Born during the war years, in Bussum, the young Simon den Hartog was sickly. He spent most of the last war winter in Overijssel, which wasn’t a good preparation for academia, and after the war had ended he did not manage to finish secondary school. He had to find a job – that’s what one did in those days. At the labor exchange he found that Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co in Hilversum offered an opportunity for a ‘Boy Friday’. The owner-printer in person visited with Simon’s head teacher to learn more about this kid who was applying for the job – that’s what employers did in those days. Mr Pieter Brattinga Sr. was told that Simon came from ‘a good nest’: his mother was a great stimulator and he even took piano lessons.
Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co was the proud owner of only one stone lithograph press in 1950, the year the sixteen-year old Simon den Hartog entered the work force. They printed labels for Sluis, an animal feed producer, a client important enough for Mr Brattinga to visit once a week and discuss business. His company had established a good name with printing posters. Mr Sleper was their master lithographer, who with great precision transferred drawings and designs to stone. Since the 1920s they also used offset. When Den Hartog joined them there was still a Planeta offset press from that era, which was used for printing posters.
Office boy Den Hartog got all kinds of odd jobs to do. But he learned a lot and Mr Brattinga appreciated his input. An elegant and well-dressed gentleman, Mr Brattinga was from the second generation that owned the printing house. He was an old-fashioned liberal and he ran his business in a traditional and hierarchic way, meanwhile taking good care of his staff and letting them share if the business had made a profit. After a short time, Den Hartog was appointed to office manager.
In touch with designers
Pieter Brattinga Jr., from the third generation, joined the company one year after Den Hartog had started. To prepare for his eventual directorship at Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co, his father had arranged internships for him at photo-lithographer Koningsveld in Leiden and at George Lang printers in Paris. Brattinga Jr. aspired to extend the company’s contacts with designers. Before WW II, they had printed posters designed by Albert Hahn and by Fré Cohen, for the Dutch socialist party, SDAP. After the war, designers such as Cor van Velsen, Hans Bolleman and Eppo Doeve liked to work with Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co. Most existing contacts came through VRI, the organization of advertising designers and illustrators. Brattinga Jr. also went after members of GKf, the association established by leading applied artists. Books, catalogs and packaging were also printed in Hilversum.
Den Hartog became Brattinga Jr.’s assistant. Because they shared an office, Den Hartog acquired an understanding of all facets of the company. He also hit the road in search of new business. Through furniture producer Pastoe he was introduced to Dick Bruna, who became a long-term client. Together, Brattinga and Bruna would eventually establish Mercis, the company that controls the world copyrights of Dick Bruna’s interntionally successful creation ‘Nijntje’.
Brattinga Jr. was convinced that good graphic design and interesting publications would provide the company with a strong image and attract important clients. He took the initiative to introduce a corporate identity program, to start exhibitions in the company lunchroom, and to publish the series Kwadraatblad that would indeed bring great fame. In 1957, Den Hartog was involved with the production of Kwadraatblad NU 1, edited and designed by Willem Sandberg, then the director of Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Its first pages were formed by a collage of original express mail labels and a series of reproduced ones. No one noticed the difference.
Den Hartog established friendships with designers such as Dick Bruna, Ben Bos, Jan van Toorn, Charles Jongejans, Gerard Wernars, Peter Doebele, Will van Sambeek, Jan Slothouber and William Graatsma, Aart Verhoeven and Jacques Peeters. Dick Elffers and Simon den Hartog became buddies; their families spent weekends together in Baarlo, where Elffers had a little country home. They would relax between discussions about how best to print this or that poster, and they exchanged opinions about art and design.
1970 was the year that Otto Treumannn was awarded the David Roëll Prize for his designs. Paul Mertz made a short movie for the occasion. Treumann made it known that he did not want to be the center of a “cold, official affair” and Den Hartog came with the suggestion of having a surprise award ceremony at his own home. All friends of Otto and Jettie Treumann showed up carrying a small ‘suitcase’ with a present that would be useful when traveling. Many parties and dinners attended by designers and artists would follow at the Den Hartog home.
Exhibitions and publications
In 1958, Kho Liang Ie and Wim Crouwel came with a new design for the staff lunchroom at Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co. It became the location of exhibitions that earned the appreciation even of competitor printers because they were all related to the profession and promoted quality print. Brattinga Jr. and Den Hartog were inspired by Willem Sandberg, who called the exhibitions “unique occasions for confrontations with new developments in expression”. The exhibitions drew international attention. At opening receptions one could meet with Max Bill, Gerrit Rietveld, Piet Zwart, or J.J.P Oud. Young sculptors, older primitive painters, graphic artists, architects, experimental artists, avant-garde photographers, graphic designers – all showed up, collaborated in exhibitions, or gave talks. Den Hartog always acknowledged that he received his art education during working hours at Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co in Hilversum.
