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Who is......?

 

Who actually is Johann van Rossum? (from “Trail”) 

Almost anyone known with sleddog sport is familiar with his drawings. Who is the man behind these drawings? We will try to find out. Paolo Cesare had a short interview with this Dutch teacher of biology..

Is your profession really teacher of biology? I had expected something else:  designer, illustrator,  painter or sculptor.

I ‘m sorry, biology and drawing were my great passions at high school and as I decided to become a teacher the colleges of arts were overbooked, so I chose biology. It was quite an advantage there to be able to draw rather well.

You draw easily, did you have any education for it?

No. I learned by self education. It ‘s a pity that I have to fetch a lot of basic techniques of painting and drawing “from the library”. It hasn’t become a second nature, as you see with professional designers and painters. I am an amateur in drawing. The only thing I have settled professionally is the protection of my copyrights of my drawings, paintings, sculptures and books. For the rest I like to remain an amateur.

But a very good one!

Do you think so?  In any case I paint and draw for fun and I like it when a customer is pleased with the result. And it always hurts a little to hand over one of my drawings. I made some paintings and sculptures I will never sell, just because I can’t part from them.

How old are you?

Do you really want to know? I ‘m from 1948. A child of the sixties. Sex, drugs and rock and roll; I had it all. I now tell my students at school how dangerous drugs and nowadays sex can be! I teach biology and technology at a secondary school and my students are at the age of being anxious to learn about these things.

A lot of mushers are acquainted with your drawings of sleddogs. How started it all?

In the early seventies I started with my first Siberian huskies. I had two dogs of my own and I  borrowed three. I was completely in love with those beautiful dogs and I started to draw them. At first small illustrations for the club magazine of Mushing Holland. Later on I made posters and charters for almost every sleddog race in Germany. By making these designs and sculptures with Eskimo motives I could afford this rather expensive sport of racing sleddogs.

Were you very successful in racing sleddogs?

Actually no, not with my Siberians. However when in 1984 I started my four dog team of Alaskan Malamutes and I could avoid all the things that went wrong with my first team, I had a pretty fast team. I won the Dutch championship once and one time my team and I became second at the European championship. Last year the last dog of that team died.



Winterberg 1980


Liebenscheid 1983


La Pesse 1991

Are you thinking of a new dog?

No, after twenty-five years I decided not to have a dog for a while. But it ‘s still itching and I don ‘t thrust myself near puppies and sleddog races.

But you surely are still active in sports?

You can say that again. Not only do I like drawing, but I also have a passion for sport climbing,  archery and sea kayaking. I do my climbing in a climbing hall, the Ardennes in Belgium and the Eifel in Germany. I am an archer. I have a compound bow and practice archery at a distance of eightteen and twenty-five meters. I will probably never be the best in this kind of sport, but I like it when I make a fine shot. Shooting with a bare bow on 3D targets looks very interesting to me. Never tried it. Kayaking at sea is something quite different. I ‘m a real sea kayak fanatic. I paddle twice a week in spite of the weather. Big trips I only make in the summer holidays.

As a teacher you have six weeks holiday in the summer. Where do you paddle then?

Seven weeks! When I had my sleddogs I always wished I had so many weeks in the winter! Now I make sea kayak expeditions. I take everything with me in my sea kayak: tent, sleeping bag, cooker, drinking water, dry clothes etc. Two years ago I made a trip along the Dutch Wadden shallows, last year my oldest son Maarten and I made a trip along the westcoast of Corsica.  Next year we want to visit the Scottish islands by kayak. During these trips I kept a logbook and these stories can be read on my website. Unfortunately for the readers of Trail only in Dutch.

Your website. How did you get the idea? By the way it looks good!

Thank you. I built it with my eldest son, Maarten. At first I had no intention of doing something on the internet, when however the webmaster of DCNH asked me for some drawings for their homepage and he offered to make a link to my site in return, I had to tell him I had no website of my own. But the idea had got into my head and when I had the possibility to claim my own domain ‘www.johannvanrossum.nl’ it didn’t take long before I could present my own site. I have enough drawings in store to renew my homepage every month.

Johann, I want to thank you for this interview, we have come to know the artist behind the fine drawings of sleddogs a little bit more.

My pleasure!


Update November 2019

Johann, eighteen years ago I had this interview with you. Things have changed, haven't they? Let's update. You do not work anymore?

In January 2014 I didn't take my bike anymore in the morning to go to work at school. All at once I didn't have to do anything anymore! I would be missing school, I was told by some people who knew me as a pretty motivated teacher. I learned that you should not always believe what others tell you.

You didn't fall into space?

