Eulogy "Dolf Versteegh"
Born in the Netherlands on 23-04-1940 and passed away in Bali on 25-05-2015
Bali is blessed with exuberant flora and fauna and this is underpinned by a culture that venerates nature.This had been extensively documented in the 1930s by a number of western painters,most notably Walter Spies from Germany and Miguel Covarrubias from Mexico. Afterwards a long series of others followed in their wake and as a result Bali has a vibrant art scene until today.
Last Friday a large gathering of friends and admirers gathered at the Mumbul crematorium on the Bukit Peninsula to send-off an extraordinary man. In the long line of Dutch artists who traveled to Bali over the past half century Dolf Versteegh was without a doubt one of the most interesting and colorful. Yet he was not someone who could be easily categorized. When I met Dolf twenty years ago I remember asking him at one point where and at what academy he had been educated. Dolf replied that he had no formal education, that his background was very simply in food and beverage but he felt the time had come to retire from the restaurant business. He was indeed extremely modest and rather introvert, someone who never boasted about anything and never raised his voice. Yet everyone who came to know him realized that Dolf never stopped cooking up something. Dolf was infused with a completely unstoppable, indeed obsessive desire to create things that did not yet exist. He was the single most ingenious person I ever met and whenever I would drop by he seemed to be working on three new projects simultaneously while also kicking around four other fresh ideas. What he would show you could be a hatchery to fill his new aviary with flocks of birds, a new saltwater aquarium that would filter itself without any pump or how he had grown an exotic aquatic plant that is only found in the Amazon…. When I dropped by and saw him about six weeks ago he was busy giving detailed directions to a bricklayer for the construction of again another castle for a family of Guinea pigs!
In my picture archive I did find the image of an earlier version he built in 2005.
Without any formal education Dolf reinvented himself as an architect, as a designer of urban furniture and as a sculptor. His talent as a gardener and landscape artist was legendary and over the years,between all his other projects, Dolf was busy writing a Handbook of Tropical Plants and Trees.
Next to each extraordinary man is an exceptional woman and Dolf could not have reached the level of creativity and productivity without the inspiration of his wife Carin. They met each other later in life and both have children and grandchildren from their previous marriage. Carin is a beautiful blonde who still looks twenty years younger than her age and who is the extrovert opposite of Dolf.
Prior to his retirement from the restaurant business and moving to Bali Dolf had staged his eventual departure from Holland in a burst of creative energy. In downtown Amsterdam he had transformed the interior of two adjacent old warehouses into a seventeenth century square rigged sailing vessel. Catering to large groups in the meeting and convention industry the routine would be that at the end of an evening of great food and entertainment the ship would get into a storm and water would come gushing down the inside of the hull. The honored guests would then be handed mops to help bail out the water. Dolf named the business “Compagnie van Verre”, which was a predecessor of the Dutch East India Company which monopolized trade to Indonesia from the seventeenth century onward. In other words: Dolf started the next chapter in his life several years before he arrived in Indonesia…Dolf and Carin settled in Ubud in 1988 and the first year was dedicated to the realization of the dream of every retiree. Building a castle. Not everyone would have chosen a garbage dump to do this, but Dolf turned the site that he found into a pure gem. The house he built overlooked a private valley and he turned it into a cross between a botanical garden and a zoo. The ceremonial entrance to the property was a steel bridge over a gigantic birdcage and for a friendly tribe of monkeys he created a spacious labyrinth of cages interconnected by aerial pathways.
However once Pondok Ayu was finished boredom set in, so Dolf came up with an idea to kill the time. He briefly returned to the Netherlands to attend a course in the medieval art of stained glass production. To make a long story short: half a year later he ran a factory with one hundred and eighty employees whom he had trained to manufacture a wide range of stained glass products: Mondirama. For the better part of a decade, it proved that a small foreign entrepreneur could turn into a success story in Indonesia, but then the Indonesian tax authorities came to the conclusion they did not like that a Dutch stalk stuck out above the paddy field so they moved the goal posts in such a way that the game was lost. In addition Dolf reached the conclusion that there is a bitter lesson in the ancient Chinese saying: wishing you lots of employees!
A hundred and seventy five Indonesian craftsmen lost a well-paying job and the serial entrepreneur reinvented himself as an artist. Dolf kept the best workers from Mondirama on his team and since the turn of the century he has kept them constantly engaged in the manufacture of a range of objects of all kinds, too many to mention. Moving from Ubud to Sanur Dolf built five more houses, each one totally different from what he had made before and none of them like the dismal square boxes project developers tend to excrete and then call ‘minimalist’ and ‘luxury villa’. When he had built the last one he said that the circle was round.
Last but not least it needs to be mentioned that Dolf turned into an internet encyclopedist. Under the pen name Farelli (the Dutch word ‘ver’ means far and a ‘steeg’ is an alley) Dolf leaves a footprint on the World Wide Web that is truly impressive.The Farelli Tropical Plant Book has 3000 pages; there are 500 pages of birds and butterflies; there is a huge section dedicated to the history of Bali and there are hundreds of maps of Indonesian islands you will find no where else.
Bali is blessed with exuberant flora and fauna. Should you wish to learn more about it the very best way to start is hereat:http://www.farelli.info/index.htm
La ringraziamo tanto, Signor Rodolfo Farelli !
It was great to know you!