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Reflections from the SwampVincent and Wilhelmina

Vincent and Wilhelmina

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Readers

Do you ever pick a longer line at the grocery store so you can peruse the gossip magazines on the way through the cash? Gossip does catch our attention. How much fictitious fantasy have we accepted as reality? I’m sure that I have an altered sense of realism; however, most of it is due to art, literature, and imagination.

Many of us are dependant on social media to get news on celebrities. Usually, I couldn’t care less about movie stars or singers, The Queen’s progeny, or sports icons. However, a recent news item in a Dutch column caught my eye. Vincent Van Gogh and Wilhelmina (The Girl with the Pearl Earring) seem to be in a relationship! They entered The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, arm in arm, to see a Rembrandt exposition. Some skeptics may openly doubt if Vince and Willa are ‘really’ an item. This uncertainty may be because both have been dead for years. These cynics are not aware that some artists and the art of the Dutch Masters are immortal.

A copy of The Girl with a Pearl Earring has resided in all the places I have lived. My mother had a postcard-sized copy in her room. Although the girl’s name with the pearl earring is unknown, my mother called the girl Wilhelmina. I thought she must be a relative on my father’s side. Today, we have a large copy of Wilhelmina hanging in the living room. Her big blue-grey eyes stare into my soul.

Wilhelmina looked like a young mother full of understanding when I was young. I’d complain to her about my mother when she seemed mean or unreasonable. As I grew up, she looked like a lovely girlfriend, one who filled your dreams. Still later in life, I saw Wilhelmina as a beautiful daughter soon to start an independent life. I wondered about what advice to give her. I felt the pain that a father feels when their daughters leave the fold. Now, Wilhelmina almost seems like a granddaughter. A girl that flutters into your heart from time to time then returns to the forest of life like a Gray jay. Wilhelmina is an immortal love incarnate.

Vincent Van Gogh has been a significant influence in my life. He and I wanted to be pastors early in life but didn’t fit the role well. He started painting his poor parishioners while in Belgium. The Potato Eaters came from this period in his life. He wrote hundreds of letters to his brother Theo, an art dealer in Amsterdam. Theo sent Vincent art supplies but couldn’t sell many of Vincent’s works. Thank God Vincent’s works all ended up in Theo’s attic!

Vincent and I started writing and painting late in life. I started writing about five years ago and painting when I was about 35 years old. We sent our papers and art to our brothers. Arie encouraged me and collected my writings. Once a year, I would receive a package with a published book with the writings of that particular year. I have four books published, each of which there is only one copy. Most of these papers found life with Arie’s editing. Like Van Gogh, I seek spiritual insight through life and nature. Unlike Vincent, I am not a tortured genius, and I still have both ears. Vincent suffered more than I can imagine. Vincent is my brother from another mother.

The Girl with the Pearl Earring was painted in 1665 by Vermeer, and Vincent’s art is from the 1880s and 90s. It doesn’t surprise me to see them going together to a museum. They are both immortal. They are both parts of my iconic family.

I have four eight by 10-inch copies of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, one for each of my granddaughters. The pictures sit on a barnboard frame two inches thick. A small scribbler in the cavity behind the frame with an attached pencil on a string is waiting for their thoughts and inspirations. On their next birthdays, I’ll give them to my granddaughters. I hope they will write to Wilhelmina, as they might in a diary, from time to time and end up with a collection of their thoughts as they are growing up. I hope Wilhelmina will be a part of our family for years to come.

There are altered states of reality that exist beyond the realms of science. Creativity and imagination are the best examples of these. Deciding which are life-giving and which are bogus is a challenge we all go through. The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Vincent’s art inspire my imagination to wander into transformed worlds.

We had a record-breaking snowfall that plugged up the driveway and left us cut off from the known world. The old-world rules no longer apply—the visibility obscured by blowing snow expands my vision. Through the veil of cascading snow, I see Van Gogh’s blue irises emerging from the frozen ground. There is a beautiful young girl with pearl earrings picking a bouquet. She’ll be coming in soon to sit around the fire and share in a hot cup of cocoa. She is always part of our family. A bouquet of irises in winter is truly a gift. Life is such a gift.


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