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‘My fear never trumped my willfulness’

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Elisabeth Leenknegt (45) followed in the footsteps of her father Jan and grandfather Michiel as a glass artist. She confidently follows her own path in life, supported by a quote from Henry Ford: ‘Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.’

“My family is kind of special, I think. For example, my husband and sons aged ten and six recently designed and 3D printed folding swords for all neighbors. Jules and Miel go to a Steiner school. Their teachers are the sweetest in the world, which sometimes makes me fear that they will not function later in the harsh world. Jules is also exceptionally introverted, just like I used to be. It was so bad that I had tears in my eyes when I had to tell something in front of the class. In the meantime I am more confident, but I still find it horror to be in the spotlight.

I prefer to hide in the warmth of my team, where others have the communication skills. Take my right hand, Sylvie. She recently showed me a quote from the car manufacturer Henry Ford: ‘Chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice.’ That is so true, not only because my husband and I chop our own wood as nature people, but mainly because it is so applicable to my course.

Out of well-intentioned concern, people used to determine what was good for me. For example, teachers judged that I should continue my studies at the academy. They probably thought it suited the dreamy, green-haired girl I was then. I was also tired of school – I wanted to go out into the wide world – so they thought I lacked drive. The opposite was true. There was a big fire burning in me and I wanted to go to university.

In my Archeology study I enjoyed history and for my thesis I analyzed thousands of Roman glass finds. After all these centuries, they had acquired an iridescent rainbow layer – magical. No one wanted me to copy some of those beads and yet I did so for days in my attic room, bitten by the material and the meditative peace it brought me to work with it.

Customers let me make mourning jewelery or seal their fresh love here. Being able to catch a glimpse of that intimacy is so grateful that I wouldn’t have wanted to make any other choice.

Then I fell back into periods of doubt. For example, after a few years I left a super cool job in the Huis van Alijn to make and sell glass jewellery. According to my parents, I plunged into the deep end. They had flourished as artists themselves, but said I had enough talents to choose a quieter, more secure existence. Sometimes I heard that voice myself at night: you had a creative, permanent job and now you let your bill go below zero to open a shop? But my fear never trumped my willfulness. The question marks of my teachers and parents even gave me extra drive.

Chopping my own wood was certainly not always easy, but a self-ignited fire is so much warmer. I lead a very passionate, varied life in which I can mean something to my now twenty employees and many customers. They have mourning jewelery made here in complete confidence or seal their fresh love. Being able to catch a glimpse of that intimacy is so grateful that I wouldn’t have wanted to make any other choices.

Looking back on that and supported by Ford’s words, I realize I have to let Jules and Miel go their separate ways. Something in me wants to tell them: ‘You are smart, maybe you should become engineers like your daddy.’ At the same time I see them grow into such creative, loving boys that I have to let go of that protective reflex. It worked out for me, it will work out for them too.”

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