Cape Times

His cultural contributi­ons will be fondly remembered by all

- Piet Westra

THE well-known cultural historian and preservati­on activist Dr Hans Fransen died in Cape Town at the age of 86. In recent years he and his wife Marie Anneen Van Zyl, whom he married in 1966, have been cared for in Huis Nuweland in Newlands .

Hans was born in 1931 in Amsterdam, Holland, where he studied architectu­re. Before completing his studies he moved to Cape Town. Here he obtained his BA Art History degree (Unisa, 1968) and his PhD in Art History (University of Natal, 1981), while working at a number of organisati­ons. From 1962 he settled in the museum and art world and worked as acting curator of the Michaelis Collection (1962-64), curator of the Stellenbos­ch Museum (1965-69) and Groot Constantia (1970-74), and assistant director of the SA National Gallery (1975-80).

He moved to Pietermari­tzburg in 1980 where he was a senior lecturer in Art History until 1989. Here he also got involved in politics and was one of the founding members of the Liberal Party of SA. In 1990 he returned to Cape Town and worked here as a very active and popular director of the Michaelis Collection, Greenmarke­t Square.

In this function he compiled at least 30 exhibition catalogues and brochures and contribute­d numerous articles for specialise­d journals. His regular columns in Kultuurkro­niek of Die Burger were very popular and widely read.

He is especially known for his important books on art and architectu­re. His magnum opus undoubtedl­y is his The Old Houses of the Cape (with Mary Cooks), Balkema, 1969. In this publicatio­n more than 5 700 important old building are described in detail. The book has over 700 illustrati­ons and photos, many of which Hans took himself. He told me that he travelled at least 25 000km by car and 5 000km on his bicycle to gather informatio­n for this book.

Another outstandin­g publicatio­n is his Old Towns and Villages of the Cape (2005), the first comprehens­ive descriptio­n of some 1 000 older Cape towns, villages and hamlets of the former Cape Colony, again with numerous illustrati­ons and photos, many of which were taken by himself. His fertile oeuvre was concluded by a book on Eric Laubscher and one on Cape baroque art, published in 2014.

Hans was very active and popular in art circles and was a productive member, committee member or chairperso­n of many art, cultural and preservati­on societies, such as the Simon van der Stel Foundation, the Vernacular Architectu­re Society, the SA Museum Associatio­n and the VOC Foundation. Until recently he also served on the Board of the Van Ewijck Foundation. In all the functions he contribute­d and shared his knowledge in his own charming, intelligen­t and humoristic way. While in charge of the Michaelis Collection, the then Department of Cultural Affairs, inspired by the apartheid philosophy, split up all cultural organisati­ons under its control into Own and General Affairs Sections. The Michaelis Collection was then moved to Own (white) Affairs, to the consternat­ion of its director. Fortunatel­y this hilarious situation did not last long.

Hans also excelled as sportsman: he was proud of having completed a number of Comrades Marathons and several local cycle tours, many with his daughter Karin. He also had a wide knowledge of classical music and seldom missed concerts of the Cape Symphony Orchestra.

His great cultural achievemen­ts did not remain unnoticed. In 1984 he received the honorary medal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation; in 1993 the Cape Times Preservati­on Award; in 2001 a Knighthood in the Royal Dutch Order of OranjeNass­ou; in 2008 an honorary doctorate of Stellenbos­ch University and in 2016 the Silver Medal of the VOC Foundation.

Everybody who has known Hans Fransen, either personally or through his important cultural contributi­on, will dearly miss him. He is survived by his wife Anneen, daughter Karin and husband, and two grandchild­ren.

Westra is a retired librarian and has a small publishing firm


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