Ella Schaap, ceramic curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, dies at the age of 108



Ella Schaap, 108, curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and internationally renowned expert on Dutch ceramics, died on Saturday, July 10th, at her home in Newtown.

Ms. Schaap came to the USA with her young family after they fled first from the Nazis and then from the Japanese. She began volunteering at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, later became responsible for the museum’s extensive collection of Dutch ceramics, and was widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts.

Mrs. Schaap was born in 1913 and was one of two daughters of Martin and Frederika Sanders. Although she never graduated from college, she traveled to New York City after high school to attend Barnard College as an exchange student. There she had her first date with Dolf Schaap, a Dutch tobacco dealer about 20 years her senior, who shared her thirst for adventure. They married in 1934 and had three daughters.

When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, the family fled to Indonesia, a Dutch colony. With the advance of the Japanese in the Pacific, they fled again, first to San Francisco and then to the Philadelphia area.

Ms. Schaap began volunteering at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the 1950s, where she served in a variety of roles. But when Francis P. Garvan’s family began donating their huge collection of Delft tiles in the late 1970s, Ms. Schaap, who mastered the Dutch language and history, was tapped to help with cataloging. She immersed herself in research. It wasn’t long before an international expert was born.

“Ella’s involvement as a volunteer and curator for the museum has been one of the longest in our history,” noted Timothy Rub, director of George D. Widener and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “It was also a match made in Heaven. With a typically Dutch combination of courtesy and persistence, Ella has been a staunch advocate of the ongoing presentation and development of our holdings of Dutch ceramics, and she has done both. With her death we have lost a great scholar and a dear friend. “

In 2007 Ms. Schaap was knighted by the Queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands for her work on Dutch culture. Until then, this included publishing three books and many articles, as well as organizing several museum installations and exhibitions.

In addition, the Schaaps were collectors of contemporary American and European art, of which Ms. Schaap later donated several museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University.

“She grew up in a time when women were not in the foreground,” says one of her daughters, Ida Schmertz. “It started like this. But it didn’t take long. “

The Schaaps were also avid sailors and kept a sailboat in Chesapeake Bay. When Dolf Schaap died in 1985, Ms. Schaap continued sailing and until her mid-80s sailed alone as a skipper.

She also remained committed to the world.

After the terrorist attacks of 2001, Ms. Schaap refused to accept the nationalism that was so popular at the time while fleeing from the Nazis.

“My mother was one of those who raised the UN flag instead of the American flag,” said her daughter Aletta Schaap. “We grew up in a family atmosphere where the whole world was always there. It wasn’t just about America or just Holland. “

And her passion for art has never let up. In addition to her curatorial work, Ms. Schaap was active in important art committees.

Robert Aronson, who lives in Amsterdam and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on Dutch ceramics, has admired Ms. Schaap since her youth.

“Ella wasn’t just a friend, she was a scholar, an authority, a great specialist in Dutch ceramics, a stable factor and an integral part of our small but global community,” he said. “At her graceful age, she has lived through several eras, but with her death it will surely be the end of one.”

In addition to her daughters, Mrs. Schaap leaves behind another daughter, Martina Yamin; six grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and other relatives.

A formal service is not planned.

Souvenir donations can be made to the Art Museum of Philadelphia Dutch Ceramic Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Development, PO Box 7646, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101-7646 or online at https://philamuseum.org/?keyword=InMemoryOf. Indicate that you want your gift to go to the ceramic collection.


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