His cul­tural con­tri­bu­tions will be fondly re­mem­bered by all

Cape Times - - INSIGHT - 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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