Sixty years ago, I studied textile design at the Art School in Amsterdam. On Tuesday mornings we gathered at the entrance of Artis; the famous and oldest zoo in the Netherlands. We would sketch for a full morning our chosen animal under the strict eye of Mrs. Hund, our drawing teacher. This was ideal for me, because I lived in rented rooms just one street off the zoo and could sleep late. I would rush on my bike with my drawing map under my arm to be in time for our morning session in this wonderful zoo. This zoo was and still is special with its many old buildings and wonderful animals.
Artis is short for Natura Artis Magistra “Nature is the teacher of the arts”, which was written above the main entrance).
The first years I drew insects and other crawlies. Later I was assigned apes and crocodiles. I still have a whole map full of those drawings somewhere up in the loft. These amphibians are terribly long and cumbersome: It was impossible to fit those monsters on one piece of paper and when showtime arrived at the end of the morning, I needed a lot of floor space to lay out my crocodiles in segments.
Those reptiles were in a beautiful landscaped house; like a big terrarium with palm trees, greenery, lots of shallow water and a very pleasant warm temperature. In the far corner hiding behind all this lush growth lived a parrot, totally invisible. He had been very sick long ago and to let him recover they had placed him in the rather warm and humid crocodile house. Since then he lived there in a far corner. One could not see him, but one could hear him! Every time the door was pushed open, the newcomer was greeted with a cat call. They looked suspiciously at me, but I kept busily drawing and often the women left the house very quickly! Everybody, the keepers and I, pretended to be innocent (which we were). Who taught this bird this very provocative whistle?
Textiles was a four yearlong study and all those years we sketched this one morning in the zoo. Thinking back to that time, it was a marvelous experience. Also, because my best friend Trienke and I had a very well-guarded secret. At exactly ten thirty we both disappeared. After having checked that nobody was around, we slipped into the stables, were all the precious oxen, yaks and water buffaloes were housed. Trienke had befriended the keeper Jan and his assistants. They awaited us at 10:30 for the midmorning coffee. Mrs. Hund never discovered our clandestine coffee break, although she once in a while asked where we had been. The toilet was always a good excuse.
Artis-day was coffee-day in the tables. One Tuesday morning, when we arrived for our coffee, the keepers where very enthusiastic and excited. The Yak had given birth to two calves! Those nice keepers decided that they wanted to call the calves after us, but first the main office had to give their consent. As yaks are not an endangered or rare species, the office agreed. There you have it: a few months later a little note hung on the fence, that the two Yak calves were named Trienke and Barbara!
This happened in 1959. After I left Art school and started a career in the wide, wide world, I heard that little calf Barbara was sold to the zoo in Moscow and disappeared behind the iron curtain, which in those years separated Western Europe from the Eastern half.
That was sixty years ago. Alas, as I live in Israel, I have never been back. But Artis will certainly be on my program when I visit the Netherlands again and I hope, that there are still many descendants of this Yak in Artis.
Read also my blog about the rhinoceros beetle. Artis played a big role in that story! https://relativelyrelatives.wordpress.com/2018/05/18/the-rhinoceros-beetle/