Maja Houtman

Second Place – Silver/Argentium® Silver


Maja Houtman of the Netherlands created this breathtaking bracelet out of silver wire and chain. It seems to be suspended in air with no discernible beginning or end, and the inside and outside are equally fascinating.

Artist Interview:

Will this piece inspire other pieces?
I think this piece will inspire me to make new pieces, or inspire other people to make fluffy metal jewelry.

What did you feel when you heard?
The Saul Bell Design Award is something I never thought I would win. It is such a high level. It is amazing!

Have you won other awards? If so, what?
The first big one was in South Korea in 2011: The silver prize in Metal in the Cheongju Craft Biennial. My husband and I went there to pick it up, and it led to a whole career in South Korea. The morning after I came back from South Korea, I found out I was a finalist in the HRD Antwerp Diamond Award. So my husband and I went to Shanghai within two months of traveling to South Korea.

Name some facts about yourself.
Most people don’t know I do paper cutting. Also, shibori, which is a Japanese fabric dyeing technique. And I like to dance.

Describe yourself.
I love humor, laughing and dancing. I am always drawing, paper cutting or embroidering. I always have two or three projects going at once.
I like to interact with people and I try to connect people.

Of all the arts and crafts, why did you choose jewelry?
I didn’t know what to do in high school, there were so many choices, I could become anything. And my father started naming all kinds of professions, and I said “no, no, no”. But when he said, “goldsmith” I said “hmm.”

What was the first thing you ever made?
I think it was during my birthday. In the work shed we would put holes in coins and enamel them, and that was probably the first thing I ever made. I was about eight.

What or who do you think has been the strongest influence or inspiration on your work?
I was raised to look at nature by my parents and grandparents, and they taught me to see and experience the shapes of nature.

Why are you successful?
When I came from technical school, Vakschool Schoonhoven, I worked for a goldsmith, and then I was Assaymaster at the Dutch Assay Office in Gouda. I learned a lot about the jewelry world. I started with this technique of twisted wirework 18 years ago. Because I have rheumatoid arthritis, I have to be careful working on my pieces. I can only hammer metal 20 minutes a day. I have to get creative in my solutions for design and creation.

Do you have any advice for those starting out in the jewelry world?
You have to find your own way and style, and you have to have a strong passion for your work. It is the only way you get there. If you don’t feel the need to make jewelry, go and find something you can’t stop doing.

What do you want your legacy to be?
The technique of twisting will be my legacy. Most people use this as a small ornament in a piece of jewelry. When you see my work, you know it is mine because no one else is doing it on this large of a scale. And, I would like to organize an international exhibit for wireworkers who focus specifically on the process.

What artist, dead or alive, do you most admire? Why?
At the moment it is Giovanni Corvaja. Like in the story Rumpelstiltsken, Corvaja spins gold wire “from hay.” Seriously, for one piece he pulled gold wire thinner than a hair and wove a handkerchief from it. It was 22K and felt like fabric but was cold and heavy because it was gold.

What is your favorite quote in either business or art?
The Louis Kahn quote that struck me in the documentary “My Architect” was, “When you want to give something presence, you have to consult nature. And there is where design comes in.” But of course, this other quote from Louis Kahn is also one to live up to: “And it's important, you see, that you honor the material that you use.”

What is your favorite tool?
My tweezers. They are my third hand.

Is the product or the process more important to you? Why?
It is both. Sometimes it is the process, even if the piece didn’t turn out the way I hoped, and sometimes it is the product. And sometimes the finished piece has more to it than I hoped for when I started.

Describe your studio.
It is at home. The attic is my workshop; it has everything I need. And if I need something else, I can work at workshops of colleagues in Utrecht.

Interview by Marlene Richey