Hidden in stone*

*The sculpture of Piet van Stuivenberg.

30 September 2022 - 15 January 2023

Schiedam artist Piet van Stuivenberg (1901-1988) was a true craftsman and a hard worker, but also a free spirit and an innovator. From 1 October 2022 to 15 January 2023, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam will be devoting an exhibition to his sculpture.

Craft and abstraction
Van Stuivenberg starts sculpting at an early age. At 20 years old, he trains as a stonemason and potter, starting a course in art at the Rotterdam Academy. Initially, he makes recognisable forms, most notably human figures, but soon becomes freer and more abstract. 

Het mysterie der spelende vlinders uit (The mystery of butterflies at play, 1951) is a fine example of his completely abstract work. In 1968, Hans Paalman, then director of the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, said that looking at Van Stuivenberg’s work was like ‘going on a journey within the lines of the sculpture’.

Piet van Stuivenberg, Het mysterie der spelende vlinders (The mystery of butterflies at play), 1951 / Piet van Stuivenberg, De Eene, 1954 

Mother with child
Most of Van Stuivenberg’s sculptures are not entirely abstract, however. In wood and stone, he frequently carves the theme of mother and child, as in the large sculpture from 1937 shown here. In 1975, the City of Rotterdam donates a similar marble statue to Schiedam in honour of its 700th anniversary. It was placed on Grote Markt in Schiedam, but was too vulnerable and was consequently damaged. After all this time, it can be admired once again in this exhibition.

Searching and sculpting
Van Stuivenberg works in a special way, seeing images hiding in unworked material – his task is then to make them visible. Without a sketch or preliminary study, he carves directly into stone or wood, ‘liberating’ the form from the material, allowing the image to gradually come into being through searching and sculpting. A work that most clearly displays this process is De Eene from 1954.

Piet van Stuivenberg, Moeder met kind (Mother with child), marble, 1975, Collection Stedelijk Museum Schiedam

Van Stuivenberg lives and works in Schiedam all his life. His art can be found in many places in the city, both on the streets and in Schiedam homes. Catrien Schreuder, Head of Exhibitions and Collection, says, ‘In the spring of 2020, a group of Schiedammers knocked on the museum’s door. They thought it was time to re-evaluate the work of Piet van Stuivenberg as he belongs to Schiedam, while also being a nationally important innovator in sculpture. We could only ever agree with this clear message’. The museum has prepared this exhibition together with these initiators. The works on display are largely from the artist’s personal estate, as well as the museum’s collection which reflects a broad view of his oeuvre, providing a good picture of the life and work of this unique artist.

A man of few words
Van Stuivenberg receives his first public commission in 1949, the first abstract sculpture in Rotterdam, and in 1968 has his first museum solo exhibition at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Van Stuivenberg always prefers to spend his time in his workshop, but also joins progressive artist groups such as Vrij Beelden and R 33. Together with his artist colleagues, he devotes himself to the appreciation of modern art, although he is not one for praising his own work. A man of few words, he famously states, ‘One person says a hundred words and can be wrong, the other person keeps silent and can still also be wrong. I prefer to remain silent’. At Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Piet van Stuivenberg’s sculptures speak for themselves.

Piet van Stuivenberg in his workshop. Photo: Robert Collette. Collection Schiedam Municipality Archive