an interview with installation and sculpture artist, Serra Victoria Bothwell FelsRead More
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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
It was a cold grey day when we went to visit the shop and creative headquarters of Brooklyn Lutherie, but the smell of wood dust and tea, and the resonant quality of a well-loved instrument warmed the space of musical doctors, Mamie and Chloe. From a small community of boat builders to the diverse streets of Brooklyn, these two have forged the perfect balance of impassioned creative craft, and a value for the simple joys of life. Read about their journeys through self-discovery and the stories of the instruments they repair….
Nativen: If you can just start off by telling me where you’re both from that'd be awesome.
Mamie: We're from opposite sides of the country. I'm from Delaware. I Grew up in Wilmington. I was born a little bit south of there in Virginia. My parents were, …actually we both have parents who are sailors.
Mamie: My folks, my mom and dad built a boat in the years before I was born. I was the third kid and they were like, "What are we going to do? Three children.” They started a ‘green’ building business in Delaware, so I basically grew up in Wilmington, Delaware.
Chloe: I'm from Washington state, from a small boat building community. Victorian seaport, as they like to call it… Port Townsend. Small town life - close to Canada and it's out on this peninsula, so it attracts all these wacky artists. So I had a lot of really powerful people to look up to and mentor me.
Nativen: You obviously both come from some sort of a building background. Do you think that where you came from specifically influenced your choice to build, repair, and work with musical instruments? How would you actually describe what you do?
Mamie: Well the business is restoration and repair. The business isn't building. Although Chloe's building violins and violas all the time, so what do we do? What do we do here? It's like a hospital for instruments.
Nativen: Oh, that's such a great way of describing it.
Mamie: The spirit of it is restorative, right? Like a lot of these wonderful, old things might otherwise be in a sad situation if someone didn't know how to help them, and I think we also are like facilitators. We facilitate art being made.
And I really like that role, and it's the spirit of “fixing”. Rather than this consumer culture where you chuck a thing and get a new one.
Also, new things are made to be chucked and replaced, but old things were not made that way.
Mamie: I like that the character of what we do has more to do with the way that things were intended to be used when they were built.
Mamie: We kind of specialize in these World War II Gibson guitars that are flat top guitars built during World War II. They happen to have been built in the factory during wartime when all of the experienced workers were young, capable men who were off fighting in the war, so they had to replace those workers with local women and old people. So these specific guitars were built by young women and people who weren't of fighting age, so that's kind of a neat thing to be associated with.
Nativen: That's a wonderful way of describing it. Just looking at the scope of your work it was difficult to define in one sort of arena. It's like “stewardship” in a way that is really cool.
Nativen: Do you think your childhood - where you grew up - specifically influenced your desire to pursue musical instrument repair?
Chloe: Definitely. The people I grew up around gave me an immense appreciation for keeping old things alive and caring for hand built things.
Mamie: I would say I was a weirdo. I mean, I wasn't like one of a group of people that I knew who were into this stuff.
Old music and old clothes and objects. More like my family - a family culture.
Nativen: Was there like a moment in your career or your development when you realized that you really wanted to pursue this seriously? Did you have an epiphany or something like that?
Chloe: I definitely did. I was going to school in Maine for marine biology.
Which is still like a very deep passion of mine, but I have been playing violin since I was a kid and I just randomly met this guy sailing on his wooden boat down the coast of Maine who was building a violin, just for fun, and it completely split my mind in half. I was like "What? This is something that people do and it's not just a factory thing and it's like a portable trade? All the tools are so small and you can just be traveling and building violins?" I was like, "That is what I'm going to do."
Nativen: What an amazing correlation though, coming from a background of boat builders…
Chloe: I know! It was very bizarre. I met this guy when I was sitting on the dock by my school eating dinner. I saw him rowing out to a boat that looked exactly like my dad's boat, which is a really unique Danish double-ended wooden boat.
That's why I like hailed him down. I was like, "Hey, is that a Danish Spidsgatter?" And he was like, "Why yes. Come on out."
Nativen: “…and I'll change your entire world."
Chloe: Totally. It was like kismet.
Nativen: How about you, Mamie?
Mamie: Mine was more like a slow confluence as a visual artist and like small, pokey things. And also, I play old music.
I was playing old guitars and I was in my like mid-twenties and working at a vintage guitar dealership. So there were a lot of old guitars around. Then one night I had a dream where I was sleeping alone in my bed with a guitar (because sometimes you want to wake up and play a guitar).
Nativen: Right. Like you do.
Mamie: Yeah, and it's a guitar from the 1930s. It's a cool guitar. Not fancy, like beat up, you know? But I had this dream that I was waltzing, and as I was waltzing I kicked my leg out and I kicked the guitar out of bed. I had a loft and the guitar went 'pyoo' and fell to the ground.
