I try to translate my heritage, the clay of my own country into jewellery. My work is based on traces of the past which are about to disappear forever.

Memories and history play a central role in the work of contemporary art jeweller Francis Willemstijn. Often the ‘preciousness’ of her work lies not in the intrinsic value of the materials she uses, but in the memories they hold. In the words of Willemstijn, “These materials are very precious to me – their history and value mean more to me than diamonds.” Willemstijn creates jewellery that conveys a story, and the materials used are connected directly to the source of her inspiration.

For Making Home, Willemstijn created a series of brooches formed from fragments of materials found in the house and garden of a ‘second home’ in the German countryside. This long-standing renovation project, set in an idyllic location in the hills, offered Willemstijn the opportunity to reclaim and use materials such as slate, zinc, wood and fossils; all of which had a direct connection to the past and present life of this cherished place. In doing so, meaning and memory have been captured within each brooch – these items of jewellery are no longer simply decorative ‘empty vessels’.
There is a visual poetry in Making Home, not just in the exquisite workmanship and beautifully composed palettes of colour and texture, but also in the way Willemstijn allows each material to express itself. Framed by geometric forms, intricate wood grains flow like delicate brushstrokes. Natural organic forms harmoniously contrast with engineered edges, as Willemstijn intuitively combines the visual languages of home and garden. These are mixed media artworks on an intimate scale, and each piece is a love letter from the artist to a special place – home.

In Anarchist Garden, Willemstijn takes a similarly experimental and intuitive approach within both the creative process and production of her work. Found materials from her immediate environment are again incorporated; this time from an allotment that provides an unrestricted escape into nature for the artist. Again there is a historical connection, this time provided by her collection of antique Herbarium books with dried flowers and plants pressed between the pages. Willemstijn reveals the beauty of materials within each carefully composed one-off piece. Her work lends itself perfectly to the intimate scale and personal nature of jewellery as a medium for artistic expression.

Found materials and cherished memories are combined in Miami Blue Revisited, a highly-polished, high-octane homage to Willemstijn’s childhood and happy times spent in the treasured family car; a Granada Ford Coupe. Despite the unlikely subject matter and difference in scale, Willemstijn transposes the language of the car into a highly-stylized collection of jewellery which is contemporary but at the same time deeply nostalgic. Willemstijn successfully draws together the past and present through her choice of materials; most of which were salvaged from cars consigned to the scrap yard. Named after the family car’s paintwork shade, Miami Blue, this collection captures the very essence of the automobile. Flashes of radiator grill, chrome trimmed bodywork and iconic typography combine to provide a ‘go faster’ glimpse of something familiar, yet revisited in Willemstijn’s unique way. You can almost smell the pleather!

Willemstijn’s work draws deeply from her own memory banks, but Dutch heritage and her family history have also provided inspiration for earlier collections such as Jerephaes and Heritage.
Heritage is inspired by ancient traditions, techniques and handicrafts from the local area where she lives in the Zaan region of the Netherlands. Willemstijn’s focus was primarily on the materials used; such as Bog Oak (used as a substitute for Jet) and red madder dye. Notable works from this collection include ‘Hair’, a necklace created from human hair which alludes to the ‘memento mori’ jewellery traditionally worn in memory of lost loved ones. This theme was further explored in the Gone with Wind exhibition which was curated by the Zuiderzeemuseum, Enkhuizen.

In the Jerephaes series, Willemstijn’s jewellery takes us on a journey into the past, as she explores her family history down through eleven generations. It is a compelling collection of jewellery that draws us into the Golden Age of 17th and 18th Century Holland; a bygone era when the Dutch mastered the seas and the nation was at the height of its wealth and power. Dark ebony and rosewood, combined with deep red enamels and oxidised metal detailing brings a distinct air of mystery to this body of work, which looks as if it might have been retrieved from the sea bed.
Traces of the past are captured in fragments of sailing ships and family insignia bound by thread, chains and nails. It all alludes tantalisingly to a fractured narrative that is impossible to piece together. In not knowing, there is a heightened sense of drama in the work.
As with Heritage, this is a collection of contemporary artifacts, charged with history and providing as Willemstijn explains, ‘connection between past and present, between tradition and innovation, between death and life’.

Mole Leigh, 2013