Sunday, March 29, 2020

Rebuilding the Sjees

During my recent visit to her home in Middlebeers, the Netherlands, I could not help but notice the disassembled Friesian Sjees on Charlotte Pijnenburg's work desk . I asked her about it, and she said it was a personal piece that she had been working on for a long time. 
Well, I'm happy to report that the Sjees is done. Charlotte told the story of its restoration on the CharArt Facebook page and has generously allowed me to share it here as well. Thank you, Charlotte, and congratulations on finishing your big project. You did a spectacular job!

Rebuilding a Friese Sjees

by Charlotte Pijnenburg 

In these strange times, I’d like to brighten your day with nice pictures and stories about a recent adventure of mine.

I’ve always been much interested in carriages, driving harnesses and horse carts. I’ve been driving with horses a lot in the past, and I was enjoying it much! And I remember always visiting the Friesian Horse Days here in my village, where these mighty black beasts were trotting around, shaking the ground. Sometimes running loose, sometimes with a foal, sometimes on long lines, and sometimes when these beautiful carts behind them; the Friesian sjees.

It has long been a dream of mine to have a nice, traditional Friese Sjees in my collection. But carriages were always too expensive for me. Until, one year ago, I came across one! A sad, broken Sjees, the white parts yellowed, the velvet stained, the seat hanging skew in its fake-leather bonds.
Not a pretty sight, but the basics were well made, and underneath these rough edges it showed much promise.  
So I bought it, and this is where the story begins!
Where to start? Well, that decision was easy. First I wanted a solid cart to work on, before I could get to the fun parts. And the scariest thing? Replacing those broken shafts!
Since I’m not much of a carpenter. I contacted several people who could perhaps help me with this, s. It took a while, but but finally the father of the girlfriend of a friend of my partner had offered me a helping hand. He taught me how to work with his wood tools, and helped me to make a new set of shafts! I also slightly changed the shape (compared to before), so a traditional sized model would fit easier in front of the sjees.
It took us only a morning to make the new shafts. And since I was already on a roll with sanding those shafts, next step was to sand down the rest of the cart! Off with those ugly layers of yellowed paint!
Okay, the shafts have been replaced, and everything has been sanded nicely. Now I can start the fun part; making it pretty! So painting is next up.
The chassis had been white before, but it was now more yellow than white. Hmmm, I don't want that happening to my paintjob. Remco advised me to go for a professional paint-brand to get the best result. While the downside is that these brands usually don't sell very small volumes, I agreed with him that this would be the best way to go. So I bought a semi-gloss white paint and a glossy black paint,a good brush, and degreaser. Now I can start!
The black part had to wait for a bit, for it needs some more preparation. But the chassis is ready to go! So I painted this (over and over and over again) untill it was all white. Also the black details were taken care off.
And in the meantime, I was secretly still looking for a better horse to go with the Sjees, since Totilas feels a tad too big. And than someone showed me Jorinde, one of Eberl's Friesian resins! She turns out to be a perfect fit; right size, nice position, and she is not the "perfect horse", which makes her all the more realistic in my eyes. So far, we have a white horse and a whole, white chassis. Now I can start concentrating on details, and the preparation of more details.
While the paint on the chassis was drying (especially the black paint, that took ages!) I continued work on the cartseat. It was already sanded (I didn't take off the paint completely, just smoothed it out), so now I could prepare the decorations. The Friesian Sjees usually has a lot of woodcarved details, highlighted with gold paint on the shining black background. This beautiful look is something I really wanted to recreated, but I wasn't planning on doing any woodcarving.
Luckily, epoxy is not only suitable for model horses, but can also be applied on wood! So I roughed up the parts where I wanted the "woodcarving" to be, and started building relief on the wood.
I used many examples of real Sjees-carts, to stay as true-to-realism as possible. The "carving" on my sjees is not as elaborate as on some real ones, that was just beyond my skills, but this more simple version will also turn out super nice, I think.
The chassis won't get any "carving", I see that oftentimes this part is only decorated with gold paint, the relief is not needed per se.
I did not do all epoxy-decorating in one go, but in several sessions (because else I’d probably smash whatever I had just created within a short time). And every time when the epoxy was drying, I had time to decorate the chassis with golden drawings!
I based them on a combination of drawings from several real sjees carts. The chassis is decorated on many many places, I’m just highlighting the nicest parts in these pics.
After decorating the chassis, the Sjees sat abandoned on my desk for a few months. Mostly because I was scared of the black, glossy paint. How on earth would I get it on the cart smooth enough so it would have that mirror-like look that all those real Sjees-carts have?
In the end, I just went for it, and started painting. After the first painting session I hung it somewhere to dry, which went fine until it dropped to the floor, argh!!

Some of the epoxy decorations were destroyed, so I had to redo those. And also the black was not even near mirror-like enough for my taste, mostly because the wood was not smooth enough. So after this unfortunate day, I started re-sanding the cartseat, painting it again, sanding, painting, sanding, on and on until the black was good and smooth.

After this I was very enthusiastic, and forgot to take progress-pics. I went on with painting the gold decorations (which was a pain!!)...
and making the interior of the cart (the velvet seat,leather insides, black nailheads, everything). 
Then I made the scarf which is hanging from the back, and finally I tooled the leather lace which would hold up the cart seat. 
Wow! Those last steps went so fast!!
And here we are, the whole Sjees finished up. And also a finished, customized and painted Jorinde, ready to pull the Sjees anywhere!
Only one thing is missing still.... Yay, finally, time for tack! The harness will be the next step of this project. But this could be a while, cause I have so many fun commissions to do first.
Thanks for following my story, I hope you've all enjoyed reading it!


  1. Fantastic to see this!! Terrific idea with the sculpted carved wood, and the gold details are just right. Congrats and thanks for sharing!

  2. Stunning work! Such patience, and such a steady hand to paint the tiny gold ornamentation. Bravo!

  3. I love everything about this post! What a beautiful cart!