Their home is their museum. FAMILY PACKED UP, MOVED TO SPAIN. American parents took kids abroad, taught them, built careers
IT'S not your everyday American couple who would: Give up life in the fast lane of well-paying jobs, a perfect apartment on lower Fifth Avenue, and the comforts and culture of New York living to pursue a dream way off the beaten path. Bundle up their young children, a dog and two cats, and sail off to a new country without knowing the language - and with only $600 to tide them over.
Teach their children at home by correspondence courses - plus hands-on archaeological digs, a 1,000-mile exploration of Spain on horseback, and an apprentice program with artists in residence.
Spend 20 years falling in love with Spain, collecting, building, and preserving - and finally open a museum to share their dream.
IT all began in 1962, when a then 37-year-old Eugene (Gino) Hollander left a successful filmmaking career to become a painter. He felt he had to get away from the distracting mainstream to an inexpensive and sunny place.
Both he and his wife, Barbara, had talked of educating their three children, and two of Gino's from a previous marriage, themselves. Europe beckoned, especially the sunny coast of Spain, where $100 a month let a family live comfortably.
Barbara, the more practical, wasn't sure that running away to the clich'e-fantasy paradise in the sun was the answer. ``It was absolutely his idea,'' she says. ``He talked about trying it for six months while we lived on the sales of his paintings. But he only had one-way tickets, which I didn't know at the time.''
The 38-year-old pioneer expatriates packed up the one-, three-, and five-year-olds (with the nine- and 11-year-olds to join them later) and set sail for Spain. When the boat docked in Gibraltar, it was raining nonstop, there was only goat's milk for the baby, and Barbara hated it immediately.
Then the sun came out, and they found a 20-room farmhouse above Torremolinos that included three maids, a gardener, and stables for $90 a month, and Gino's paintings began to sell.
There was a small band of English-speaking artists who knew one another only by their first names, and the local people were very friendly.
After six years in Torremolinos, the jet planes, high-rise condos, and James Michener's book ``The Drifters'' brought masses of tourists to the Costa del Sol.
The Hollanders scouted the Andalusian hills for a place to build their dream home away from the crowds. They found a barren 30 acres near Pizarra with an unobstructed view and only whitewashed farmhouses dotting the landscape.
They designed and built a 22-room farmhouse, a cortijo, from authentic bits and pieces of cast-off castles and mansions. Truckloads of ancient Moorish bricks, 42 giant doors (dating from 1492) from a castle being demolished in Cordoba - plus finds from junkyards and markets - chugged to the building site every few days for months.
Antiques dealers had not yet discovered Spain. So the Hollanders furnished their home authentically and inexpensively. They improvised as they went, according to what had been found or salvaged. So impeccable were their tastes and choices that the home interior was authentic 16th century on completion.
Fireplaces warm the rooms during cool months. The living room has a castle door for a coffee table, and the dining room, its ceiling from a 12th-century chapel, could be expecting monks for the evening meal.
Ropes of onions and garlic give a homey touch to the kitchen, as does the long hallway of family photographs.
The Hollanders made it a family home, a place to come home to for children and grandchildren - something they saw less and less of in the America of retirement communities and nursing homes. They recently opened their house and a museum gallery to the public as an effort to share their love affair with Spain.
OVER the years, an instinctive teacher, Gino, and a reluctant one, Barbara, educated their children in unusual ways.
The Hollanders began to teach from a loose framework of correspondence courses from the Calvert School in Baltimore and then from the University of Nebraska High School. They brought in tutors who could pass on their talents - an archaeologist, a sculptor, a historian.
These experts-in-residence had to be sports enthusiasts, who would fit lessons into jaunts to explore the countryside on horseback, weekends for skiing in the Sierra Nevada, or running with the bulls in Pamplona. It was a child's dream school.
The Hollanders also emphasized languages. Spanish was learned from some friends, and later the girls took sojourns in Switzerland for French, and in Germany, for immersion language training. Barbara and Gino instilled in the children a reverence for geography, history, and appreciation of the outdoors and the arts.
Barbara dismisses any idea that they set out to direct the children into art careers. Yet the very unconventionality of their education has led each of them into creative endeavors. ``I hate the word `creativity.' I just told them to be flexible and keep their options open.''
What the Hollanders provided was a freedom to imagine, to expand and experiment without the necessity to conform. ``But you have to get out of the mainstream or you don't have that choice,'' says Gino.
When it came time for college, each child was accepted at a United States college - Amherst, Barnard, and Columbia among them - without SAT scores.
Today, son Jim is a photographer with Reuters in the Gaza Strip. Daughter Siri is a bronze sculptor dividing her time between the US and Spain. Scott is a filmmaker in California. And daughter Lise is the museum representative in New York.
AS the children moved on into their own careers, Gino, now a respected and internationally known artist, and Barbara decided to build a gallery to show his paintings, rather than continue with dealers.
She wanted to show his work in a living setting. Slowly, with the addition of an antique table here, a Stone Age artifact there, they realized they had a museum in the making.
``We backed into it like everything else in life,'' she says. ``At first it was embarrassing, pretentious, to call it a museum.''
It has been so well received, however, that the Hollanders were awarded a silver medal for touristic merit from King Juan Carlos. Visitors in small groups (they allow only about eight at a time) have poured in to be taken around by the Hollanders themselves.
On the walls are photos by their sons, bullfights, and cave paintings. Here and there are bronze sculptures by their daughter. And there are large canvases of Gino's in dreamy, impressionistic snatches of scenes and faces.
``I chose painting for the oneness of the moment the medium can allow - the immediacy of expression,'' Gino has been quoted as saying. ``My paintings are expressly directed to evoke an emotional reaction from the viewer.''
The Museo Hollander is so unexpected. It's a song of praise to Spain's rich heritage - and of how one family packed up their five kids and made their dreams come true.