The Illinois Artisans Program focuses national attention on the rich heritage of the fine crafting that exists in Illinois. Our juried artists participate in art sprees, craft festivals, exhibitions and other events held at our locations in order to promote their work.


Imaginative Sculptures

Artisan Interview: Annelies Heijnen, Mount Vernon, IL

In art there is a balance between knowing the artist’s intentions and the freedom to interpret art freely and through the lens of our own experiences. Perhaps in figurative work the desire to narrate is stronger, which is why Annelies Heijnen’s work begs the question: “Can you tell me the story?”

But if asked, Annelies Heijnen hesitates to reveal the thoughts and stories going through her mind while making each sculpture.

“I like people to interpret their own story. I spend two weeks on the drawing, and in that time you build your own story. But it is good that you don’t know. Knowing you take away the fun of the piece. Then you don’t have discussion, because you already have the answers. And maybe they aren’t your answers.”

 Heijnen produces larger ceramic pieces which are constructed in several stages and then applies intricate glaze work across the surface of the piece. Often the work features people, animals and structures in complex collages across the surfaces. But after the sculptures are installed, often taking over a space, they are left to tell their own tales with only a title for reference.

Heijnen is happy to tell one story, that of how she build her ceramics practice in Luxembourg and then Midwest United States. Born in the Netherlands, Heijnen studied sculpture in Luxembourg. When their two children were teenagers, her husband’s work moved the family to Akron, Ohio where Heijnen studied under John Gill at Kent State University. It was there Heijnen began using clay as canvas.


Sharing a studio with Gill, an abstract ceramicist and Joan Gardner, a vibrant painter, Heijnen began merging form and imagery together in clay. Heijnen used the clay as a canvas for intricate drawings, but built out the form of the vessel to give depth to the illustrations.


A breakthrough moment of her art practice was learning from Bill Dale how to make huge vessels. The large pieces created a bigger surface for the imagery. The forms are built over supports and after hardening, they are flipped over to hollow out the vessels. After bisque firing, Heijnen carefully paints on glazes 3 times and sometimes more. Inspired by human relationships, the environment and life in general, there is a serious tone to some of the work. Yet, Heijnen often camouflages it a little, with bright colors and a playfulness.  


Even for Heijnen coming back into the studio after a break or travel, the storyline of a piece can seem foreign to her. At one point, to get back into the studio, Heijnen started a series of chickens with 35 in total. Each larger-than-life chicken was built over a beach ball to support the body and the legs and head were attached later.  Heijnen laughs about the many trips to the store for the project:


“Every time my husband and I went to the store, we got 3 large beach balls, because we could only get 3 in the car at one time. You build the clay around, then deflate the ball to take it out and attach the head.”

Heijnen has been creating ceramic sculptures for over 35 years and has been commissioned to create installations for galleries, hospitals, and banks. A selection of her new work is on display at Illinois Artisans, Chicago during the month of September. Images of the exhibition.

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