I had no problem with that. I became very occupied with the archers' guild.  I was a chief who could delegate pretty well, but I also liked to be in control of business I was responsible for. I took that task quite seriously; perhaps a too seriously, I thought afterwards. I have been sea kayaking along the Scottish west coast, I participated in the European Archery Championships in France in June 2014, I competed almost every weekend in an archery competition and spent the rest of the time to my archers' guild.


And still, you left for a solo pilgrimage on a bike to Santiago de Compostela? It must have been hard for you to leave the club to others.

That's right, but I had had this dream to do the Camino, actually it had become a part of me from the time I was at high school. Since I didn't have to work anymore, I simply had to do this or never talk about it anymore. On April 12th I took my bike and left for Spain, five weeks later I was back again. Enriched with a grandiose experience and I had become another person, the Camino changed me. The controller within me I left somewhere in the Pyrenees, the joy in steering people I must have lost it on the Meseta. I  decided to quit rigorously after eight years of chairmanship and take up complete other things.  I began to think more in self-interest than in that of others, developing myself and my skills.

Then you started your writing?

Yes, at first the writing of the biking dairy on the pilgrimage to the North of Spain was meant for my family and friends. The book, I published initially in own management, ended up at a publisher's and they estimated it could pay. The book "Onzevaders en Weesgegroeten" sold good and then automatically the request for a second book follows from the publisher-firm. One more time on my bike and on my way for another five weeks, at home they would not be pleased with it.  I looked for a new subject for a book and came across a removal box with forty-three teacher's agendas and the same amount of class pictures of the forms I had been mentoring. Behind every name and portrait, there was a story. I took it up. "Jongelui, gaat u zitten!" has become a book on teaching at a secondary school. The ups and downs, it's all in it; I didn't have to make things up. Now I had the taste for writing! "I suppose you could write a thriller as well", one of my best friends told me; he likes to push someone in a nice direction. I am a sea kayaker and I have been sea kayaking along the most beautiful and roughest shores of Corsica, Scotland and Sweden. A sea kayak trip along the Danish west coast was still on my bucket list. I never actually paddled it myself, but the central figure in "Vesterhavet" did. It's a thrilling story situated along Jutland's west coast. It was also, a story for which I had to look for a nice and protective dog for the home base of the principal character. In a dog encyclopaedia, I came across the Ridgeback. The Rhodesian Ridgeback turned out to be a suitable dog for a small part in the story. I went deeply into the breed and wrote the dog into the story. 

You have a Ridgeback yourself, haven't you?

After Lia had read the first chapters of the manuscript of the book, she pointed out: "If we ever decide to  take a dog again, it is going to be a Rhodesian Ridgeback!", that started the whole thing. Within three weeks we had found a top-breeder of the Ridgeback, there was a ten puppies' litter and at the end of February 2017, Goof moved into our home. That dog became a new source of inspiration for me.

How come?

I biked the Camino. The pilgrimage is like a magnet. You have to do it once more time. When we got Goof I already had this idea: I am going to walk the Camino together with my dog, or at least a stretch which my dog can deal with. I chose for the Camino Primitivo, from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela, 320 kilometres through the mountains of Asturia and Galicia. I planned it as a twenty days' trip. At the same time, I could do some research for my new thriller situated on that part of the pilgrim's way.

It didn't go so well, I heard.

No, the first eleven days, that 250 kilometres, were great. We enjoyed ourselves, my dog and I. Tough parts, picturesque views, meeting with interesting people, had some engaging conversations. I was very happy. Just as I had fancied it. And then early in the morning of May, 6th, six kilometres past Lugo, there were those two fighting dogs, that made an abrupt end to the euphoria. My dog has recovered well from it. At night in my dreams, I sometimes have two large Dogos Argentinos running up to me. Time will heal this, I reckon.

Could you deal with nasty experience by writing your new book?

I wish that was true! Writing it off is the barest nonsense! It doesn't work that way. In any case not for me. I carefully evaded this subject in the story. I could not avoid it all the way through. You can read it in "Camino Primitivo con perro". If you like dogs, if you are curious about what moves someone to walk with his dog to Santiago and if you like a thrilling story, you have it in reach with my book.

Do you have plans for a new book?

I still have the children's book "Smacks" on the shelf. My grand-daughter of twelve edited it for me and filtered out my grown-up' language. I still struggle with the illustrations. I cannot cope with that.

Illustrations are a big problem for you? I have seen the illustrations you made for the book of Els O. van Lierop. You did a beautiful job there. You can draw very good.

Children's drawings or anyway drawings for children, that's is quite something else! It is as difficult as writing for children, you got to believe me. This is not going to be a very easy job for me, but I like a challenge.  The children's book "Smacks" will be published sometime.

Johann, thank you very much. It was nice talking to you again.

Don't wait so long for the next time.

 

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