There’s something to be said about people who throw all sense of convention out the window, and follow what compels them. Natalie Shook, is one such woman. When you step into the storefront cum collective maker haven that she and her partner have created, in Supersmith, it’s instantly clear that beauty is more about the process for her. A true hands on woman who takes inspiration from her past, and pushes it into the future through her community driven space. This is collaboration at it’s finest and I can’t wait to see where she takes it. Jump on the wagon and take a tour through Natalie’s evolution and the building of a beautiful brand.
Nativen: Do you think growing up where you did in Cleveland had any effect on your choice to become a woodworker and painter?
Natalie: Yeah. You know, my parents were always super supportive of me. You know, I came here for painting, and I pursued that really heavily from when I was young, you know, like maybe 15, I started painting seriously. They were super supportive, but I guess I was doing sculpture at the time. My grandparents lived just a few blocks away. My grandfather had a wood shop in his basement, like men did, you know?
He had this tool chest, which his father built so my great grandfather.
Nativen: Oh, that's beautiful.
Natalie: So I played with all these tools when I was a kid, and my parents were amazing.
My grandparents had passed, but they kept the house. So they would let me live in their house alone on the weekends. And so I would just like hang out in the shop and build stuff. Now that I look back I'm like, why did my parents let me do this, but they did? So I would just, spend the nights making sculptures, using the shop machines, you know, like little bits, the little table saw and lathe and stuff. And I was just messing around.
And then, I took all those tools with me. Not the tool chest, I just got this last year. But all my handles have always been my grandfather's. So, yeah, I think their support and having grown up in this. When I was really young, my grandfather would pick me up from school. I think I was getting out of school earlier than my sisters. And I would just spend the afternoons in the basement with and he would be in his workshop. Which was so fun, I loved him. I've got his desk sign here. He was wonderful.
I think also growing up in Cleveland, it was a really nice, quiet town and I feel like there was a lot of time to do that.
Nativen: Was there a moment in your life, like an epiphany when you realized that you really seriously wanted to pursue this as a trade?
Natalie: Yeah, you know, it was totally unplanned. The sort of short version of the story: I was making these robotic paintings. And I was using my friend's shops to build them. I only really built one and I wanted to build more. And my father passed and I slept for six months and then I woke up and had like $1,000 dollars left. I basically had spent all the money I had and I used that money to buy my first set of machinery because I wanted to make my own robots.
Then as soon as I had the shop, I did the same thing I did here. I rented it out to seven different people so I could keep down the cost. And then as soon as I had a shop everyone was like "oh can you build me a table? Can you build me a bench?" So I just stopped the art thing, like right then and there. It wasn't a conscious choice. ... It just happened.
To be honest it's like my favorite thing I ever gave up in a way. Because I miss painting, but more like the mental exercise, you know? And the practice. But ... the pursuit of being a career painter is really hard. Trying to come up with that next thing. Whereas my ego isn't attached in the same way with all this stuff.
Nativen: Which in a way can actually be really creatively freeing because you're not associating your self worth on that really profound level. You're just like, I really enjoy this, but if things work or don't work it doesn't feel personal in the same way?
Nativen: What do you love most about Brooklyn and do you think it's integral to the work that you're doing?
Natalie: I think it's integral to the work that we're doing because this project sort of started because we wanted to be able to build a store, so that I could develop my own work. And if I built a store then I could sell my own work, I could just have a platform for it. So I do think that Red Hook is very integral because it's so easy to set up something like this. There's so many people in need of a shop or a shared shop space. We have a variety of things that we have because we have wood and metal and ceramics.
In some ways it feels like a no brainer here. I think this is sort of the first phase of this project of developing our own work off of this sort of launching pad.
Nativen: Can you talk a little bit about where you're hoping to take this?
Natalie: I feel like I think of them as two separate projects in a way. So Supersmith, we just started the classes which we're really enjoying. The boat building class is really great and we really want to expand that. So we're supposed to take over the rest of the building, and we're looking forward to what we can do there. I think the boat building is going to be part of that.
We're doing more events here. We’re doing seasonal supper clubs. We're doing a crab boil in June and a pig roast in July with the meat hook and tiger shark. So that's fun, we're going to do those every season. We're sort of doing more things like that to activate the community and ... bring more awareness.
Then as far as the store goes… So my sister does ceramics and I was doing woodwork, so our plan the whole time since we came up with the whole idea of this project, probably five, six years ago. I've been developing this, now my sister, she had kids, but there older now, can step in and start taking more of a role in it. We’re planning on collaborating together to develop this line. Shook and Co. is the store, Shook Manufacturing is our little brand that we're starting. So yeah we're really looking forward to it.
So this summer- now that we have all these classes and events happening, and we have a program to follow, now we can start working on that project.
Nativen: So these are just a couple of rapid fire questions. But do you have a favorite restaurant in Brooklyn?
Natalie: I would probably still say Diner. We used to have our old shop on south 11th street, between Berry and Wythe, so we were just a couple blocks from Diner. And I have to say that may be the only thing I miss from Williamsburg. Really I mean that burger is out of control.
Nativen: Awesome. Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space in Brooklyn?
Natalie: That's a good one. ... I really love City Island. Which is not exactly a park, but it is an outdoor space.
Nativen: Do you have a hidden gem in New York?
Natalie: A hidden gem in New York ... Gosh, Red Hook?
