Bart Eysink Smeets tells the story of the stone he returned home 200,000 years after it went missing

This is definitely one of the most bizarre projects we’ve ever encountered here at It’s Nice That. But it’s also one of our favourites.

23 January 2020


In The Netherlands, boulders found in the northeast of the country hold an almost mythical quality. In fact, the Dutch call them “zwerfkei” – “kei” meaning stone and “zwerver” meaning wanderer or someone without a home. The reason these boulders hold such mystery is that The Netherlands is a country of sand and clay, and such large rocks have no place there.

“Geologists found out that these stones came here in the Ice Age from Scandinavia, pushed by glaciers,” explains Amsterdam-based artist Bart Eysink Smeets. While he was doing some general research into boulders (“just because they’re nice and resemble the only piece of ancient nature we have in the Netherlands”), Bart discovered that you can precisely pinpoint where in Scandinavia each rock came from. “When I found out about their specific origins, I knew right away: after 200,000 years, it’s time to bring one of these wanderers home.” And so ensued one the most bizarre projects we’ve ever encountered here at It’s Nice That, but also undoubtedly one of our favourites.

It was while studying at Design Academy Eindhoven that Bart developed an appreciation for good ideas. “Instead of materials or crafts, ideas were most important to me,” he tells us. It’s no surprise, then, that after his studies, Bart went on to to work at KesselsKramer, an agency that shared his appreciation. He stayed there for five years before leaving to focus full time on his art practice. He retains this playful approach to this day, though, stating that all his projects are nonsense and sense in equal measure. “It needs to feel logical and stupid at the same time,” as he puts it.

The Stone That Returned Home is no exception. Once Bart had the idea to return a boulder which had found itself stranded in The Netherlands to its rightful Scandinavian home, he set about making it happen. The point of the project was to show the “weird but beautiful relationship the people in the northeast of the Netherlands have with these boulders,” so it needed to be a “public stone.” In turn, he would wander the streets until he found a boulder lying on a street corner or roundabout somewhere, call up a municipality in The Netherlands and ask: “I am standing next to a boulder on this-and-this street, and I was wondering who is in charge of this boulder?”


Bart Eysink Smeets: The Stone That Returned Home

Several government meeting rooms and community groups later and Bart finally found a stone for his project. “It was lying on a roundabout near Borger. A geologist told me the type of rock was Ålandrapakivi. That means it’s from the Åland islands, a group of islands in between Sweden and Finland,” he says. Bart began crowdfunding and the project gathered attention from the press, which led to a big problem. “I got an email from a guy named Ferry.” He was upset, Bart recalls, because Bart had decided that the stone be returned home without consulting it (the stone) at all.

He therefore invited Ferry and his wife Margrete, who “can talk to stones through a thing you call ‘family constellation’,” to come and ask the stone for themselves. “I was a bit speechless by the whole thing,” Bart says, “so Ferry mainly did the talking. He explained my intentions to the stone and asked: ‘Do you want to go home?’ The stone replied: ‘I don’t like it here.’ I explained the place I had in mind in Åland and the stone started smiling. The stone would love to go there.”

The next problem was customs, of course. The story of a stone retuning to Åland had made the papers there and so Bart was contacted by their customs department who told him that whoever would be receiving the stone would need to pay the import taxes. After a long and political discussion, however, it was decided that as the goods were being returned 200,000 years later, the stone’s value was a mere €0.50 and so the tax was forgotten about.

With the logistics sorted, Bart set off to Åland, with the stone on a trailer so it could “look around and see what has changed in the landscape”. He held a farewell ceremony at which the mayor gave a speech and a fanfare saw the pair off. “During the trip I attached a large yellow arrow on my car pointing towards the stone with the text: ‘Hår fär ni tillbaka er sten!’ (Here is your stone back!) and when I arrived in Mariehamn there was a radio reporter who interviewed me live on the radio,” Bart tells us. While the leaving ceremony had been entirely planned by Bart, he left the welcome ceremony (yes, there was another ceremony) to the city of Mariehamn.

“They really surprised me,” says Bart. “A poet made a great story about the stone (which I still have to translate, but it sounded great), they invited all the people called Sten (Stone) as VIPs and got a trumpet player to play a tune celebrating the return of their long lost child. Also, the mayor of Mariehamn gave a speech. When everybody left the scene it was just me and the stone. It was weird, because I really felt like I was leaving behind a friend.”

And there you have it. The stone that found itself in The Netherlands has officially been returned home, 200,000 years later. Bart is currently in the process of turning the project into a documentary film and you can keep up to date with the project on his Instagram account and website. It’s well, well worth a follow.

GalleryBart Eysink Smeets: The Stone That Returned Home

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Bart Eysink Smeets: The Stone That Returned Home

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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