Could you introduce yourself, what is your background?
My name is Willemien Meijer and I am 23 years old. I am Dutch, although I was born in Wales and lived there for the first six years of my life. I recently graduated from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, where I studied Three Dimensional Design. During my studies, I developed an interest in crafts, in particular furniture making.
How did you get into designing and making?
Although I have been interested in making since I was very young, it was not until my studies in Aberdeen that I started to take it seriously. I began studying Contemporary Art at university, but found the course too conceptual and therefore decided to change in my second year. I enrolled in 3D-Design, as it seemed more interesting and practical. I am very glad that I did because by enrolling on this course I got exposed to several different crafts. In the first year we explored ceramics, jewellery making and product design. I got involved with furniture whilst exploring product design, and realised that I wanted to learn more about it; technically, aesthetically and theoretically!
What has been your favourite project to work on?
This is hard to choose because the projects I have worked on have each had their own qualities, but one that I found very interesting was the Mahogany Ensemble.
I exhibited The Mahogany Ensemble at this year’s Young Furniture Makers exhibition. It was interesting because I had limited material to work with, having sourced it all from an old bed, which meant there was not a lot of room for mistakes! The piece is multifunctional and can change from two chairs into two stools, a bench or a coffee table. It was a challenge to think about the relation between each object and it taught me a lot about the functionality of furniture.
I like to design in a way where craft and function are challenged, as this allows me to think of the different uses for objects, whilst still learning how they are made. I feel that the Mahogany Ensemble is a good example of this.
What challenges and barriers have you come up against as a designer maker?
So far I feel that the biggest challenge has been that I did not enrol at a specific furniture making school. Although the course gave me the opportunity to start exploring crafts, there was not a lot of teaching and I did not get much guidance during my projects. It meant that if I wanted to learn something, I had to go and find out myself. This is why I really wanted to do placements during my course.
My first placement was with a women furniture collective in Amsterdam, where I was supervised by furniture maker Sasja Schilp. When I began I hardly knew a thing about furniture making, so it was quite a big jump! However by working hard and listening carefully to my supervisors I managed to learn a lot during those months. I am still very thankful for their patience and willingness to teach me! During this placement I also attended an evening class in basic furniture making skills.
In terms of overcoming these challenges, I suppose that I have tried to be as open minded and open to learning as possible. I feel that this has helped me improve my professional network, and pushed me further in the direction that I want to go.
Why did the furniture industry appeal to you?
I believe that furniture is a very important subject, as it involves the craft of objects that respond to basic human needs. Therefore I find it very interesting to think about the position of craft and working in this field within our current society. I am not interested in becoming a designer, I am more interested in learning about craft and seeing how it could be put to use in society.
How have you found the gender balance, and how do you feel women are represented?
I was glad to see that there were quite a few women furniture designers and makers at this year’s Young Furniture Makers exhibition. However there are still much more men working in the industry than women. I think that it is harder for women to find experience than for men, but at the same time I think that if women are open to learning and working in the furniture industry, there are lots of opportunities for them.
I feel that the option of working in the field of furniture could be more normalised for women. That being said, I feel that generally today working in the crafts is not the norm, but believe that it should become more standard. I feel that this is important because it would help our society become more enjoyable and sustainable for the future.
What are your ambitions or plans for the future?
I am currently living in Brussels where I have started a one-year preparatory course to become a teacher in the arts, which includes art history, conservation and restoration. By doing this course, I will be able to teach professionally and work for art institutions. However I hope to work in crafts and with craftspeople part-time. It would be very interesting in the future to combine craftsmanship, teaching and the arts. I feel that This Girl Makes is a really interesting platform because it seems to combine precisely these things! In addition, this course teaches restoration, so I am hoping to complete a placement with a furniture restorer here in Brussels.
I feel that this year will be one for advancing myself further and taking more specialised steps. That being said, I am a very open-minded person and am curious to see what opportunities will come along the way.