Den Hartog joined many a designer at the press to keep an eye on the production of their designs. Den Hartog remembers: “Jan Bons always wanted more and more ink. Piet Cossee demanded accuracy to the millimeter. Other designers created directly on the zinc plate. Sometimes, other printers would smile derisively at what we, at our ‘hobby club’, were doing, also because we were not too proud to print very small series. A proof series could be almost as large as the final print run. We allowed the designers to make corrections or change colors at the press. The search for the highest quality was imbedded in our company.”
Jurriaan Schrofer, who designed the booklet De verbinding voor de PTT, his first design for the Dutch postal services, asked for the almost impossible. “We managed to accomplish the requested ‘intense black print’ by adding a layer of varnish where intensity was needed. It became a common technique that was to be copied by many other printers.” Schrofer made clear what exceptionally high quality could be brought about through a successful collaboration of author, photographer, designer and printer, by his approach of the production of the brochure for the Rietveld Pavilion at the Kröller-Müller Sculpture Garden in 1965, which also had Jan Elburg and Violette Cornelius involved. It was this publication that inspired Brattinga Jr. to start the Kwadraatblad series.
Dick Bruna once told of a ‘Zwarte Beertjes’ (paperback series) poster that could not be printed to perfection because of humidity. “I couldn’t care less,” he said, “because no one would be able to see this imperfection unless they were looking through a magnifying glass.” But Den Hartog called Bruna and asked him to stop by one more time: they were doing a reprint. Bruna: “What I had already accepted didn’t meet their own quality standards!” Dick Elffers remembered receiving similar phone calls: “Dick, you have to come, we don’t think this is what you want. We have stopped the press, come and see yourself.” Willem Sandberg left total proof control of color plates for a book about artist Anna Ticho to Den Hartog: “You can do better than I,” he said.
The highest quality was demanded for print jobs commissioned by the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Dordrechts Museum, Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden, Centraal Museum in Utrecht, Haags Gemeentemuseum, and all other museum clients Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co worked for. Their high quality standards were also appreciated by PTT, Van Ommeren (shipping), and the Nationale Lucifersfabriek (safety match factory) in Weert, or Ahrend (office furniture). For Ahrend they printed productions for which Busag in Bern, Switzerland, had done the lithography. When during the production of a publication for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen their own lithos cluttered, Den Hartog decided to stop de run and ask Busag to do a better job, which they did.
It was the start of a long collaboration between Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co and Busag, represented by their director Peter Gygax. Eventually, a gentlemen’s agreement guaranteed that, in the Netherlands, Busag would only work for the company in Hilversum. They coordinated color control by using the densitometer in Bern as well as at the press. They had to convince their own staff in Hilversum, who were all convinced they had a much better eye than ‘a machine’. Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co never had their own in-house photo typesetting. Striving for state-of-the-art quality, they built up a collaboration with another Swiss firm, Stauffer in Basel, for all type. The Swiss proved they could deliver almost faultless text in the Dutch language, something even Dutch typesetters could have a problem with.
Pieter Brattinga Jr. left for the United States. In 1960, Willem Sandberg had arranged his professorship at New York’s Pratt Institute. After returning to the Netherlands, he did not take up his old job but started his own design studio Form Mediation and his Print Gallery, both in Amsterdam. Den Hartog took over his position in Hilversum. In 1967, Pieter Brattinga Sr. made him a deputy director with full management responsibility. From America, Pieter Jr. still advised him often and he remained available in the background for consultation about esthetic questions and as an editor of the Kwadraatblad series. It was Den Hartog, however, who did the contacts and who decided the approach. His network was large, consisting of designers, artists and museum curators, and without anyone knowing he was maintaining continuity for Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co. He never stopped pushing their printers to deliver the highest quality possible either. In 1967, Brattinga Sr. appointed Den Hartog as deputy director. When Nico Knecht returned to the company after two years of compulsory military service, he became Den Hartog’s co-director. The two formed a formidable duo for almost twenty years and needed few words to make everything run smoothly.
Den Hartog befriended colleague printers such as Cor Rosbeek, who often stopped by to exchange experiences. Henk van Stockum (Lecturis, Eindhoven) became a close contact because both printers worked for the same clients: Van Abbemuseum, Van der Grinten, and Armstrong – and at one time they even started talks about a joint venture of the two printing houses. Lecturis director Van de Westelaken was already involved in the discussions when it became clear that Pieter Brattinga Sr. did not want to hear any of it.
