Instigated by being nominated to the final 10, for Belgian Craftsperson of the Year Award 2019, I decided to research my family background. Where does the passion for my vocation come from? Do craftsmen run in the family? Were my ancestors self-employed craftspeople? So I started doing some digging into my family history. The saying “the apple does not fall far from the tree” springs to mind.
I did not need to research far. I knew my grandparents on my mom’s side, as they were both in their late 40’s early 50’s when I was born. Both my grandparents where trained craftspeople.
My maternal grandfather
My granddad apprenticed as a cobbler but sadly did not go into the profession due to the eruption of WWII. After a short period, working for a shoemaker in Brussels, he was sent to Berlin to work as a forced labourer, in a shoe factory. Even though he did not pursue his shoemaking career after the war was over, I remember his trade tools and workshop in the basement of their house. I loved playing dress-up and wearing my grandmother’s high heels, which I managed to break occasionally. I watched with fascination, as my grandfather would lovingly repair them.
My maternal grandmother: Dressmaker
My grandmother worked as a dressmaker for her brother-in-law, my grandfather’s older brother and a tailor by trade. After my mom was born, my grandmother continued her profession as a dressmaker from home. Although she was no longer practising her trade, when I was born, the first few years of my life were spent listening to her singer sewing machine.
My great-aunt: Milliner
The rule of three applies to this family, my grandfather’s older sister learnt the art of hat making. Their parents believed that learning a reputable skilled craft or trade would be their children’s bread and butter. My great aunt was an elegant lady of many talents. Although I never knew her when she practised as a milliner, I remember her singing on stage with her amateur dramatic society.
Metal seems to flow through my veins on my dad’s side of the family. Apt, considering that side of the family is from Sheffield, where the steelworks and silversmithing industries have deep-rooted history. To this day Sheffield houses one of the four Assay Offices in Britain, the quality control for the silver and goldsmiths.
My paternal great-uncle: Saddler and harness maker
My great-uncle, on my grandfather’s side, was a saddler and harness maker. Even this makes sense to me, knowing that their father worked as the head-gamekeeper on Chatsworth Estate of the Duke of Devonshire at the beginning or the 19th century. He tended to the horses, hounds and stables, including the saddlery.
My reflection on my family history
It has been a real treat finding out about past generations of my family. Metal may sometimes have skipped a generation or two. Nevertheless, I believe that I made up for it. I have been a jeweller for the past 20 years, which has been a tough but also passionate journey.