Smashed one side of it. So, I fixed it and I was like, “Duh, of course you can fix these.” And it’s pretty satisfying.
So then I applied for the repair department at the place where I worked and I got the job and then I turned out to be pretty good at it.
Nativen: It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with you and historical instruments.
Nativen: What do you love most about Brooklyn and do you think it's integral to the work that you're doing in any way?
Mamie: I'm a little allergic to Brooklyn's current artisanal trend… but, there are worse trends in the world, you know?
Chloe: Right. A beautiful thing about Brooklyn, I think, is the concentration and diversity of age and culture and race. And our clientele is so diverse and vibrant. I think my favorite part about having a shop in Brooklyn is to have our hands in a lot of different music scenes and schools. And old people picking up instruments for the first time.
Nativen: It’s amazing to have access to that kind of like cultural diversity.
Mamie: Yeah, I really appreciate that in Brooklyn we have people of different ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender expressions coming to us.
We've worked in other shops where that's not what happens.
Nativen: Do you live in Brooklyn as well or are you..?
Mamie: I just moved to the East Village like two weeks ago.
Chloe: And I live in Bed-Stuy.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in your neighborhood?
Chloe: The Ethiopian place. Bunna Café on Flushing. That's probably my favorite place.
Mamie: I like Barrio 480 for their tacos and what else do I like? Genet Ethiopian is great. I've been going to Angelica Kitchen a lot in the east village. Love Angelica Kitchen.
Nativen: You kind of can't, not love it. It's been there for a bajillion years so there's something very reassuring about that. You know, in an ever-changing New York it's comforting to find those places that have prevailed against all odds.
Do you have a favorite home goods or clothing store that you shop at?
Mamie: I don't shop so much. Where do I shop? I have to buy things somewhere, right?
Chloe: My mom still sends me underwear.
Mamie: That's amazing.
Chloe: And I make all my clothes. Most of my clothes... I go to Salvation Army.
Mamie: I mostly buy vintage.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?
Mamie: Yeah, Prospect Park. Hamilton Fish in the East Village is also pretty great.
Chloe: Yeah, Prospect Park. I'm a cyclist and my boyfriend really is getting into mountain biking lately and like all year round we'll bomb the trails in Prospect Park. It's really, really fun. There's so many of them. So many.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite “hidden gem” in New York?
Mamie: Oh. Barbès. That's my favorite bar.
Mamie: Jalopy, yeah. Really love Jalopy.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here?
Mamie: It would have to be our clientele.
Chloe: Yeah, and each other.
Mamie: That's true. The spirit of collaboration with one another. That's like a huge deal.
Chloe: Well, yeah, and just like getting perspective. I don't know, there are tough jobs, there are tough clients, and having someone to pull you out of a downward spiral, you know, seriously.
Nativen: Yeah… Okay, so this is the like asking you to pick a “favorite child”, but do you have a favorite instrument you like to work on, or a project that you've done that you were like, “This was the greatest accomplishment or most exciting thing that I've ever worked on”?
Chloe: I did a really major cello restoration recently for my friend Tiana. This cello had been sitting with this splintered top for fifteen years. It was sitting in somebody else's shop. They never had time to do it and she brought it over here and I was like, "Let's make this happen." It involved a lot of little tricks and techniques that I'd never done before. I think the challenging ones that you learn from are my favorite for sure.
Nativen: You're like nursing something back to health in this intense way.
Mamie: Yeah, and that’s so right. She's literally making a plaster cast of what’s there, then sculpting away the plaster and then pressing it in to how you want it to be, you know? You're reverse engineering the way it was built.
I did a full restoration on this guitar from the 1930s, which is actually like one that I play. His was a 1936 National-Dobro steel guitar with a wooden neck where the company moved from Chicago to California in 1935. They took with them a bunch of unbuilt, random pieces of guitars that were never fully realized.
They stopped making any new models after that. They just started piecing together these and those and those. Models of guitars are like models of cars, you know?
Holt's got a mahogany neck and these weird tuners. But these guitars were wacky, so it did a lot of unexpected things, opening the whole thing up. Sawing into it with a band saw and driving a wedge in to change the angle of the neck. It was like all of these funny little techniques and you end up collecting this knowledge from people that you talk to over the years and I got a chance to use all of it in one guitar.
And then when the person picks up a guitar, if you do your job well, no one knows you've even touched it.
Chloe: It's just like, “Oh, this feels like it should feel. And it looks like it should look.”
Mamie: Right, and that it plays in tune.
Nativen: What part of your process brings you the most joy?
