Hindeloopen - a Step back in time to Hanseatic villages

Hindeloopen Travel Blog

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Unless you are lucky enough to sail directly into its harbour, it will take you several hours and more than a few changes of trains from Schiphol airport to reach the small Dutch village of Hindeloopen in the Northern Netherland province of  Friesland.  As you alight, as I did, at the small and deserted railway station, be prepared to feel a stab of disappointment as Hinderloopen itself is not immediately visible to the weary traveller, and it seems the only residents assigned to the local “meet and greet” service, are some rather indulgent-looking cows!  After a kilometres walk, or pre-arrange a pickup (as I did) with the local hotel taxi, the village proper is reached, the traveller begins a journey back to the 16th Century, where Hanseatic traders plied cobblestone streets and canals, and sea Captains built unique homes with gabled facades and interiors which they decorated with the elaborate form of folk art, known as Hindelooper folk art.


 Hinderloopen provided a safe harbour from the tyranny of the rough inland sea (the ZuiderZee), and as such it had always been an important trading centre with other nations in the Hanseatic league, and even the Far East since the 13th century; so it is no surprise the villager’s culture and art absorbed foreign influences. Even the language spoken in Hindeloopen, has more in common with Scandinavian dialects than it has with the Dutch language.


Despite numerous economic setbacks to the maritime industry and many devastating floods, Hinderloopen continued to flourish until 1932. It was then that the Afsluitdijk was constructed, and the rough seas of the ZuyderZee were tamed at last. Unfortunately, this caused the rapid demise of maritime trade and forced the citizens to search for alternate sources of income. The unemployed sailors soon discovered that there was a market for traditional wooden objects painted in Hindeloopen style.


Today, the summer visitor to Hinderloopen will see grassy dykes along the ZuiderZee, dotted with grazing sheep, a harbour bustling with tourists and luxury yachts, colourful rowboats in Hindeloopen’s sleepy canals, gardens bursting with lush hydrangea blooms, but more significantly to the folk artist, an amazing collection of painted wares and studios.




Traditionally, the men of the village paint; the woman and wives merely operate the studio's shop, so my questions on the technical aspects of painting would remain unanswered, but, on reflection, I thought this might inadvertently help protect this unique cottage industry from contemporary influences.


At the town’s hotel, I found examples of Hindelooper folk art including a Spinning wheel, a six-sided High Chair and a Bridal suite complete with “box- bed” in the wall.  Whilst dining at the nearby pancake cafe, I noticed every chair and table was painted in Hindelooper florals by Gauke Bootsma, who operates the neighbouring shop that is brimming with a stunning array of folk art.


Gauke Bootsma

The sheer quantity of works in Bootsma’s shop is absolutely overwhelming. Although his work is in a contemporary light, airy style called, ‘Basic Hinderlooper’, his larger items, of furniture and serving trays are decorated with a detailed panel, depicting village scenes, sailing boats, Hindeloopen Sluitshouse (Lock House) or Dutch windmills.  The shop’s display is themed around the traditional background colours of Hinderlooper ie: one room is full of pieces painted on stained timber backgrounds; another has monochromatic white designs, on dark blue, another, designs on green backgrounds, whilst still another has Hindelooper motifs painted on white and mid-blue backgrounds. Whilst browsing the many cabinets, wine racks, gate-leg tables, milk cans and smaller items in this shop, I spotted the artist, (who was once destined for a career in seafaring like his Harbourmaster father), hard at work upstairs in his studio, producing yet another beautiful Hinderlooper item.


Harmen Zweed

Directly opposite the town’s Hotel, is the studio of Harmen Zweed who paints in the Classic style.  There is a ‘must see’ door lavishly decorated with biblical motifs, fruit, detailed flowers and scrolls, painted with a translucency and illusion of depth not seen in the Basic style.  The six-sided traditional high chair gives the visitor a hint of what the Zweed’s kitchen must be like, which is painted completely in Hindelooper .


According to Jenny, (the painter’s wife), who operates the shop, there are ten colours traditionally used in Hindelooper painting, with the predominant floral motifs being the Dogrose, Star flower and Carnation, but tulips may sometimes be used.


You will find several other painting studios in Hindeloopen. Het Roosje’s studio, established in 1894, almost a museum in itself, contains expertly painted stair-stools for alcove wall-beds and furniture, but also specialises in woodcarving.  


Harmen Glashower’s stunning painting is impressively detailed, but his shop is open only upon request, although I did find him working in the nearby Dutch Fabric shop. The shop stocks the traditional chintz fabrics used in the Hindeloopen folk costumes, and has a photographic catalogue of Glashower’s painted work available for browsing.

 Hidde Nijland MUSEUM


This Museum, located in the Town Hall (circa 1683), is the place to view Hindeloopen’s painting heritage. Not only is there an enthralling collection of colourful tines, bowls, and cupboards, but also furniture and staircases for wall-beds, dating back to the 17th and 18th Century.  The display of traditional and brightly coloured folk costumes and Dutch tiles are inspirational in colour and design.


If you travel to this part of Holland by train, you must change trains at the nearby town of Leeuwarden, and the museum there is also worth a stop.


During my journey to Hindeloopen, a Dutch-born Frisian artist who had immigrated to Australia after W.W.II, told me how each Friesland village developed their own peculiar art form. (Workum for example, specialised in Earthenware, Hindeloopen �" costumes and painting, Makkum �" pottery, and Leeuwarden �" tiles)  Furthermore, he entertained me with old seafaring legends about these flourishing seaside villages.  


One interesting Folktale began with a Sea Captain from Stavoren, (a village close to Hinderloopen), who wanted to impress a pretty girl from his village. Whenever the sailor returned home from his journeys to the Far East, he would bring the lady exotic gifts from his travels. In return she promised the Captain, her hand in marriage, if he was able to bring her something new and unique, when he returned from his next voyage. Searching far and wide, the Sea Captain found a grain, the colour of pure gold. Confident that this would impress the lady, he filled his ship to the brim with the golden grain, and returned triumphantly home, to claim her hand in marriage. Sadly, the pretty lady rejected his gift and refused to marry him.  The sailor was so saddened, he emptied all of the ‘golden grain’ into the town’s harbour, causing the harbour of Stavoren to silt up. Trading ships were no longer able to moor in its waters and the town’s prospects declined sharply. The legend has it that the pretty girl, died penniless, and of course, without her sailor. This story symbolizes the unpredictable and fluctuating economies of the maritime villages of the former Zuiderzee and the citizen’s attempts to explain misfortune.


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Hindeloopen Sights & Attractions review
A look back at Dutch seafaring and traditonal art history from Hanseatic times
Wonderful examples of the town's history as a fishing village and their story of surviving during lean times by painting gaily painted flowers and sce… read entire review
233 km (145 miles) traveled
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photo by: metsbwd