In the Studio with Hilde DeBruyne

In the Studio with Hilde DeBruyne

Originally from Belgium, Hilde has made a life in Iowa. Her art work has been in public and private collections and international exhibits. Spending time with Hilde reveals that she is a very creative, positive person with a wide range of interests.

IAG- Growing up in Belgium with artist parents must have been very interesting. Did your parents encourage you to become an artist?

Hilde- My childhood was surrounded by art; the home I grew up in looked like a museum with artifacts from all over the world: African masks, Buddha figures, Hindu art, remnants of churches, natural artifacts, skeletons, stones and pebbles…combined with my dad’s sculptures and paintings he traded with friends-artists at shows.

I have very fond memories of going to my dad’s art openings. As a child it was fun to meet artistic, extraordinary people with different ideas and lifestyles.

My dad was teaching ceramics in the evening at an Art Academy. This place had also drawing and painting classes for kids and teens. Every year they organized a drawing contest for kids; hundreds showed up to spend the entire Saturday afternoon drawing, coloring and painting. It was fantastic. Kids were focused and into art the whole afternoon. I participated when I was about 10 and joined the Academy from then until I went to college. My dad became my ceramics teacher; he never pushed me into any direction. He just told me “you are going in the right direction.” His way of teaching was to let me experience art, with the accompanying failure and not lecture me.

My parents never really encouraged me or pushed me to become an artist. I think you do not really “become” an artist. It is something that “grows” as it gets nurtured.

They just provided a very positive artistic environment where creativity was valued. My dad’s studio was in the basement of our home. I remember it as his sanctuary.


IAG- What type of art did people in your family do? I have seen some of the work your father, Paul DeBruyne. I assume he was a big influence?

Hilde- My dad was a sculptor working primarily in clay. He made several stations of the cross for Catholic Churches in Flanders, Belgium and Berlin, Germany. He was an art teacher in high school and taught ceramics at the Academy. He was my mentor.

My Godfather was a Priest and an Archeologist, working for several years at the Vatican, studying the Catacombs. He was fluent in Italian and made intricate pen drawings of Italian landscapes and streetscapes.

My Great Grandfather created pen and watercolor drawings of common people, a stone carver, a bell ringer.

IAG- I understand that you studied art history and archeology at Gent University and worked as an art historian at the Department of Preservation. Can you tell us more about this experience?


Hilde- I studied Art History and Archeology. It was very enriching. I am happy I was offered a job right out of college at the Department of Preservation and Conservation; it was a multidisciplinary atmosphere with architects, engineers, art historians and archeologists. I learned a lot and did research for the publication of a book about Patershol, one of the historical neighborhoods in Ghent. Ghent is one of the most enjoyable cities to live in or work in. I have seen it grow in so many ways every year we go back for a visit.


IAG- Your world must have really shifted when you came to the U.S. How did you end up in upstate New York? And now in Iowa?

Hilde- My husband and I were in our twenties, adventurous and eager to travel. A friend of ours lived in NY State; he invited us to live with him and share the apartment. This is how our journey began. We never meant to stay in the U.S. originally.

During this time my husband attended some medical conferences and was offered a residency interview at Mass General in Boston. He got the position and we lived in Boston for five years, followed by Toledo, Ohio and Iowa City. It is a very long story with many visa struggles, year -to- year renewals and denials.

Living in Boston was a wonderful experience; a very European feel with easy connections to the homeland. We built some wonderful relationships there. Through the matching program, we ended up in Iowa City, which was welcoming to our family with three little boys. Our daughter was born there. It was a fantastic environment to raise our kids.

28 years later we are still living in Iowa in a wonderful space surrounded by woods, corn fields, farm animals with a very inspiring studio in the middle of the forest in Cummings.

IAG- I love how your studio is surrounded by nature. Your work is oriented to natural shapes and lines, each seems to tell a story. How has your work evolved?


Hilde- My work started small, like tabletop sculptures.

By participating in sculpture classes and shows, growing confidence, skills and patience throughout the years, my sculptures grew in size to abstracted shapes 4-5 ft tall.

My rather abstract clay works reflect nature and the authenticity of the cycle of life. Fragments of the feminine form emerge by the simple and organic features of rock formations, pebbles and weathered wood.

The essence of my work in clay is felt in the touch and texture. Layers of slip, grog and clay with embedded marks, careless scratches and prominent lines adorn the exterior. Often there is a sharp contrast between smooth and rough surfaces, open and closed forms, perfection and imperfection celebrating the weathering of time.

The natural cycle of growth and decay has always been in my work. I call it “pregnant shapes.”

In making work for outdoor shows, I soon realized that the sky has a high ceiling and that 4 ft clay sculptures look humble outside. I started designing art work to be featured in metal to complete larger public art installations.


IAG-  We had planned to include a list of Hilde’s installations it is quite extensive. Please go to Hilde’s website for more information.