Chloe: Just the gratification of seeing someone really elated that their baby's back and healthy.
Mamie: Yeah. The return. The ‘here you go’. That's really nice. I really like that I can have a job that gives you money where I show up every day and I'm happy about it.
Nativen: What part do you think is the greatest struggle for you?
Mamie: Deciding how much of my free time I'm willing to give up to further my professional life. I think we live in a time when we are all supposed to be really passionate about (our work), and have all things synthesized. I'm going to tweet about every single f-ing thing in the world.
I like my quiet time. I like my supper time, and our community is like people who totally geek out. People do it from when they wake up until they fall asleep.
Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?
Mamie: I've always wanted to make a pair of shoes. Chloe's mom's a cobbler.
Or make like sculptural ladies' hats.
Chloe: But also, more related to work, I'd like to build like a “mandocello” and like a “parlor guitar”. I'd like to build more.
Mamie: A mandocello would be amazing.
Chloe: Electric guitar. I want to make an electric violin. Just needs to be eight weeks in the month.
Nativen: I can relate to that. So if you weren't doing what you're doing, what do you think you would be doing?
Chloe: I'd be scuba diving. I'd be a scientific diver.
And eating the fruits of the sea every day.
Mamie: Which are oysters or what?
Chloe: Even seaweed and fish.
Mamie: That's great. I could tell you what I am interested in doing. I would like to be able to spend a month in a refugee camp.
That would be a pretty worthwhile thing to spend your time doing.
Nativen: Yeah. Absolutely.
Mamie: In an alternate life, I was a print making instructor. I might do something like that. That would be more like a career, you know what I mean?
It’s “hands-y” and I like teaching, but you don't get as much peace as in a situation where you have a chance to do your own thing.
Nativen: What destination do you want to travel to, and do you think that might inspire or alter the work that you're doing in any way?
Mamie: I have a boyfriend, Taono, who speaks a lot of languages and we like to travel a lot. We're talking about going to Tobago, to Trinidad and Tobago, where the music tradition is pretty interesting and hot. Really vibrant and really exciting.
I recently traveled to Cuba maybe a year and a half ago. It was before the embargo started to be lifted. They're building instruments there out of repurposed things in the most smart and ingenious ways.
Nativen: How inspiring.
Mamie: I know. They gutted all of the casinos in the 1950s, but what they didn't take was the Venetian blinds - called “Persian blinds”. They have these big long slats of straight cedar that are split-cut and they're all still there and they've been aged for sixty years. So you glue two together and you have the back of a guitar. It's beautiful.
And then they were getting all this imported hardwood furniture from the USSR - and so you take a table leg and it's the neck of a violin and it's like they were doing things like bending wood on a gasoline tank from a motorcycle that's sawed in half and you put a hot coal inside. Then you bend your wood.
They figured it all out. And they're building things that are beautiful.
Chloe: I would like to travel more in Africa. My boyfriend and I went to Ethiopia ... it was amazing and I think musically, that would really inspire me.
Nativen: I don't know if you listen to music at all while you work, but do you have a favorite song or artist?
Mamie: We listen to so much music. We listen to a lot of different music.
Chloe: Yeah. We have a favorite mutual song.
Mamie: Ted Lucas, “It's So Easy When You Know What You're Doing”. It was on this radio program that we listen to, “Chances With Wolves”.
I got really into Tone Tank. He's like a rapper, but he's like a doofy kind of Italian guy from Brooklyn. It's pretty great.
Nativen: That's sounds amazing. What are three words that sum up your work for you?
Chloe: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mamie: I exercise that every day.
Chloe: Yeah, for sure.
Mamie: Sometimes someone will bring you a guitar and they're like, "This is buzzing." Okay, so there are forty-nine and half ways that a guitar can buzz.
Yeah, it's not an objective thing. So there's some massaging.
Chloe: Patience, yeah. What's another word for like long-lasting.
Chloe: Yeah, or like ...
Chloe: Yeah, maybe.
Nativen: Is there anything that you ladies specifically do to connect with your community in the work that you're doing?
Chloe: I think we both want to do more of that.
Chloe: I think our main outreach has been with the “Willie Mae Rock Camp” for girls.
We've gone there and spoke to their camp kids and repaired instruments for them and donated instruments to them.
Mamie: Right. We sent a couple instruments to Standing Rock protesters.
And then we both are performers, so I think people know us now not only by that, but also being connected to Brooklyn Lutherie. I think it's important to just be stable and represent women owning a business and doing something that they believe in.
Nativen: Happy to hear that. What's the most helpful advice you've received or maybe advice that you would give to someone who's looking to pursue their creative dreams?