Health issues forced Dick Dooijes to retire as director of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy of Fine Art and Design in Amsterdam. The academy’s board went searching for the right successor. Den Hartog had seen the vacancy announced in the papers but never thought of applying. “That’s not for me,” he thought. He changed his mind after being visited by graphic designer Charles Jongejans, who was teacher at the academy. Jongejans convinced Den Hartog that he and others could not think of a better fit. Den Hartog, still a little hesitant, asked Willem Sandberg for his advice, whose response was: “They should be lucky you are even considering.” Sandberg’s reaction was enough to remove any doubt. When a delegation of students visited his home for a first acquaintance, they established that he did not read De Telegraaf, the much-hated right-wing newspaper. Thus he gained their support.
1973 was the year he had to say farewell to Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co. There would not be a huge farewell party. But there appeared a large ad in the left-wing newspaper De Volkskrant, which said: “Thank you, Simon den Hartog.” The graphic designers who had worked with Den Hartog organized their own farewell event, at teacher Aart Verhoeven’s home in Friesland. Everyone came to this pancake party. The Brattingas had trouble understanding why Den Hartog would want to leave them. However, Brattinga Sr. had never thought of offering Den Hartog the full directorship. After Senior’s death in 1976, Nico Knecht was appointed to the position.
Signs of the times
It was an enormous career jump, from Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Not that Den Hartog experienced many difficulties: he was forty, still young and he knew he had the support of a large group of the academy’s professors and staff members. “I was rather good at delegating responsibilities and that helped.” Together with René van der Land and Jan Elders – and later with Wouter Fens and Bertje Nieuwenhuijzen – Den Hartog formed the trio that managed the academy, all three contributing their own expertise. Niek de Laaf was heading the evening school. After a new law was introduced regulating the organization and direction of Dutch secondary and tertiary education, the Rietveld Academy too had to opt for one of the controlling systems that were allowed; they chose for the option of appointing a board of directors in order to have representation in the national tertiary education board, HBO. Van der Land and Fens joined Den Hartog in the Academy’s boardroom.
Den Hartog presided over the meetings of department heads, the coordination meetings, as well as the meetings of the academy council in which the teaching staff and students participated. “Coming from a hierarchy I had entered in a very democratic institute, where the signs of the times could not well be ignored.” He rather enjoyed his participation in a developing democratic environment – he got much worse headaches during the meetings he had to attend to discuss education structures on a national level. The Gerrit Rietveld Academy was a forerunner, in many ways, but also with regard to teacher and student participation. The national student union LSVB’s secretariat was housed with the academy and could use its graphic equipment and other facilities to print and distribute their bulletins and posters.
Den Hartog had told himself he should not give preference to the graphic design department. He had to deal with strong personalities such as Jan Rietveld, Ab Sok, Wim Brusse, Iep Valkema, Jan van der Vaart, Dirk van Sliedrecht and Charles Jongejans, professionals who each ran their department as their personal fiefdom. The Rietveld Academy was still continuing the line established by Mart Stam in 1939, when the academy was called the IvKNO (institute for applied art), following the ideals of Bauhaus. After a first, general education year, students had to choose one of the departments for their continuing studies. Gerrit Rietveld’s architecture of the academy’s new building from 1967 reflects these principles by creating an open structure for the different workshops in order to create opportunities for cross-specialism confrontations.
The painting department came later. Hired to run the workshop, the painter Melle finally found official recognition and became a professor. Tom de Heus started a filmmaking class (8 mm) for a TV quiz called ‘Twee voor twaalf’ (two before twelve) and wanted to engage Jos Houweling to teach cinematography. During their first meeting, Houweling showed Den Hartog two books he had made: one included photos of dog poop and the other one entitled Handige jongensboek (handyboy’s book). Den Hartog didn’t know what to think of them but he was intrigued enough to hire Houweling and to support him with the establishment of an audiovisual department (which soon managed to realize some fantastic projects).
Den Hartog’s aim was to create exhibitions and publication at the academy that would show the effective interaction of the different departments, which were completely autonomous. In his studies program, students were obliged to participate in the graduation exhibitions and in publications from which they learned a tremendous amount. Hundreds of publications saw the light during Den Hartog’s directorship, many of which were made in collaboration with Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co. Nico Knecht never said ‘no’ to requests coming from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and in the end, Den Hartog always managed to collect enough grants and sales income to pay the bills.
Rietveld, a mentality
Den Hartog did not like to speak in public. He had to, of course, for instance at graduations. Jurriaan Schrofer, teaching evening class, came up with the idea of using a multimedia projection of graduation projects, to which Den Hartog each time only had to add the name of the graduate in question. This became the beginning of a tradition of special graduation events. One year, the professors prepared a meal for their 350 students. The next year, the graduation ceremony took place in Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium. Den Hartog: “All graduations became surprising events.” Even if the academy’s program was based on the strengthening of individualism, the academy proved to be a strong binding force and everyone joined at organizing manifestations and creating installations. This was what defined ‘the Rietveld mentality’ – if students and teachers wanted something to happen, it sure would and everyone contributed to the best of their ability.
