Lie van der Werf belongs to a group of sculptors who brought figuration back into Dutch sculpture in the 1980s. This is clearly seen in her work which shows a preference for the recognizable and the narrative.
The first shoe sculpture was conceived when van der Werf came home from a party in 1990 and realized she had lost her heel somewhere during the night’s adventures. In the 50s and 60s, many women experienced this situation and it triggered van der Werf’s imagination – the image of the shape of the shoe, with no heel, lying on the floor hit her. She dressed it in a carnival mask, polished the shoe and put clay inside it where a woman's foot would normally go. It was the birth of her first shoe-turned-carnival-mask. Van der Werf was born in the south of the Netherlands, where carnival is still a regular annual festivity, so she grew up celebrating it. This provided the link to the masks. Tiny amounts of confetti made of strips of leather, laces, zips and straps is scattered around the work which she titled Party Animals.
Her work is in the collection of several leading institutions - the Boymans van Beuningen Museum and the Centre for Visual Arts, both in Rotterdam, the Textile Museum in Tilburg, Rabobank and the Akzo Nobel Foundation.
Van der Werf had experimented with horsehair before. For ‘Jan Jansen Shoe Treasures’ she wanted to explore this further. While working on Jansen's shoes, she found that the leather became quite porous when she worked on it with needles so she decided she would leave the needles in. She had originally planned to remove them so she could pierce the holes with horsehair. The direct result of her sudden turnaround in approach is that her work now contains between 1000 and 1500 needles.
The needles were connected to goat hair which van der Werf painted in the same colour as the shoe, fusing the objects in the process. It is as if the shoes are slowly dissolving – she finds this very important. It makes her think of a caterpillar's metamorphosis into a butterfly.