Mamie: I think get nerdy and don't be scared to really dive in.
Chloe: Yeah. There are so many ways to educate yourself. And even before you find the teacher or the job, there are a lot of ways to experience and teach yourself. Mess around and ruin some instruments, you know?
Mamie: Don't be scared.
Chloe: Enjoy learning how not to do stuff and figure it out.
Mamie: Also, like my dad used to say, “Show up on time. Show up on time.” Create a community by making sure that people know that they can trust you.
Nativen: Super good advice. Yeah, I think making mistakes is such a huge part of that. We think we're supposed to have it all figured out right away.
Mamie: No, totally right.
Nativen: Do you have a hero or someone who's influenced your work in a really meaningful way?
Mamie: I'm thinking of two people. Linda Manzer. Linda Manzer is a wonderful instrument builder. She's Canadian, and she's kind of been at it for long enough, she's in her sixties, so she learned her craft in the 1970s building classical guitars. We interviewed her for “She Shreds” magazine. Do you know this magazine? It's a magazine for women guitarists and bassists.
We interviewed her for that magazine and she was like, “Learning to build guitars is like taking a vow of poverty." Like it wasn't glamorous and it wasn't something that would make you a lot of money, so ...
Chloe: And it was going to be like, hanging in the shop with a bunch of guys, just all the time.
Mamie: She talked about how she grew up with brothers - she was pretty rough and ready - but it was definitely like going to work at an auto-body shop. But then she found this kind of beautiful group of guys who didn't make it difficult for her to be herself and at some point she started making really wacky instruments. She's made a few of these eight necked, forty-two stringed instruments.
And they're not just like a novelty show. They're beautiful.
She's done the physics work-ups and she knows how things vibrate. I really like the way her guitars play. The sounds are dark and resonant and like a little wet, almost murky, but not muddy.
Chloe: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mamie: And they sell for $30,000. She's top of the game, you know?
Nativen: Right. What are three things you can't live without?
Mamie: I feel like some of these are going to be tools. For me, three quarter inch chisel ... Do we each get three or do we get a collective three?
Nativen: Yeah, you each get three. You're separate people. [laughs] You can have your own in general. User's choice.
Mamie: Coffee with cardamom. Yeah. Three quarter inch chisel. Coffee with cardamom, pocket knife ... I feel like at one point I did like tried online dating and I had to answer this same question.
It drove me bonkers also. I was like, "No one's ever going to look at my profile if I don't have three things!" I mean the truth is like, making out with Taono is on the list.
Nativen: Hey, it's good to know what you need in life.
Chloe: Yeah. Black tea, record collection-
Mamie: Oh, yeah, music. Yeah.
Chloe: Music. Bicycle.
Mamie: Yeah. Okay, pocket knife, coffee with cardamom, and-
Mamie: Yeah. Fela Kuti.
Nativen: Ooh nice. You like encompassed both of them. Music and love, within Fela Kuti.
Interview by: Lily Hetzler
Photos by: Ethan Covey
This interview has been condensed & edited
all images copyright of Nativen
This song contains explicit lyrics
This mouth-watering interview gives a slice of Midwestern life, down-home cooking, and the power of sister collaboration. We sat down with Emily Elsen, who along with her sister Melissa, founded one of our favorite spots in Brooklyn, Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop. With a window into their creative world, and a peak at their new space, opening just up the road; we can see this bakery has become a favorite meeting spot for fellow Brooklynites. It also draws people from all over New York to get a taste of their fresh and inventive pies… Order up!
Nativen: You grew up in South Dakota right?
Emily: Yep, that’s right.
Nativen: How do you think growing up there influenced your choice to start doing pie making?
Emily: South Dakota is a Midwestern state, and pie making is very popular in the Midwest.
Growing up in a small town with our grandmother was probably the biggest influence on my pie making. Our mother ran a small town restaurant with her sister that they opened in 1985. We worked in the restaurant and Grandma made all the pies for the restaurant.
Nativen: That’s great!… When did you realize that you wanted to be a pie maker? Was there a specific event in your life, or something that influenced you?
Emily: Kind of…I studied sculpture and photography and went to school for the arts. It was there that Iworked in the arts administratively and helped found a nonprofit studio space [The Gowanas Studio Space]. There were a bunch of different things in the art world I did.
Melissa studied finance and business management, and did a bunch of traveling, and we had talked for a long time about starting a business together.
When she was moving back from Australia, she didn’t really have a plan. I had an extra room in my house so she came to New York to live with me. That’s when things really started to gel that we would do pie, in particular.. I found myself making pies again, and getting back to baking. When I moved into a house with a big kitchen I got back to pie baking and cake making, and found myself making a lot of stuff, but mostly a lot of baking. Melissa was also making cakes and things and found herself gravitating back towards food making, too, even though, we had grown up in it, and gone away from it, and wanted to explore different things.
