During the early stages of her career, Bibi has been assisting and collaborating with different glassblowing artists. These experiences not only taught her techniques and methods, but influenced her approach to art and to her relationship with the material. Here, the artist tells us about her training with Willem Heesen, glass artist, designer and painter.
Matilde Bignotti: During your career in glassblowing, you have been collaborating with several artists. Who are some of the people that have had the biggest impact on your life creatively?
Bibi Smit: The first person who comes to mind, is Willem Heesen. I assisted him at the beginning of my experience as a glassblower and he has been an inspiration in many ways. He had a quiet strength around him. He was always thinking as he was working, you could almost see the words above his head, floating. He was completely absorbed in the process when he was blowing glass.
Willem transmitted me the love for the glass. He had this deep lifelong connection with the material. Starting as a designer, he didn’t just want to draw the pieces, he wanted to make them, to be the maker. So, he taught himself to blow glass and opened a studio, ‘de Oude Horn’, which also represented the beginning of the glass movement in Holland.
MB: It is very interesting what you said about Willem being a lot in his head while working. How did you communicate while blowing together? Could you really read the words above his head?
BS: The process of making glass involves a lot of non-verbal communication. You can discuss what you want beforehand, but at the moment of blowing itself, it is all about gestures, synchrony of movements. So, I think there has to be a click with the person you are working with, a complicity that goes beyond words.
MB: It looks like a dance; it is what I thought when I observed you and Katrin Mauer blowing together in the hotshop. You moved as you knew where the other was going, following the same pace. How was your personal experience with William Heesen? What was it that made you click?
BS: That is also still unknown, especially because of the way it started, it very funny. ‘I don’t want anybody because I prefer to have silence around me. I don't need anybody, I already have an assistant’, this was what he replied to my application letter. ‘However’, he said afterwards, ‘there is an opportunity that you can come and work with me’. I was very surprised, so I went there and then he totally took me under his wing. I was allowed to live in his house, with his family. He took to me to the glass school and museum in the north of France where he was teaching. I was by his side for six weeks, it was very intense. It was very generous of him to share all of this with me.
MB: It is indeed funny how it your professional relationship developed his initial rejection. Thank you for sharing your experiences!