It is with immeasurable sadness that we announce the passing of WB (“Will”) van der Heyden, who passed away peacefully at his home on Monday, February 7, 2022.
The article below from February 19, 2017, and reprinted with permission of The Daily Courier, summarizes the wonderful man he was and his many accomplishments and achievements. At his request, there was no service. Arrangements entrusted to ABC Funerals. Donations in honor of Will’s memory may be made to the Yavapai Humane Society. “The laundry basket in the main bathroom is a multi-color casino slot machine. The living room CD cabinet is an old-fashioned, bright red-and-white Coca-Cola dispenser. A wall lamp was formerly a gas pump.
Enter Willem van der Heyden’s Chino Valley home and you’ll be surrounded by unusual works of art, a virtual museum of recyclable wood, metal, fabric, even Styrofoam and old brass plumbing fixtures.
A U.S. Vietnam Navy veteran who became a steel-mill electrician has been an award-winning wood, metal and Styrofoam sculptor and painter over the past few decades whose art is made of scraps he sees in junk yards, garage sales and lumber yards. His genius is in capturing exotic parts, including discarded bands and orchestral instruments, and breathing new life into what is debilitating wall art and furniture.
The self-avowed macho man sailing, hunting, fishing and holding bow saws and sanders with aplomb carved a newborn baby in the middle of one of his mixed collage-style wooden curtains. On the wall of his bedroom, with all his handmade wooden furniture painted a muted red with inlaid flowers and vines, is a carving with the symbol of the Christian fish. and Jesus with a crown of thorns embedded in the base.
Humbly, van der Hayden describes his late-in-life therapeutic hobby as “utilitarian art.”
One of eight children born to parents during the Depression in Holland, van der Heyden said his family had no money for music or art lessons. New shoes are a treasure.
The nearly 70-year-old came to the United States in 1957. His family started in Ohio and then moved to Virginia and to Erie, Pennsylvania, his parents were always looking for the next best opportunity.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy from high school, not yet an American citizen. He made a tour of Vietnam as part of a mobile river force.
After his release in 1969, he accepted a job at a Pennsylvania steel mill. Because electricians earned seven cents more than a plumber apprentice, the father of the first of his two daughters, Alicia and Janelle – he also has seven grandchildren aged 22 to 8 – trained as an electrician. This was his career until retirement at age 62.
Busy making a living for his family, van der Heyden did not have much time for other hobbies. However, as an empty nester, he began to explore the more creative side of his personality.
Always easy to use, van der Heyden found his gift in shaping wood, metal and other materials into intricate wall hangings. She couldn’t afford to buy exotic furniture and woods, so she instead collected scraps and welded them to displays that she found appealing not only to her eye but to others. He never considered himself a commercial artist, and still isn’t, even though he has sold some of his handmade tools. He made a large commission for a symphony hall in Ohio, one of his musically inspired instruments, “Sonatina,” measuring 12 feet high and six feet wide.
Most of his art, though, he trades with other artists or gives as gifts to friends and family.
In October, van der Heyden won his most prestigious honor with his wood, musical instrument collage titled, “Calliope.” The piece won him first place in the woodworking division at the National Veterans Administration Creative Arts Festival held in Jackson, Mississippi; he was selected after first winning first place at the annual Creative Arts Festival held at the Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Prescott.
At this year’s celebration that ended on Friday, van der Heyden won second-place prizes for another wooden musical instrument as well as a three-dimensional Styrofoam color burst of the planets he imagined after hear a poem about the “Big Bang.” He also submitted one of his first paintings, a night sky landscape by Jerome.
“It’s been an amazing job,” said an appreciative VA staff member Darryl Silvius.
VA Recreation Therapist said van der Heyden is “full of creativity, and a cool person.”
When asked how he was coming up with ideas, van der Heyden said it was an “endless process.” He continues to make notes in mind of what might be his next artistic endeavor.
Like someone who reads Braille, van der Heyden said he feels his way through his art, a journey that is more critical than what is almost always an unexpected destination.
And what he sees may not be what others see.
He cites a verse from “Hamlet” as his personal motto: “This above all, in yourself is true.”
Information provided by the Personal Representative.