We both felt like we were drawn back to it. I think the moment we realized that pie was it we both got really excited. It’s funny…I would never have envisioned that when I moved to New York at 18 to go to art school that I would end up owning a pie company. That isn’t exactly…
Nativen: …Part of your original plan?
Emily: Exactly, not at all. Working in food or running a food business was not [a part of the plan] either because we both knew how much work it would be and we knew it was dirty work. I wouldn’t have everthought that running a pie company is what I would end up doing.
So, we were both attracted to pie making and we also felt that there weren’t many bakeries out there, and that made us think, “It’s a good pie.” We just weren’t finding that in New York. So it just all came together and we just felt like, hey this is something we really enjoy doing. Pie making to both of us is really fun and exciting, and gratifying, and something that we could see ourselves continuing to do.
Nativen: It’s so important when you’re starting a small business to have it be something that you’re passionate about.
Emily: That you enjoy, exactly.
Nativen: With pie making, I feel like it’s such a meditative process that when you’re doing it for yourself…
Emily: It follows through because even when we hire people, we’re not working a line here. We’re doing repetitive tasks over and over. We’re rolling out pie dough. We’re rolling out that. It’s our assembly. Make crusts, complete pie, repeat.”
Absolutely, and that’s one of the things I like the most.
Nativen: What do you love most about Brooklyn, and do you think that’s integral to the work that you’re doing?
Emily: When I moved here in ‘99, I was applying to art schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I will never forget coming over here for the first time.
Coming over the bridge from the city and seeing Brooklyn — I was immediately struck by the eclectic mix of neighborhoods and the eclectic mix of people. I came from a place that was pretty small, a town of 400 people.
Nativen: A homogenized town?
Emily: Very homogenized. Not to dismiss it, because it was a great place to grow up, but I was so starving for diversity and excitement.
To me, Brooklyn felt not as intense and crazy as Manhattan. It felt more approachable, and like a city of neighborhoods that were really interesting. That’s one thing that I love about Brooklyn and doing business here. It’s such a mix of customers and clientele.
[Four & Twenty Blackbirds] has gotten to grow more as we’ve established our business. We are now at the Brooklyn Public Library and we’re serving our communities here, not just the little community that is Gowanus. We get people from all over New York City coming in.
I feel like there are not a ton of bakeries in Brooklyn like there used to be. There are your commercial bakeries and stuff, but what we’re doing — there’s not a lot of it. I feel like we’re hopefully holding down the market here on pie. We’d like to.
Four & Twenty identifies with Brooklyn and the Brooklyn food scene and what Brooklyn has become in the last 15 years…To me, Brooklyn’s very different than it was 15 years ago, and it will be very different15 years from now, as well.
We very much identified with this neighborhood when we opened, because we really wanted to further the early things to open and start a community here. There are lots of artists, musicians and designers working in these buildings.
Those things help define what Four & Twenty is. Do I think that we could open somewhere else? Absolutely. We’d love to open in the West Coast, and work with the ingredients that are there. It would be the same concept. We wouldn’t ship the pie somewhere to sell it. We would make pie in the area…which is what pie making is to me. You make it with ingredients that are around you.
Nativen: That’s how we like it….
Just a couple of rapid-fire questions:
In Brooklyn, what’s your favorite restaurant?
Emily: My favorite restaurant in Brooklyn? That’s a tough question. Probably, the one I go to the most is Prime Meats.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite home goods store in Brooklyn?
Emily: Yes. I do go to kitchen supply stores a lot, if you count that.
Nativen: Absolutely. Those are home goods.
Nativen: Favorite clothing store?
Emily: I’m inclined to be like Bird, because I know the owner, and it’s a beautiful store.
Nativen: It is a beautiful store.
Emily: I feel like that’s a good one to shout out. I’m not a huge, huge shopper. I like the idea of your lineup. I’d probably end up wearing everything from there. [laughs]
Nativen: No, that’s exciting. That’s what I like to hear.We’re always looking for feedback. It’s one of the things I talk to people a lot about.
We’re focusing a lot on the comfort and the engineering because I want it to function in a way that’s useful to women. One of the pieces we’re developing right now is an apron that’s specifically built to fit a woman’s body.
Emily: I like that a lot. The thing is we use standard issue kitchen stuff, but you always have to modify it to make it your own style that fits with what you’re wearing.
Nativen: [Aprons] are mostly designed for men’s bodies and are long in the torso. It doesn’t really account for bust or anything.
Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space in Brooklyn?
Emily: Yes, many. I really love the park right behind the Children’s Museum. It’s called Brower Park.
It’s right by my house. It’s just a small little park, but it has basketball courts and a little skate park that was built by a woman I know who lived in the neighborhood. There’s also a nearby park with a little farmer’s market there every other weekend. It’s a good little community park. I love that. Otherwise, I also love the Brooklyn Promenade. The Promenade is awesome.
Nativen: Those are good spaces. Do you have a hidden gem in Brooklyn?
Emily: A truly hidden gem that I had the opportunity to visit is the basement stacks of the Brooklyn Public Library. During our renovation of the cafe, a gracious librarian gave me a brief glimpse of the thousands of books that are housed beneath the building. An incredible wealth of information on bound paper.
Nativen: That’s amazing!… What is the greatest resource to your work in Brooklyn or in New York?
Emily: It’s a couple of things I think — our people, our staff. We couldn’t run our business without our team and people who are devoted to pie making.
Additionally, clientele; New York City has an endless supply of people that want to eat. That’s a pretty good resource when it comes to doing business.
When it comes to food, certain areas are a little more simple, as far as willingness to try things or be adventurous. I feel like we have a lot of freedom [in Brooklyn] to be adventurous. That’s one thing that we wanted to do with the pie shop. If you can’t be creative it’s not fun.
Nativen: Absolutely. That’s the thing that drives your business forward, for me, creatively.
Emily: Yeah, exactly. I feel that’s a good thing too.
Nativen: Do you have a pie that you make that’s your favorite?
Emily: I have to say that my favorite pie is pie that’s made with in‑season fruits. I actually gain weight in the summer because I eat pie about three times a week. I’m a big fruit fanatic.
…Not as much into our chocolate and custard pies. I like them a lot too, but when there are peaches, cherries, figs, the first season apples, or nectarines and plums, I love that. Any pie that’s made with fresh in‑season fruit, not canned fruit or things like that. You want it to be ripe and good.
Nativen: Yeah absolutely. I get snobby about the fruit that I use to bake, as well.
What part of the process brings you the most joy?
Emily: Let’s see… There are a lot of processes that make me happy.
Probably, the biggest part and maybe the most obvious is, coming into the pie shop or the library cafe, and seeing everybody eating our product and just chilling and hanging out, enjoying it, and sharing it.
This is bit of a tear‑jerker, but we were sitting downstairs doing an interview for a new job applicant and there was this little girl standing on a chair, eating pie. It was just so cute.
She was with her parents and they were taking pictures. Things like that. When there are kids with a slice of pie, or anything where the customers are enjoying it and they’re happy.
I’m famous for having long conversations with customers about pie.
Nativen: What part of the process is the greatest struggle for you, do you think?
Emily: I’d say balancing life and business, which is not uncommon for most people.
But for small business owners, in particular, it’s 24/7. There isn’t really any kind of full on routine that we’ve been fully able to establish. It’s all over the place, especially when you’re growing. I think that’s probably the biggest challenge for me.
Nativen: The life/work balance?
Emily: Yeah, just taking time off for yourself, or finding the balance and cutting work off at some point. I’m getting better with that.
Nativen: That’s good. It’s an educational process in developing your business.
Emily: Right, exactly.
Nativen: What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t done yet?
Emily: Ride in a hot air balloon!
Nativen: If you weren’t a pie maker, what do you think you would be?
Emily: I studied art and photography so I’d probably still be working in that area because it’s something creative. I’d have to be doing something hands on. It could be like wood‑working even. I could see myself doing that. Actually, I also love landscaping.
Nativen: That’s great. It sounds like you’ll have that at your new space. You’ll have some inspiration with that.
What destination would you want to travel to, and how do you think that might inspire or alter your work?
Emily: There are a lot of places. Asia, actually, I haven’t been to Japan or Southeast Asia.
Nativen: I haven’t been either and I’ve always wanted to go. There’s so much to learn from a cultural standpoint that’s very different from Western countries.
Nativen: What’s a song you’ve been listening to at work lately?
Emily: I listen to a lot of old and new hip/hop and rap when I’m working. I recently learned of Fatima and I like her voice a lot, have had her albums on in the kitchen.
Nativen: What are 3 words that sum up your work.
Emily: Ambition, creativity, camaraderie.
Nativen: Is there anything that you do with your business to specifically connect with your community?
Emily: Yeah. We definitely try to create a place where people can do work during the week and have meetings and have it be like a community-gathering place. You see most of the spaces in here dedicated to serving as a big community table
Now, running the cafe at the Brooklyn public library. That is very community‑oriented as well but not easy. It’s totally different running an institutional cafe in a library, which is a place of public service. I love being there engaging with what is, to me, the real Brooklyn community.
