every person the spotlights shifts.
For example, I always knew Constant had a big cat skull in his home studio but I never bothered to find out more. Until Iris, who has a special fascination for bones, googled it and confirmed it was indeed a lion’s skull. It makes sense. Constant loved lions. But how did he acquire it? From the Artis Zoo maybe? I mean, he did live next to the zoo for 33 years and said he visited every day to observe the lions. His many lion portraits are a testament to this. Maybe he befriended a caretaker who tipped him off when one of the lions died. Or did he buy it at the Waterloo square flea market just like his pet monkey in the 1960’s? Or maybe he swapped it for one of his art works just like the harp he swapped with Hans Locher, director of the Gemeentemuseum when the museum shed their instrument collection? Or like many of the cimbaloms, banjos and lutes he swapped for his watercolors over the years. And what about the iguana skull in his library? Constant used to have a pet iguana. Did he strip the skull of his own pet iguana to have sit on a shelf? With every item there are so many questions.
When you’re looking for a new home for objects it is very refreshing to look at it through the eyes of someone else. It stems me hopeful that all these items will, at some point find a new home, a new owner who will love them the way they were loved before. It is also very comforting that through this process Constants house and his possessions become part of the memory of everyone involved.