My life had changed drastically…After my mother married Wim Verhoef, I was made to leave my beloved foster family and live with them to attend a new middle school. I moved to a new neighborhood called the Watergraafsmeer at 5 Linnaeusparkweg, a few miles from my previous abode. We occupied the second floor of a three story Victorian row house consisting of two large rooms ensuite with one bedroom and a kitchen adjoining a shady veranda.
My adorable baby half brother Willem and I slept in the bedroom. The front room served as the living room and Mama and her husband slept in the room at the back of the house, which also served as an office and storeroom for Wim’s business as a traveling lingerie salesman. My mother and stepfather had a totally different life style from the foster family I grew up with.
Right away Wim and I did not get along…he was suspicious about everyone and everything and denigrated my foster family, which did not sit well with me. He would pretend to play and horse around with me to tickle me, which made me want to disappear off the planet. While he was on his travels it was nice to get to know my mother better, she was very pretty, with dark hair and eyes and loved reading, as I do. We read “Forever Amber”, “How Green was my Valley” and “The Morning of the Magicians” together in English so I could learn the language. She also had an acute sense of humor but when Wim was at home the couple enjoyed imbibing large bottles of gin, which usually resulted in loud arguments that eventually exacerbated into abuse and molestation. I was getting quite depressed and felt lonely and confused.
As I was growing up no one ever spoke or mentioned my birth father and since I am rather introvert with a dash of Aspergers, I never asked about him either but as time passed I got more and more curious about who and where he was. So one day I looked in the telephone directory for the name Koger, which is not very common in the Netherlands. And there I saw it: Klaas Koger, and believe it or not, the address was right around the corner from where I lived. I got on my bicycle and drove by a couple of times. The big street level window said “Klaas Koger, Tailor” in gold outlined arched letters. Finally I found the courage to ring the doorbell. A man opened the door… I could see it was my father because I look more like him than my mother. I looked into his green eyes, just like mine and stuttered, “hi, I am your daughter”…no response…then a woman appeared behind him in the hallway, she instantly realized what was happening although to this day I don’t know if she knew of my existence previously. Wilma was very kind and immediately invited me to come inside, and put me at ease.
There in the living room, hung with seascapes painted by my father, I met my half sister Betty, 2 years younger than I, and my half brother Peter, 5 years younger. My father was a taciturn person, extremely quiet, he did not say a word, even after I came back several times and became fast friends with Betty. He was an excellent tailor, I could see by the clothes he made for Betty. We often hung out and went to the beach together. The last time I saw my father was just before I left for an assignment in Greece in 1965. He rang the bell, clomped up the bare wooden stairs and still not saying anything, sat down at the piano and played something while I made tea, and then he left again…I guess it was his way of saying he cared about me after all. Ironically, much later I found out from a distant cousin who had created a genealogy book dating back to 1603 that the Koger family’s ancestors hailed from the town of the Koog on Texel, an island off the Dutch coast in the North Sea. My great great grandfather 8 times removed, had invented reed matting for wooden chair seats, which made them a whole lot more comfortable.
Back home I told my mother that I had gone to meet my father and she got so furious that she hit me very hard on my left ear, which left me partially deaf from then on. I was stunned and drew my own conclusions about her behavior. Sadly, she only had 9 more years to live…
Some time after this incident I was enrolled at the polytechnic “Academy de Schans”, a school for girls with a great curriculum, which was totally suited to my inclinations. The courses consisted of art history, anatomy, perspective, model drawing, watercolor painting, illustration, fashion design, textile design, graphic design and music appreciation.
On of the students, Yosha Leeger took the same classes as I did and became my best friend and in later years a partner in “The Fool” collective. We designed clothes together that the other girls would copy and hung out in a Dickensian coffee shop near the school, de Groene Kalebas, “The Green Gourgette”. I loved that school and made a lot of new friends among the girls who were all artistically gifted one way or another, while some of the teachers were established artists and truly outstanding.
The spoiler was my stepfather and as soon as the gin bottle made its appearance I knew to make myself scarce. Wim would demand I model the lingerie he sold and make sure everything fitted just right! I instinctively knew his behavior was not acceptable and I was deeply disturbed. Mama was powerless to interfere and she had her small son to take care of. The situation became so unbearable that I ran away from home and hitchhiked all the way to the south of France. At 15 years old I was a rebellious teenager with a cause…In Paris I stayed in the campground of the Bois de Boulogne and met a friendly young couple with whom I drove south to the Loire river where I stayed at an auberge in return for waitressing for a few days, serving grenouilles (frog legs), but my French wasn’t fluent and I was let go. I traveled further south and slept on the beach in Cannes while during the day I drew caricatures of people to make some money.
