Hoisting Cabin Girders

A short video of my father, Alvin Van Hulzen, winching up the whole timber girders that are going to make the raised floor of my future cabin in Klamath County, Oregon.  The beams probably weigh about a ton each, being about 26 feet long and 16 inches in diameter (800cm x 40cm).  Our makeshift crane, which was anchored pretty soundly with guy-wires still can be heard creaking under the compression.  Rather unnerving, to be sure, but it all went well.  Hats off to Dad’s enginering instincts.

Cabin in the Woods, Klamath County, Oregon

It will come as no surprise that the “we” at T. van Hulzen design is often just myself. True, working in symbiosis with Studio Louter in Amsterdam means that with each project there’s a whole team involved doing production, content, multimedia, etc.  But rarely do I get around to doing a project that is just for myself.  That changed this past September and October when I started building my own ‘cabin in the woods’. More specifically, it’s to be a log cabin in Klamath County, Oregon, USA, on the edge of the pine forests surrounding Fourmile Flats, one of the great seasonal moorlands of the Southern Cascades. Fourmile Flats Ranch belongs —not incidentally— to my generous parents. Granting their children land is of course a sinister ploy to spend more time with them. In their defence, it’s a magical land, volcanic and densely forested at 1300 meters above sea level (4300 ft) on the eastern flank of the Cascade Range and bounded on all sides by National Forest and designated wilderness.

There is of course an architectural concept. I couldn’t just let it be a run of the mill log cabin. Call it designer’s pride. The idea is to build a structure on top of a raised platform. This fulfills a number of wishes. One is for it to be a proper wildlife viewing station, another is to have as little impact on the landscape as possible, then there’s the wish to be raised above the elements (flooding in spring and deep snow in winter) and lastly it’s meant to improve the view of iconic Mount McLoughlin in the near distance.  To this end I still have to clear 15 acres of scrub pine forest and harvestable poplars (aspen and cottonwood.)

Phase one is to build the platform.  When I left on November 2, we—my father and I— had achieved the minimum of what I had wanted.  This involved harvesting my own materials, clearing the landscape of scrub and burn piles, quarrying some rock, setting foundations, building piers and hoisting the main girders.  We also made some beginnings on milling our own planks and beams with an Alaska sawmill we had acquired.  This allows one to mill on the spot on uneven terrain.

It is obviously a project in flux.  The end designs have not been determined, and I am leaving it to some degree to the many variables that enter into the equation.  In that sense it’s a very organic process. The joy is in the hard work and the extraction of ones own materials. And let’s not forget the euphoria that comes from camping in the great outdoors for 5 weeks on end, cutting firewood, clearing brush, stoking campfires and cooking rough.

The Stern Carving of the Royal Charles

P6185210newIt’s rare that I do any sculpture work anymore for film like I used to.  But this particular assignment really appealed to me for reasons that have nothing to do with money: recreate the stern carvings of the royal flagship that Michiel De Ruyter seized and towed from Chatham during his great naval triumph over the English at the Raid of the Medway in 1667. It just seemed to historically interesting to ignore. The film in question is the Dutch production “Michiel de Ruyter” being filmed in Zeeland (the Dutch province) and the wharves of Lelystad.  But the relevant scene concerns De Ruyter’s presentation of his trophy, the royal stern carvings, to the States General of the United Provinces, which was the republican government of the Netherlands at the time. This was being filmed in gothic city hall of Middelburg in Zeeland.

The original stern carvings, or “counter” as it’s officially called, are hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in a gallery devoted to the De Ruyter era.  I had to scale it down a little bit for technical reasons (the original is 2½ x 3½ meters) but even making it out of high density polyurethane foam I still had an enormous challenge of volume.  With an assistant Rik and some more of the great folks in the De Ruyter art department we managed to get the still wet project in just under the wire. It was heroic!  And it looked beautiful in the (artificial) late afternoon light of the location in Middleburg.

Looking forward to viewing the film when it’s released.

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The Corpses of the Brothers De Witt

!cid_C7E832DB-C4DA-4524-B4AA-FBFE04EECCC1Another sculpture assignment I received from the production of the film “Michiel de Ruyter” was to recreate the cruelly lynched bodies of the brothers De Witt, a prominent Dutch politician from the 16th century and his brother who were attacked by an Orangist mob and lynched in the Hague.  Obviously there’s a serious story here, and I won’t try to commit it to this page (read it here), but it was famous and compelling enough to make me want to take up the job.

You might ask, why not just use actors?  But these corpses had to be eviscerated and lacerated to such a degree that that would be impractical. But engaging the services of one of the excellent special effects studios was budgetarily out of the question.  A compromise was found: me.  The production designer Ruben Schwarz and myself settled on the idea of culling various body parts from display mannequins, cutting them up and reattaching them.  Then we covered them with layers of hard casting wax colored with powdered pigments (from the paint mill De Kat).  This allowed us to cut into the surface skin to expose flesh.  Wax is actually quite forgiving, as long as  you aren’t filming in the extreme heat of the day.  Using wax kept the costs down and is a rather low-threshold material to work with.  We were rather pleased with the results, and so was the director.

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Wayang Kulit Belanda: shadow puppets of Dutch characters in Indonesian style.

For an installation in Het Geheugenpaleis (Palace of Memory,) currently on exhibit at the Dutch National Archives in the Hague, Todd created a series of shadow puppets based on both caricatures of Dutch “types” and on traditional Indonesian style shadow puppets made of punched leather, or Wayang Kulit.  This was in turn for the archival theme “Opgevangen in de spruitjeslucht”. This treats the subject of the repatriation, often forced, and the reception of Dutch colonials and  Dutch subjects from Indonesia after Indonesian independence.  Instead of the traditional subjects from Indonesian Wayang Kulit drawn from the Bhagavad Gita or Mahabharata, we see here much less heroic figures drawn from Dutch life and fantasy: for instance Saint Nicholas, but also a bicycling preacher, a public servant, and a housewife in traditional attire with a rather threatening cheese slicer.  In the middle we see a simple and proud “Indisch” woman who is the hero of a digital game being played in a console just in front of the display.  The puppets were installed within the cardboard boxes along the wall, and each illuminated independently with LED lamps.

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