Anne Henriksen has dreamed of becoming an artist all her life. Now, at 67, she says she’s finally become “the artist I always felt I was inside of”.
Henriksen grew up in Sweden, but the family moved around a lot. “Every year and a half Dad applied for higher and higher jobs.” His father wanted Henriksen to go to college. But when she changed schools at 15, she became unstable and her grades began to drop.
“Then, just before school ended, I had a fatal car accident,” she says. Her friend was driving and they picked up two hitchhikers. “Suddenly someone came quickly around the bend. It was a narrow road and we entered the ditch – a long, very deep ditch. There was a bridge, a telephone pole…”
Henriksen was sitting in the ambulance with one of the hitchhikers, who was “shedding blood”. Later he died. Henriksen “made it very lightly — with a mild concussion and a cut on her shoulder,” but everything she understood about life and her place in it changed.
“I thought, ‘I don’t have time to graduate and I’m thinking of becoming a doctor. How can I commit to 10 years of study when I might not be alive next week? Do you see how that could change everything?
She persuaded her father to let her go to a boarding school about 700 miles away in northern Sweden that offered the arts. She stayed there for a year and tried her hand at screen printing, ceramics and jewelry.
“I did this for a year” is a refrain from Henriksen. Over the next decade she trained as a nurse, then as a youth worker, opened and closed a craft shop, went to Interrailing, studied social and political studies at a course for Scandinavian trade unionists and joined a commune in the Yorkshire moors. , where she did woodworking, patching and mending, and worked in a co-op. At 25, she had a daughter, Jade.
Clearly, she was adventurous and open to new experiences. But was Henriksen looking for something with all these changes? Had she admitted to herself that she wanted to be an artist?
“I don’t think I dared to dream that big,” she says. “It seemed beyond my abilities.”
After Henriksen separated from Jade’s father, she brought her daughter back to Sweden. Other jobs followed: she worked as a courier and taxi driver, and spent two years as a props man in a theater. But the desire to explore himself as an artist grows.
At 37, she returned to England, with Jade, to begin a higher national diploma at the Plymouth College of Art and Design. While completing her art degree, in which she specialized in large-scale metalwork, she worked as a taxi driver – under the name Anna’s Taxis – in Totnes, Devon, a job she has continued to do for the next 20 years. But something was still wrong.
“I realized I wasn’t good enough,” she says. At the graduation show, she didn’t sell anything. It must have been a painful realization. But Henriksen says, “It was valuable.”
She continued to drive the taxi and vacationed every winter, always visiting museums and galleries on her travels. In Indonesia in 2006, she saw the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, where the stone carvings made a huge impression on her. “It was Indonesia that made me think I could do it,” she said. By then she was 51 and had “tried pretty much everything else”.
Eventually, Henriksen enrolled in sculpture lessons in Devon. She continued her taxi business and if the phone rang and the fare was high enough, she would leave the classroom to take it. At 63, she exhibited at Delamore Arts in Ivybridge, Devon, and sold her first sculpture. Now retired from driving, she continues to sculpt in her garden, exhibits and sells pieces. Next month her work will be exhibited at Lupton House with Devon’s Art Bank Collective.
“I’m having the best time of my life, ever. I can do what I love. I’m happy. I achieved what I wanted.
Henriksen has finally found his medium. “It’s the sound,” she says. “Press, press, press, press. None of those angle grinders and big things… You work until something is smooth and the curves are right.
Tell us: has your life taken a new direction after 60?