Students and teachers together went on excursions to the Dokumenta in Kassel, or to Paris or Moscow. The academy’s open mind mentality was reflected in the growing number of students coming from other countries. Already in 1999, some 45% of the students were foreign and many of the Dutch students hooked up with exchange programs in other countries. The education group of Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) had Den Hartog as their president, while Maarten Regouin represented the Netherlands. Den Hartog agreed to organize a student seminar, one of the events of the 1987 Icograda/ICSID/IFI congress that would be held in Amsterdam’s RAI conference center. He established The Other Side of Design foundation for the occasion. Thirty design institutes and 400 design students participated. Later, similar seminars were to be organized for fashion designers and photographers.
The Netherlands Ministry for Education and Science had decreed, in 1986, that the Gerrit Rietveld Academy should become a part of the Amsterdam Academy of Arts, an umbrella organization. But the academy under Den Hartog successfully fought against this amalgamation, in the strong belief that a small institute would serve art and its students best. Den Hartog wasn’t averse of collaboration: in 1990, he and Daniël Reist, the director of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Basel, Switzerland, developed a plan to form an international association of independent art and design schools. AIAS was eventually established at Bauhaus, in Dessau, Germany, and connected twenty-two art academies. Den Hartog helped create the custom of adding a joint student/teacher workweek to their yearly conference of which the results were displayed in an exhibition at the close of the event.
The Dutch education minister, Wim Deetman, did not much appreciate the Rietveld Academy’s refusal to walk the national line. He aspired to obstruct their individualist plans by prohibiting recognition of their education standard and refusing to extend a lease contract for one of their buildings. Den Hartog found a way to strategically defend the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. February 22, 1990, was the day the Sandberg Institute was founded; its name was suggested by national politician Felix Rottenberg, who was on the board of the Academy. The Sandberg Institute would organize post-academic workshops; its first one had Theo van Gogh and Erwin Olaf as moderators and Bruno Danese and Jacqueline Vodos were guests of honor. The workshops were soon making history, with its own departments of autonomous art, applied art and graphic design, and scores of exhibitions, masterclasses and publications. Jos Houweling, Marjan Unger and Rob Schröder became department heads. This way, the Gerrit Rietveld academy had a Master’s-level education even before the reluctant minister could present his own plan for post-graduate education.
The Sandberg Institute’s activities soon convinced every one of their raison d’être. Young Designers + Industry; Aanmoedigingsprijs Amstelveen (award for young artists); an exhibition together with VES (association of jewelry designers) in the extension of the Stedelijk Museum; and the Sandberg publications could not be ignored. In 1993, the Master’s program had to be recognized, even though they had not produced the required proposal and budget.
The academy’s 75th anniversary might have been celebrated without Simon den Hartog if he hadn’t been able to postpone his retirement. He worked hard to make the celebration a success: the event ‘Park of the Future’ would be his last memorable task at the Rietveld Academy as well as for AIAS. Coming from eighteen countries, 792 creative professionals participated in Amsterdam, where at the Westergasfabriek (former energy plant) a ‘future park’ was developed in exhibitions, talks, workshops, discussions, film events, excursions and daily published news sheets. This was Simon den Hartog’s farewell party. A booklet celebrated the Gerrit Rietveld Academy’s 75th anniversary, with a foreword ordering Den Hartog’s successor to absorb every line of its contents and take its message to heart.
For Den Hartog it would not be the end of his involvement in art and design. He became a board member of the Jan van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht and, twice, acted as its interim director, meanwhile collaborating well with the academy’s deputy director, Laurens Schumacher. In 1990, he even wrote a plan in which he set out the policies for the Jan van Eyck Akademie’s future and, as always, underscored the importance of a close collaboration of the art and the design departments. In 1994, he laid down his vision in a policy paper for the years 2001-2004, including a pledge for the establishment of a research institute exploring the theory of art and design. Of course he emphasized once again the importance of international collaborations and networks.
Graphic design remained close to his heart, even though art became more and more important in his life. He could not evade being appointed to ‘supervisor for art’ by the Amsterdam Zuidas urban development’s director, Robert Dijckmeester. Den Hartog contributed for ten years as chairman of their art program council. They created a visual art program, the results of which can be seen all over the public space, but also received attention through temporary projects, exhibitions in the KunstKapel (art chapel), and on the giant screen in Amsterdam South railway station. And then there were artist-in-residence programs, the photography project Virtuele Zoom (virtual axis), and publications such as the Virtual Museum, a Zuidas news sheet, and many more…
Author of the original text: Titus Yocarini, December 2010
Translation and editing in English: Ton Haak
Final editing: Sybrand Zijlstra
Portrait photo: Aatjan Renders