Heart of the beest

Theo on beach with SB_Eric Roth

Theo Jansen adjusting a Strandbeest on the Dutch coast. Photo by Eric Roth

Editor’s Note: Today PEM announced some very exciting Strandbeest news. Learn more at the bottom of this post.

My new husband and I are just back from a delightful honeymoon in the Netherlands. One of the high points of our trip was engineered by Trevor Smith, PEM’s curator of the Present Tense, who arranged for us to meet Dutch kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen, whose strange and amazing Strandbeests — beautiful animated sculptural creations — will be here at PEM next fall.

Theo sent us directions to the place we could meet him. We were told to find a snack bar called “Mellisa” near the beach in The Hague where we should park our rented Fiat. Luckily, the man at the Melissa snack bar translated the tow-zone sign for us and we parked safely.

We were then to walk down a long sandy path lined with beach roses and dune grass. We eventually  emerged onto a vast windswept beach. At low tide, there were acres of flat open sand. Looking to the left, off in the distance, we spotted the unmistakable skeletal silhouette of a Strandbeest.  As we approached it, we could see Theo making adjustments to his beautiful, delicate creation.

Lucille and Theo

Lucille Wymer and Theo Janson, photo by Eric Roth

Theo greeted us warmly and invited us into a nearby beach bar for a glass of traditional Dutch mint tea. The August wind was strong and unusually chilly, so the tea was most welcome. As we chatted, Theo told us that the wind that day was too strong for his large Strandbeest, but he brought a smaller beest that could handle high winds. We soon walked out with Theo and as he pulled the smaller beest onto the beach, his profile was reminiscent of the Old Man and the Sea. He tugged the beest closer and closer toward the water and finally let it go.

Like some primordial or extraterrestrial creature with its own sense of purpose, the Strandbeest walked and walked with the wind. Its many legs seemed to have sure footing, propelling it hundreds of feet back toward the beach bar where it might find safe haven. What a magnificent sight! We’re in for an exciting treat when the Strandbeests descend on Salem.

Theo on beach_Eric Roth

Theo Jansen, photo by Eric Roth

Theo Jansen will be at Art Basel Miami this December, previewing the U.S. tour of his Strandbeests in a presentation by Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet and PEM. From December 4-7, a clutch of Strandbeests – each with unique characteristics and histories – will inhabit a prominent stretch of Miami Beach. Daily, at 10:30 AM and 5:00 PM, visitors will be able to meet Jansen as he leads his larger-than-life, wind-powered creatures in demonstrations along the beach. An accompanying installation features Jansen’s newest Strandbeests — including the 42-foot-long Animaris Suspendisse — and photography by Lena Herzog, who has spent six years capturing the relationship between Jansen and his extraordinary kinetic creatures. A representation of Jansen’s workshop will provide additional insight into his inspiration and creative process.

To learn more, see PEM’s new Strandbeest landing page. 

Also, read blog posts from PEM staffers as they go to Art Basel, visit Theo’s workshop and build a tiny Strandbeest.  Learn about Theo and Lena’s most visit to PEM HERE.


Lena Herzog and Theo Jensen during their Summer 2013 visit to PEM. Photo by Walter Silver/PEM


  1. A delightful tale! A most unique and fantastic honeymoon for you both. I know I’m not the only one who can’t wait until the Salem Days of the Strandbeests!

  2. gail spilsbury says:

    What an evocative description with sensory details–I envied your treat on the beach!

  3. Tricia Kensing says:

    I was sad and disappointed Aug.23 when i fought 10,000 people to see your sculpture at Crane Beach. What blatant false advertising and that beach is too fragile a venue for a bunch of plastic tubes and trash bags. Never again.

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