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Helga's Blog

dutch jewellery designer la leipsig


Stories from the daily live of an active metalsmith who tracks down
her muse with camera and sketchbook.

Four times a year I make a seasonal round-up of my activities here from my blog. By subscribing  you get this letter automatically delivered to your mailbox.

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75.000 year old shells considered jewellery material

Historic Jewellery talks but you have to listen carefully – part 2

Since my last blog about a 4000 year old pendant from Mesopotamian I got curious what the oldest historic finds are that you can call jewellery.

My inquiry after the oldest adornments led to the workfield of anthropologists. They investigate the lifestyles of ancient peoples and try to make a coherent story about our earliest origins with the remains they find.

Blombos cave-shell-beads Nassarius kraussianus
Image created by C. Henshilwood
& F. d'Errico.It iI
In the Blombos cave in South-Afrika are the oldest finds with the best evidence. There a team, led by archaeologist Henshilwood, is excavating objects of 100,000 -70 000 years old.

The excavated 68 pierced shells of the Nassarius kraussianus have been labeled beads by Henshilwoods team. They are estimated at 75,000 years old and come from the stone age.

What arguments do the anthropologists have that these shells may be called  ornaments? 

  1. These shells come from a region at least 20 km away from the Blombos cave. Early man deliberately brought them to the cave.
  2. The shells are too small to have any food value.
  3. They all have the same size, it seems like they are picked on purpose.
  4. All pierced on the same primitive way.
  5. And they have identical wear surfaces on the sides, which points to use in a chain.

Marian Vanhaeren, one of the members of the Tracsymbols team, connected them to a chain, like the Homo sapiens did too 75,000 years ago.

Blombos Cave shell beads necklaceBlombos cave shells strung to a necklace.
Image by M. Vanhaeren & C. Henshilwood.

The Homo sapiens strung with some homemade rope the shells into a necklace for adornment. This allowed him or her to stand out from the others.

So at first glance there hasn't changed a lot in our jewellery world. :-)

It means a lot that there are signs of jewellery dating to this time. Wearing jewellery is related to the ability to use symbols.

Without language you can't communicate these symbols. Thus with these findings it can be reasonably assumed that the Homo sapiens had a language with which they could communicate already 75,000 years ago. (also have a look at this BBC article )

Jewellery has more meaning than you would initially say. They tell when we started to talk to each other, because if you can't communicate, symbols have no meaning.

You can find more images on my pinterest page

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Toadstools & Gills


In fall I encounter all kinds of toadstools.

The different variations always tempt me to photograph them.

This time I am most impressed by a large white mushroom that I found on my morning walk. It stood in the meadow, measuring some 10 cm (I think it’s a Russula variant).


He stood firm in the grass catching dewdrops. On the first day the top was still taut but after a few days it began to dry slightly, so the edge started to curl.

This made the gills at the bottom very visible.

They are like little curtains hanging along each other.

Toadstool gills

You can see this clearly on the drawing I made. The gills inspire me to do new experiments in the Earth series but that will be a whole new blogpost.

The beauty is that a toadstool is but a small part of the organism. Underneath the ground is a large threadlike hyphae system that is called Mycelium, that is the actual plant. (More can be found on the website of Wikipedia).

With creativity and making my jewellery it’s actually the same. What you see, the jewellery, is only a small part of what inspires me. Therefore it’s so nice to show my "threads" of inspiration, like this toadstool and his gills.

Cambia - Inner Bark

Today I show a photo-blog of my progress in the Inner Bark series.

They are inspired by the Popular I always meet during my morning walks with the dog.

It all started with taking pictures and making drawings, lots of them!

De bast van een populier

Then I made many tests in porcelainclay.

In the end I even made a little tree trunk sculpture to show the bark pattern,
ofcourse in small scale.

I did take pictures of everything and with them I made a small booklet.
In it I wrote all the thoughts and ideas connected to the collection.
It's nice to have a little drawing book when you develop a new line.

cambium water klei

All this research led to a new collection.
I call it Cambia and is connected to the water element.

"The sapflow of a tree brings nutricion to the leaves, carries the nutricion so the tree can grow."

On request of a customer I developed a bracelet in this line. It is wonderful to see how the pattern is repeated in each element. Like the natural flow of a waterfall.

Left you see earrings with gold to accent the sapflow,
to the right a close-up of the bracelet on which I am working.


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Symbolism in Helga's jewellery

Many jewellers say they have a story to tell. Logical as you know that jewellery are small objects that can carry an incredible amount of meanings. Just have a look at king Ur’s pendant, many symbolism was hidden in this precious work.

In my jewellery I use nature in symbolised form to depict growing processes. The earth series stands for strength, responsiveness and a base on which you can build.

Earth ring, silver and gold

You cannot see how I investigate the symbolism. That happens in my studio or when I'm taking a walk with my dog. Also the photos I take for "Abundance in Nature" are used for this purpose.

