April 03, 2009 | Myrna Anderson

For Dutch Heritage Month many activities and events have taken place from finishing a 9,000 piece puzzle to the celebration of the Koninginnedag or “queen’s day.”

The map, which measures roughly four feet-by-six-and-a-half feet, is emblazoned with names such as “Abissini,” “Siriacus” and “Turci.” Circling its perimeter are richly colored insets of pastoral scenes, towns and costumed figures. Floating in the maps’ oceans are sea serpents, ships rigged with Dutch sails and allegorical scenes.

“Every square inch of this map is used for decoration,” said Calvin geography professor Henk Aay. “It’s as much a work of art as it is a map.”

9,000 not-so-easy pieces

The map—which now hangs in North Hall, adjacent to the geography, geology and environmental studies (GEO) department—is actually a framed, 9,000-piece puzzle, based on a 1611 world map by legendary Dutch cartographer Pieter van den Keere. The department purchased the puzzle from Ravensburger Puzzles, and GEO students devoted many hours to piecing it together: “When they were sick of reading, they worked on the map,” said Aay.

“There were many late nights spent working on this,” agreed senior Meghan Stahl. “Sometimes one of us would bring in a snack or some soda, and we would spend our Friday night—actually several of our Friday nights—working on the puzzle. We worked on it so long that if we closed our eyes, all we saw were puzzle piece shapes.”  

Cartographers to the world

In the 17th century, the Dutch were the world leaders in making maps, said Aay, and van den Keere was a leading practitioner of the art, he added: “As an engraver he had no match.”

Aay will be giving a lecture about the history and significance of the map at the map dedication, held at 3:30 on Tuesday, April 21 in North Hall 078. (Residents of the Breton Woods retirement community recently completed an identical map, and they may take part in the dedication.)

The dedication is one of the events for the April celebration of Dutch Heritage Month, sponsored by the Dutch department and the Frederik Meijer Chair in Dutch Language and Culture.

Kicking off the calendar of events for the month-long celebration is a Dutch Chapel, held at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 6 in Chapel 220.

Water experts to the world

From April 13 through 17, as part of the celebration, Calvin will host an expert in water management: Dr. Sybe Schaap, the chairman of the Federation of Dutch Water Boards and a member of Dutch Parliament. “The Dutch have taken leadership the world over in flood control management,” said Aay. “Whenever a country has a crisis with water management, coastal defense (as in Hurricane Katrina) or river flooding issues, they call the Dutch. They have the expertise. They have the knowledge.”

Schaap will be making site visits in the area and lecturing to two groups. He will address a combined lunch meeting of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners.

Schaap will also give a public lecture titled “Managing Water in the Netherlands” at 7:30 p.m. on April 16 in the Commons Lecture Hall.

One for the Frisians

The Dutch heritage celebration also includes a cinematic offering featuring the “other” Netherlandic ethnic group: a showing of the Frisian film “Nynke” at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 27 in the Robert L. Bytwerk Video Theater. “It won the equivalent of a Dutch Oscar in 2001,” Aay said the the film, which tells the story of a writer struggling to save both her career and her marriage. “You can bet that the Frisians on this campus are excited to see this film,” he added.

Wearing of the orange

The final event for Dutch Heritage Month is the celebration of the Koninginnedag or “queen’s day,” a commemoration of the queen's birthday, which in the Netherlands features the queen visiting two different towns for food, drink, plays, crafts and other entertainments.

At Calvin, the celebration of Koninginnedag will commence at 3 p.m., Thursday, April 30 at the flagpole outside the Spoelhof Center, where Aay will oversee the hoisting of an orange streamer in honor of the royal House of Orange (the Dutch royal family.)

“We’re going to sing the national anthem, eat Dutch pastries. And then we’re going to gather on the lawn of DeWit Manor and have games,” he said. “This is one of the most boisterous public holidays in the Netherlands.” Koninginnedag celebrants are encouraged to wear orange. “You’ve got to wear orange,” said Aay.

The celebration of heritage is important especially in this era of multiculturalism, said Aay: “The majority culture at Calvin is Dutch. Unless you pay attention to culture and heritage it becomes an empty set, and we’ll have nothing left but last names.”

Piecing the globe

Senior geology major Meghan Stahl reminisces about the hours she spent putting together the Pieter van den Keere 1611 World Map:

“I love to put puzzles together, especially in the geology basement, because they offer an opportunity for people to hang out for a bit and work on a puzzle together. When I heard from Henk (geography professor Henk Aay) that he was thinking about getting a 9,000-piece puzzle to assemble and hang in the hall, I got really excited about helping to put it together. I will be completely honest here. The map was not what pulled me into this project. It was the sheer size of the puzzle.

“There are many good memories of working on this puzzle, I will have to try and think of some specific examples. While working on the land areas, there were times when I came to a piece with a few letters of a location on it, and sometimes I was just not able to figure out where in the world it belonged. It was then that a great game was started of me taking these mysterious pieces to Henk, the geographer, to test his geographical skills by asking him what county these two or three letters belonged to. Hard as I tried to stump him, he usually was able to tell me what word the piece made and where it belonged fairly quickly.

“It took just about two semesters to get the whole thing together. February 2008 we started it. Many people helped by putting in a piece or two, but the primary workers that semester were (2008 graduate) Jonathan Schmitkons and myself. There were many late nights spent working on this. Sometimes one of us would bring in a snack, or some soda and we would spend our Friday night, actually several of our Friday nights, working on the puzzle. We worked on it so long that if we closed our eyes all we saw were puzzle piece shapes. Quite often after a night of extensive puzzle assemblage it was hard to get to sleep because once our eyes closed we still felt like we were working on the puzzle. Once asleep it was very common to dream about the puzzle, and there were several occasions where, at school the next morning, we exchanged stories about waking up in panic because a piece was discovered to be missing despite frantic searching through the bed sheets. Acting out dreams was a common side effect of many straight hours puzzling!

“One memorable section was we got down to the last two pieces of the first half, and only one of the pieces fit. We had to look through the whole thing to find where we had messed up by putting the wrong piece in the wrong spot. We had to switch a few pieces around before we had everything in the right place.”

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