The Mediterranean Sea was deliciously warm and bright turquoise, a dream to swim in. Then I cruised along the coast to all the pretty towns and a very nice lady gave me a job at her restaurant in Juan les Pins, washing the dishes and she let me stay at her house and clean the bathrooms. After about two months I became homesick for Amsterdam and hitchhiked back north. Late one evening I was close to the Belgium/Dutch border, standing by the roadside in the pouring rain, soaking wet with my bundles of clothes and sketchbook case, when a big Mercedes sedan stopped with an elderly couple inside who brought me to the nearest police station to my consternation. It became evident that I was on the Interpol list of missing children and was put in a cell to wait for my parents to pick me up the next day. They were not amused, or pleased to say the least. I was sorry to have put my mother through much anxiety but in any case the home situation ended with me insisting I wanted to live by myself henceforward. The worst thing was that my stepfather paid my tuition so I had to leave the Academy that I loved and find a job.
PRAD ADVERTISING AGENCY
PRAD ADVERTISING AGENCY
I had already sold a few drawings to a small gallery by the time I was 13 which gave me the confidence to take my portfolio to the popular department store C&A on the Damrak and was immediately employed as an illustrator in the wholesale buying office, which entailed making drawings of all the garments being bought, rack after rack, thousands of drawings… I was fast and good and was able to rent the top floor of a beautiful old house near the Rembrandt Square in the heart of old Amsterdam.
After some time at C&A I assumed I could be an illustrator in the advertising world so I bravely took my portfolio to the largest advertising agency in town, PRAD, on the Sarphatistraat. They hired me at first to work in the cut & paste department but within two months I shared a large room with an older illustrator, named Erna, but tragically she soon committed suicide over a romantic relationship after which I had the whole space to myself creating illustrations for the hip Bijenkorf and Vroom & Dreesman department stores’ advertisements.
I worked there until I decided to go free-lance with the help of PRAD’s director, Mr. Jansen. I was doing alright, I had bought a dark green 1961 Jaguar Mark 10 but could not get a drivers license because I wasn’t 18 yet, (the legal age in Holland), I drove it anyway. I had dyed my hair platinum blond and was invited to cocktail parties by the movers and shakers in the advertising world, wearing Cardin inspired outfits that I designed myself and that Yosha Leeger, who I still was tight with, put together for me.
At PRAD I had met an American fashion illustrator, Barbara Pearlman. I admired her work and she invited me to Paris where she lived on the ground floor of a lovely apartment with a small garden in the Rue de Grenelle. She taught me to use a life model for my work and I joined her drawing her model while she was working on a commission. It was an exciting time, my first time flying so I felt like a real jetsetter. Barbara introduced me to her agent Patrick W. who offered me an opportunity to get some commissions from the Galeries Lafayette.
My biggest influences at this time were the artists Alphonse Mucha, Toulouse Lautrec and fashion illustrator Renee Gruau. While I was in Paris I enjoyed visiting the “Louvre” and the Mona Lisa, which was quite accessible at the time. Also the smaller and precious “Jeu de Paume” museum, I think I saw a copy of Degas’ beautiful statue “The Little Dancer” there and of course I had to climb the Eiffel tower.
This was living my MAD MEN period… As much as I enjoyed fashion illustration as a means of making a living, I was yearning to paint and started to paint in gouache. The Mad Men culture became uninspiring to me, I did not like the alcohol consumption and womanizing and started to go to the popular coffeehouses where I could meet more intellectually inclined people like the prominent existentialist writers Simon Vinkenoog and Harry Mulish and other artists.
I also visited the Rijksmuseum a lot and was overwhelmed and inspired by the great masters and started to paint in oil too. By now I was renting a large loft space at the house of “Old Tanya”, beatnik mother of dancer Ingrid Valerius on the Leidsekade. There I met Simon Posthuma, a handsome abstract expressionist painter and co-instigator of avant-garde movements in town, who sold me match boxes filled with marihuana and was to become my partner for 12 years…
I liked Simon’s paintings a lot and even though he was living with his 3 year old daughter Roselie and her mother while having an American girlfriend called Laura on the side, we were so intrigued with each other that inevitably we were soon inseparable and moved to Wittenberg, an old neighborhood poised for demolition but for now a haven for artists, where we listened to the new Rock & Roll albums of The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Animals and the Supremes or Jazz on my Grundig turntable and hung out with our friends smoking opium and hashish or experimented with mind expanding substances while still working hard.
Simon was busying himself with public happenings under the flag of “Pot Art“ and pulled me along with his actions. We soon started to cause an uproar in town with our friends the poet Johnny van Doorn, jazz pianist Piet Kuijters, designer Yosha Leeger and activist Jasper Grootveld, among others. Something was happening here…
To be continued….