A question from a visitor on an art market triggered me to start thinking about how I can explain this symbolism in a clear way. I’ll start with the 4 elements because I use them to divide my jewellery collection:

    • Water: Inner Bark – Day at Sea
    • Earth: Field – Moonlit
    • Air: Inner Star
    • Fire: Dragonseries

The teachings of the 4 elements is an important part of our classical heritage, Plato has written about it in Timaeus. Anthroposophy talks about the 4 temperaments, Jung calls it the personality types and in physics are the elements identified in the state of matter. I like to use this universal knowledge to get a better understanding of the elements.

Another way to understand an element is through observation. Water, for example, always seeks out the deepest point. A conscious research process helps to understand my unconscious form language. This is also the moment of connection with my own growth processes and a very personal side of the investigation.

Together they give me the information that I need to develop new jewellery.

As a reader of my blog you feel attracted to what I make, you pick up the unconscious signals. By carefully explaining what is behind my jewellery I hope you make your own connections and stories. Symbols are very personal and powerful, as is your jewellery.

The next month I start with the element water. The series that I'm working on, the Inner Bark, also has a lot to do with water and will serve as an example.

Inner Bark detail silver and gold


Next post: Words & Themes historically connected to Water


Why the king of Ur ordered a Lion-headed Eagle

Historic Jewellery talks but you have to listen carefully – part 1

gold pendant eagle lion Ur Mari I love to go to museums. Take my camera with me and be surprised by old ancient peoples and the remains of their culture. Jewellery is often one of the high-lights of a show. Made of gold and precious stones it survives all time.

People were attracted to it then and people are attracted to it now.

Just like me.

Pinterest gives me a chance to find jewels on places I haven’t been. This pendant is one that I would love to see in person. But alas, it’s in the National Museum of Damascus, Syria. Not somewhere where I could travel to.

There are 3 reasons why I am attracted to this gorgeous lion-headed pendant:

  1. It comes from Mesopotamian, a culture which legacy is the invention of writing. They produced the oldest (found) epic poetry: the Epic of Gilgamesh.
    The middle piece of my Epic River necklace contains a small piece of the Gilgamesh written in cuneiform.
  2. Then there was a similarity of shape with my pendant “take flight”.
  3. I was also intrigued by a creature existing of 3 animals: A bird (air) a lion (fire) and a fish (water). I sensed a symbolism that I wanted to research further.

While doing my stroll on the internet I found these facts:

  1. The materials: Gold layers onto a tar base and Lapis Lazuli, a blue precious stone. Size H. 11.8 cm. W. 13 cm.
  2. In 1965 the pendant was found in Mari – Syria, during excavations in the Royal Palace of Zimri-lim.
  3. Dating of the piece is somewhere around 2500BC.
    So it has been hidden for 4500 years!
  4. It was excavated with a Lapis Lazuli bead with an inscription that reveals about the connection with the kingdom of Ur, another big city in that time. “dedication from god Gal-Mesannipadda, King of the City of Ur to Cansud, King of Mari
  5. In 2500BC Mari was a big city on the riverbanks of the Euphrates and a commercial logistic centre. It controlled the caravan route and got rich from the tolls.

This is interesting: the king of Ur wants to give a gift to a king who is important because he guards the trade-route along the Euphrates. The king of Ur can’t go to Mari to show respect so the gift must represents this to his collegue.

Using the analogy’s of powerful animals to express a meaning is very common for nature oriented peoples. They still stand close to everything that lives around them. Let’s unravel which animals they used and what these symbols could mean:

  1. A lion is king of animals, strong and passionate, a fire sign. A king is also head of his people.
  2. Birds are animals of transformation they connect heaven and earth. With wings you are not bound to the earthly physical state you are. You are above mankind. It could be that the King of Ur wants to refer to the godly state kings have in that time.
  3. The gold fishtail puzzled me a bit but drawing on the fact it’s a water sign and Mari & Ur are along the Euphrates, I guess it expresses the connection between the cities.

Fact is that there is a cuneiform tablet that tells about Anzud a giant bird with lion head and connected to the god Ningurso. The image of a lion-headed eagle must have ment more to them. It’s part of their mythology.

So the king goes to his goldsmith and explains the situation. Together they decide it has to be made with the most precious materials:  gold and Lapis Lazuli, the heavenly blue stone. 

The goldsmith, inspired by the symbols, carves wings out of Lapis, sculpts a lion head and a fish tail out of tar. Then covers it with many layers of gold. The cylinder shaped Lapis Lazuli bead is inscribed with the dedication. Together they are sent with a caravan to the Northern city Mari as thoughtful gift for the king Cansud.

A gift worth giving.


About La Leipsig

The jewellery which is sold under the brand name La Leipsig Jewels is based on Helga van Leipsig's observations of the nature in Limburg, a province in the south of The Netherlands.



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