Julie van Hemert is a Maryland artist from Ellicott City who will be showing her art at Off Track Art beside the railroad tracks in downtown Westminster from July through August. Van Hemert started her art career as a sculptor. She did that for nearly 30 years.
"Art is really my true passion," she said.
She is a self -taught artist. Van Hemert and her husband are from Holland. When they got married they had hoped to visit the United States but it was just too expensive. But when van Hemert's husband was offered a job in New York City, they jumped at the chance to come here. At first they lived in New Jersey, but then her husband took a job at a boating company in Maryland.
Van Hemert played with clay along with the school children she taught when she was an elementary school teacher in Holland. So she decided to take sculpture classes when she moved here. "I think I like being a sculptor because I could form people with clay. I was not good at drawing or painting. I had a kiln at home and fired my own sculptures. They were all small and I was not tempted to make bigger ones," she said. She also did bronze casting at Montpelier Arts Center.
Then she saw a show in Washington, DC at the Corcoran Art Gallery that had quilts made from jeans. That show was a turning point in her career as an artist. The jean quilts she saw on exhibition were from an island off the coast of North Carolina. Since her daughter had lost weight and passed a pile of jeans on to her, van Hemert decided that she would use them to make a quilt herself. But when van Hemert began to look at the jeans, she saw people in them.
Van Hemert began her project cutting the jeans into pieces and putting them together into streamlined figures. They are life-size, 5 or 6 feet high and 3-4 feet wide. There are usually 4-6 people in each art piece. She calls them "peopled" jeans. This medium also allows her to work on a larger scale.
Van Hemert had her first "Peopled Jeans" show at Howard Community College in their Rouse Company Gallery this past April. When she was accepted, she had to double the amount of work she already had to fill the large gallery. The process took her 1½ years, working full time, to complete the task. Van Hemert showed 26 pieces. Many pieces consist of two pieces that go together. Her largest piece is 14 separate pieces. Most of the people don't have arms and only a few have legs. They are all very long and tall. "It was a very creative year. I loved it," she admitted.
"It was a way to test my limits and I am proud of myself. It was very successful and well received. I had not shown anything for 6 or 7 years while I was creating them. Since I had no history or resume, I did not think anyone would let me show them," van Hemert commented.
"Since I only use blue jeans, I am limited by the color and the size. It appeals to my love of fashion. I can give them stylistic fashions that I choose. I like a challenge. I have to come up with a way to make it interesting. I think about the head and hair but only a couple have faces," she explained. "All the pieces had to do with family and connections in everyday life."
She is showing six "Peopled Jeans" pieces, and more than a dozen of her sculptures at Off Track Art in Westminster. Julie van Hemert can be contacted at 410-531-6011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.