Nativen: Right, like a more accurate representation of average Brooklynites.
Emily: Yeah, I think so. The pie shop might be a little more particular to the neighborhood. But then again, we do get people from all over coming in.
We also donate a lot to public schools. Anything education‑based, typically, we give a lot of pie gift certificates too.
Nativen: What’s the most helpful advice that you’ve received, or what advice would you give to creatives looking to develop their own work?
Emily: I feel like the advice I would give is what people have said to me: know that if you’re doing something independently, it’s a lot of work and it’s on you. You don’t just check out at the end of the day when you leave.
You have to stick to your guns, don’t compromise…people will always be distracters of ideas with things they want you to do. But if you really want to do something and you care about it, then, stick to it.
Nativen: That’s good advice.
Who’s your hero or who’s someone who has helped influence your work?
Emily: We have an incredibly supportive mother.
Nativen: That’s awesome.
Emily: She quit her job to come help us with the business. After running a restaurant, raising us, and then also, working in health care for 10 years, then, she’s like, “You know what, I want to come help you guys with the business.”
I don’t think in my 20s, I would have been like, “Yeah mom, come live with me here,” but now I feel like I’d be lost without her support and friendship over the years.
Nativen: That’s huge.
Emily: Yeah. She’s tough and she is also very patient with two daughters who are crazy business owners, and who often fight and get into personal drama outside of work.
Nativen: That’s really amazing though.
What are five things you can’t live without?
Emily: Let’s see. Five things I can’t live without…. music, good food, coffee, sunshine, and access to saltwater.
Actually, I could live without the salt water but I really don’t want to…I like being close to it. I grew up in South Dakota, which is land locked so now I’m really drawn to the ocean.
For more tasty treats, you can visit them here.
Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler
Assistant Editor: Emily Murphy (This interview has been condensed & edited)
all images copywright of Nativen
This month we put the oh-so talented Blacksmith and Knifemaker Moriah Cowles, of Orchard Steel in the hot seat (we really do love our puns).
Her adventures Woofing thru Mexico, hand forging on a charcoal stove, and finding inspiration in the daily life at her family orchard in Vermont; fills us with a desire to cultivate the simple life… Read on!
…and check out the tune that keeps her forge burning: below this interview
Nativen: First off, where are you from?
Moriah: I’m from Vermont, originally…. From just south of Burlington in a little town called Shelburne.
Nativen: How did growing up in Vermont influence your choice, do you think, to start doing knife making?
Moriah: That’s a good question… I grew up around a lot of artists and woodworkers. I think growing up on a farm… doing wood-working and metal working, just helping my dad out in the shop and stuff.
I don’t know if it came naturally to me, but it was just something that I learned while growing up on an apple orchard.
…I’ve always had an interest in making things. I’ve also always just loved to do art, and make stuff with my hands. I can’t really help myself.
Nativen: When did you realize that you wanted to be a knife-maker?
Moriah: I went to school in Colorado. I was an Art Studio minor, and I went out there one summer and took a blacksmithing class. It was the perfect marriage of art and function. I was making stuff that I could use and that felt really good.
When I was in this class, it was called “Blacksmithing and the Art of Utility,” I was able to make beautiful things that had really beautiful feminine shapes to them, and curves …in this really hands‑on organic way of beating on steel, and using fire.
It was very elemental. I got to make stuff that I could bring home and use… It was [a] really satisfying feeling.
Then, I hauled my college boyfriend back with me to Vermont and we worked on the family farm for three years, on the orchard, and also grew food.
On the side, I was teaching myself how to blacksmith… and eventually bought a forge, and borrowed our farrier’s anvil. The guy who does our horseshoes lent me one of his anvils, which is still the one I use.
I was making all these projects, and every time… I was like, “I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel.” I kinda want to specialize in something… And then… I took [a] blacksmithing class, in North Carolina, we made knives out of railroad spikes, which isn’t the best steel, but… they’re pretty and fun to mess around with. That was really exciting!…
I went to make another one, and I was Googling it, and found out that you need a certain type of steel… You need to use this process called heat-treating, which I didn’t know anything about… and all of a sudden the light went off.
It was like, “This is my specialization”
Then, that winter I took a bicycle trip through Mexico with that boyfriend, starting in New Mexico and went down through to Michoacán.
The whole way I had this dream… I was going to, somewhere along our trip, meet this old man who made knives that I was going to learn from.
So, I kept asking people along the way if they knew knife makers, and nobody did.
We got to this place where we decided we were going to stay awhile… we were working on farms in exchange for a place to stay, and food to eat.
