Drawings of everyday life

What I learned from my great-grandfather’s diaries.

Tropenmuseum Amsterdam

My great-grandfather, Jacob Keller (1872-1956), wrote every week in his diary. He was a well-to-do farmer near Dordrecht, The Netherlands. I transcribed some of his writings and published it online in a blog (in Dutch). Most of his diary entries are logging the weather and about what work he and his workers accomplished over the week. It was a tool for managing his farm, but he also had aspirations to record for future generations about the way he runs his farm and how it was done in the past. Very rarely he wrote about his personal worries and feelings. For example when he wrote a very beautifully obituary about his dog who passed away in 1914. I admire his style of writing. I suppose he loved poetry, because sometimes he cites poets in his diaries.

I don’t think he ever attended a creative writing class, because this kind of teaching didn’t exist in the village where he lived in that time. So I conclude he mainly improved his writing by writing every week, by reading other writers and by being interested in writing appealing prose.  So what I learned from his diaries is that by writing regularly and having a structure (one evening a week over more than 50 years), you improve the writing. I don’t want to deny that it is inspiring, useful and fun to attend classes or conversations with fellow artists. But a large part of the learning is done by doing. This is almost the same as what Danny Gregory preaches: learn drawing by doing it. (After learning some simple basic stuff, he summarizes the book ‘Drawing on the right side of the brain’ in less than 20 pages.)

Besides that my great-grandfather was a good writer, he also was a succesful farmer. I suppose he was, because of his weekly reflections in his diaries.

The drawing above does not have any connection with the story. Or maybe it does? It is both about the influence of a dead person. The above mask is used by the Asmat when a member of their tribe is murdered. One of his fellow tribesmen will dance with this mask whole night long, representing the deceased. Through this mask communication with the deceased is possible. I did draw it in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam (The Royal Tropical Institute).

Here is a photo of my great-grandfather with his family, the boy is my grandfather.
My greatgrandfather en -mother and my grandfather with sisters, The Netherlands

This is a fragment of my great-grandfather’s writing in one of his diaries


11 responses

  1. This is fascinating and the sketch and phtos are excellent !

    February 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm

  2. Creativity runs in the family!

    February 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

  3. I spent some time reading your grandfather’s diaries. How wonderful to have this insight into a direct family member. Only very seldom do my illustrations or photos have anything to do with what I write on my blog – I see them as separate expressions and only now and then do the subjects coincide. Do you suppose our blogs will last long enough for our progeny to read about our lives? Elza

    February 4, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    • @Elza. As an archivist I see everyday how fast digital standards change. I don’t know how long texts, profiles, photos on the web will last. The World Wide Web does exists only for a short time, and based on my experience I think that services like blogger.com, flickr.com, wordpress.com will delete inactive accounts after a while. I know that the Library of Congress and the Dutch national library archive a part of the websites, and there are other libraries and institutions who archive things. But lots will be lost.

      If you want your progeny read you blog, the safest way is – I think – to print it with good ink on acid free paper.

      February 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm

  4. Erica Keller

    Mooi om deze connectie te leggen tussen mensen die allang overleden zijn en de huidige tijd.
    Je overgrootvader en de papoea’s hebben allen dingen gemaakt waardoor ze aan de vergetelheid zijn ontrukt. Jouw tekeningen, dagboeken zullen ook die mogelijkheid in zich hebben.
    Kinderen, kleinkinderen maar misschien ook de familie overstijgende verbanden zullen er blij mee zijn.

    February 4, 2011 at 6:34 pm

  5. it is a great treasure to receive such an old diary with events recorded.

    February 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm

  6. Loved hearing this story! We have a lot of this stuff in our family because my mother does genealogy. I love the letters the most!

    Wonderful sketch of the mask!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:25 am

  7. How nice that a descendant appreciates the diaries.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:54 am

  8. It’s great to have something like that survive the years. It’s nice to have a glimpse into the past of your family even if it’s not terribly personal. And what a great photograph! I love old photos so much – and that is a really remarkable one!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:38 am

  9. Very interesting post indeed =) Nice sketch!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:18 am

  10. What an interesting post – it is pretty special to have such fragments from your past. I liked your cycle post too. I ride as my main form of transport here in Canberra but only a few people ride daily here – people are too frightened of the heat/cold/distances – and just not fit enough.

    February 26, 2011 at 10:28 am

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