We are all children of our time, there is no escaping it. However, there are those who are able to make better use of the possibilities and circumstances of their time than others. My grandfather was Siebe Jan Bouma (1899-1959). Thanks to hard work, evening study and a lot of talent, this son of a Frisian carpenter was able to rise towards the end of his career to 'senior scientific assistant for the Landelijk Bouwkunst project' of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and was driven around the country in a car with a chauffeur (he had no driver's license) in search of monuments.
Written by: Hilda Bouma (1960)
The office building of Municipal Works on the Gedempte Zuiderdiep in Groningen, was designed by Siebe Jan Bouma (1899-1959). The building, which was built in 1928, is a national monument (no. 485594) and is still used as an office building for the municipality.
It is astonishing how a boy with only a carpenter's diploma could become a city architect in such a short time, even if that title did not exist and my grandfather never got any further than promotion to 'first-class technical designer'. Even before he was allowed to take up permanent employment in 1926, he was already working on his masterpiece, the Municipal Works building on the Gedempte Zuiderdiep. For this he also designed the furniture and the interior, including the beautiful hall with the stained-glass window.
More important to us as his offspring is what he left behind. For example, a visionary plan for an outdoor museum about the Zuiderzee culture that was carried out decades after his death. He is the designer of Madurodam (The Hague), something to be proud of as a child. But for the most fruitful period of his life, we have to turn to his early years (between the ages of 21 and 43), when he designed numerous buildings, schools, houses, bridges, tram cabins, transformer houses and urinals for the city of Groningen. It is no exaggeration to say that he has defined the architectural landscape of pre-war Groningen. Fortunately, he also enjoys that recognition in the city itself. Bridges and schools have been named after him.
Bouma and De Ploeg
That he became city architect so quickly is only possible in an environment brimming with creativity and a drive for innovation. My grandfather met the artists of De Ploeg around 1925, and although he was never a working member (only in 1941 he was a 'provisional member'), the friendships he developed in De Ploeg were decisive for his development. My grandfather knew many Ploeg members, as the portrait of Jan Wiegers proves, but he was especially good friends with Johan Dijkstra, from whom he also received lessons. Siebe Bouma has also painted the Blauwborgje as a creditable amateur artist ‘en plein aire’. Like many other members of De Ploeg, he painted in an expressive style, albeit a bit more conservative in colour and composition.
What would they have been talking about painting on the waterfront? Or with a glass of beer in the pub? About De Stijl? About constructivism? About the articles in the last Wendingen? About the edification of the worker. My grandfather may not have been a member of De Ploeg, but he certainly participated in the discourse that was going on within De Ploeg and Groningen at the time. He did so, for example, as a board member of the Vereniging tot Bevordering der Bouwkunst (‘Association for the Promotion of Architecture’, of which someone like Hendrik Werkman was a member.
As an artist, Bouma was a wonderful mixture of progressiveness and traditionalism. He embraced every new style: the Amsterdamsche School, Dudok, the Nieuwe Bouwen, the Delftse School, and then processed these new styles in his own designs with great love for detail and respect for the users. He was a romantic, but in everything he designed he also remained the craftsman he originally was.
As a curator of monuments, he was equally visionary and conservative. He thought, for example, that the Zuiderzee Museum should not become an 'asylum for curiosities', but rather a' living museum 'with real residents (the former fishing population), where the ships would bob against the backdrop of the salty breeze, the wide water, and the working people, the spicy smell of steaming nets and fish-in-the-smoke '.
My grandfather was a furniture maker, graphic artist, an excellent photographer, painter, draftsman, architect, protector of monumental heritage guard and an expert of folklore, but above all he must have been a very nice and intelligent man. Not a family man, but someone who worked late into the night with the radio turned on loud broadcasting classical music. Oh, how I would have liked to have known him.