Nativen: It still feels that way which is great. Even though this area is growing there's something about the combination of it still being somewhat inaccessible that creates that feeling.
Natalie: Yeah it really does. In Red Hook I walk Bones [Natalie's dog] to the pier with a beer. There's nothing better than that. The luxury of walking to the pier with a beer in hand at the end of the day is heaven.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in Brooklyn or in New York in general?
Natalie: I guess I would just say this community, you know? In a way, we've built a community here but it already existed. We just sort of pulled all of these incredible people together. So that is, I would say hands down the biggest resource. We have the privilege of working with so many wonderful people, not just creative and ... so intelligent but just wonderful. We really get to enjoy each other everyday which is a real gift.
Nativen: Inspiring, too.
Natalie: Yeah it's like we couldn't be luckier. So I would say that is because we can also depend on each other. When we were building the shop- this is one of the most incredible experiences of my life in a way. Zach and I, we started this project with the tiniest pile of money. So it literally was just the two of us who built everything. So we were- and it took us two years to do all of that. It was just an empty plumbing supply and we put the skylights in, we did everything. All the floors- it was just epic.
Nativen: So this is the asking you to pick your favorite child question. But do you have one piece that stands out as your favorite piece? Or maybe something that was your greatest accomplishment?
Natalie: Again it feels like the beginning of a project. It feels like there's been so much work already but, this wasn't really the end goal yet. So I feel like that work hasn't started. So this just feels like the foundation. So I'm proud of this foundation.
All the work before this was sort of, at this point it feels so far away. When we left the old place, I abandoned- I left all my paintings there.
Nativen: Oh, wow.
Natalie: So I don't have any anymore which is so weird. I just walked away. I was hit by a cab, I had a broken arm so I was just like "I guess I'm just going to leave you guys." In some way, it was great. A little cathartic.
Nativen: In just the process of your work in general, what part of your process brings you the most joy?
Natalie: That part when you're creating something out of nothing. That's the best part, right? I was never really going to go to grad school for painting, but I was interested in going to business school. Which at this point, I think actually just starting a business is obviously the best training you can get. But I'm really interested in that aspect, that challenge.
Nativen: What part is the greatest struggle for you?
Natalie: The greatest struggle I guess is probably seeing things through. I think because I do enjoy so much the ideation phase. I'm like "nailed it." Will, someone else help? But then there's no one else and you're like "oh. I've gotta do this?"
Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?
Natalie: As it relates to this, I think the thing that I actually want to do, is develop work out of this thing. I really want to do that. I'm really looking forward to producing my own designs and making that, getting that started.
Nativen: That's cool. If you weren't doing this what do you think you would be doing?
Natalie: Being a mom. Looking forward to that.
Nativen: What's one destination you have always wanted to travel to?
Natalie: Since I was young- and I guess I haven't thought about it in some time, but I've always felt really drawn to India. I guess, growing up my best friend was Indian. I think maybe that was part of it. ... I'm Cuban, or half Cuban and I've gone to Cuba a couple of times and now these days I kind of just need a break and all I want to do is go back to Cuba. It's all I think about is how do I get back there? That place is pretty dreamy.
Nativen: Cool. I don't know if you listen to music at all while you work, but is there a song you've had on heavy rotation recently or something maybe that gets your creative juices flowing?
Natalie: That's interesting. But well, yeah I don't know. When you came in I was just listening to a little reggaeton in the morning.
Nativen: What's the most helpful advice you've received or what's maybe some advice that you would give to somebody who is looking to kind of build their own thing?
Natalie: I think this is something that I struggle with... I heard at one point, and I come back to this thought because it's hard when you don't necessarily have the means to, or you're not at the point in the business where you can sort of hand off aspects of the business. But to learn not to work for the business, but work on the business. You know?
I think when you start, it's so easy to get bogged down with the working for. And I think that if you're not careful ... that can really hurt it. And hurt your general happiness.
Nativen: Do you have a hero or maybe somebody who has helped influence your work and where you've gotten to?
Natalie: I guess I would say my father, you know. In a way he was sort of the inspiration for this whole thing. He was just a wonderful person. I loved him, we were so close. He called me everyday with a wake up call at 8:00 AM and we'd just talk all throughout. We were very close and he was wonderful and always told me to be the best me I could be. Which is so silly and of course a father is going to say that to his daughter. But he was just so loving and supportive and I think when I watch myself not being the best me, I sort of use him to check myself and consider him when I'm making choices… I think he would be excited by this project.
Nativen: What are three things you can't live without?
Natalie: Bones. [Natalie’s dog] Bones is number one. I don't know, Julio I guess maybe. Is that terrible?
Nativen: Oh, poor Julio.
Natalie: I mean I love him. I kind of had to learn to love him. Which I feel bad about. I don't think he had the best kitten upbringing. I really feel like I didn't know how to love him.
I'm gonna say, I have two sisters but Cal is the one who is here. Emmy lives in Ecuador and she has four children, she's very busy. My family overall, my sister's extended family, everyone is wonderful.
…Were you thinking objects? My truck. It's such a piece of shit but I love it. I just love being able to get out of here and get around. Bones and I go camping in it a lot in the summer. It's my little bit of freedom.
Nativen: You gotta have a getaway vehicle
Interview by: Lily Hetzler
Photography by: Ethan Covey
This interview has been condensed & edited
all images copyright of Nativen