We were… on this farm, and I asked the guy that we were working with, just cause I was asking everyone…and he was like, “Actually, yeah, there’s this really well‑known, amazing knife-maker, who lives right down the street, and he sells his wife’s sourdough bread on Tuesday’s at the farmer’s market. You should go meet him.”
That Tuesday I went down, all nervous, and went up to him, and said, “Oh my god, I hear you make knives. I really want to learn how to make knives.” My boyfriend at the time was with me, and he was like, “Yeah, she made this knife for me!..” I was like, ” Guuulgh shut up!”… [laughs]
He was like, “Ohhh, you think you know how to make knives?… All right, fine. Come by tomorrow at one, we’ll talk. You can come and see my shop.”
I went that next day, and he was like, “…Make a knife and show me what you know.”
I was trying to make a knife, but I didn’t know his setup… it was all outdoor, no electricity, charcoal forge and he was leaning over my shoulder, telling me what I was doing wrong.
“You’re holding the hammer wrong, and you’re doing this wrong, and why would you think to do that, and what about this?”
I was there from one in the afternoon until nine at night, and I finally finished and had heat-treated the knife, and I had almost cried in the middle of it. It was a hot day. I was outside all day, just scorched, and by a forge!
…[but] I stuck through it, and he looked at me and was like, “OK, you proved you’re interested. Come back tomorrow.”
I went back the next day, and he was a total sweetheart, and [I] had lunch with his family every day and I went back for six weeks. I apprenticed with him.
Moriah: …Then, when I came back… I started looking into it and… there’s a society called the American Bladesmith Society, that I’m now a part of. I took a class with them, up in Maine and then I just started making knives… I wanted to do something totally different. I wanted to learn about film and knives.
[So] I went out to New Mexico to work for a friend [on] his first feature‑length narrative. …Working with him and just a small seven‑person crew…All of the crew was from Brooklyn.
While I was working with him, I got an email from a friend of mine…who said… “Hey, I just wanted to reach out to you…I’m living in Brooklyn right now.. and there’s this guy who used to work in my shop who makes knives. I hear you’re making knives. It’s really weird that I know two people that do this. I figured I’d connect you. It was sort of my job to connect you guys… I doubt you’d ever want to live in New York City, but if you did, he’s looking for help. Here’s his information.”
And I read it, and I was around all these Brooklyn guys and they’re like, “Move to Brooklyn!” Two of them were like, “One of our roommates is moving out in September. You could totally move in with us.”
Nativen: So fortuitous.
Moriah: ..So, I emailed Joel [Bukiewicz], who was her friend, of Cut Brooklyn, and on my way back from working on the film, swung through New York and met him…We talked for two hours and nerded out on knives.
He was like, “All right, if you want to, you can start in two weeks.”
I went back to Vermont, tied up loose ends, threw some clothes in apple boxes, and put them in the back of my pickup truck and moved to Brooklyn.
That was three and a half years ago. That’s how I got here, through him. It was very serendipitous.
…[The] building that I moved into with those guys, two months after I moved in… burned down.. I got the settlement two years later, right when I was thinking of starting my own business…
The settlement check started my business.
Nativen: Amazing. That’s super fortuitous!
Moriah: Yeah. Maybe I’m just one of those people that’s like, “This is totally a sign!” [laughs]
Nativen: No, but the world works in mysterious ways, and when you have good energy flowing, that energy finds you. It’s awesome… The knife gods are smiling on you. I feel like it’s a good story.
Nativen: My next question is: What do you love most about Brooklyn? You talked about this a little bit, but how is it integral to your work?
Moriah: I really love what’s going on in Brooklyn right now… I’ve sort of come here at this amazing time where there’s tons of people that are going back to making things by hand and kind of getting into that artisanal anything. … Brooklyn has a name for itself now.
Nativen: Being a craft city?
Moriah: Yeah. It’s so inspiring. I’ll even look across here and think, “Who are these people? What are they making?” People right over there… I’ve thought about writing a sign like, “Who are you? Can I come over for a beer?”
Moriah: That’s great. I love that about Brooklyn. It’s also sort of this epicenter for press. So, It’s a great place to start a business …It’s cool to be a part of this community in that way. It’s good for business in that sense, but it’s also good for your heart to be a part of a community.
In Brooklyn, what’s your favorite restaurant?
Moriah: I don’t know. My favorite is cooking food with my roommates. [laughs]
Nativen: That’s great. That can be your restaurant [at] home.
Do you have a favorite home goods store?
Moriah: Brooklyn Kitchen is a cool home goods store.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite clothing store?
Moriah: What’s the thrift store that has the creepy baby face?
Nativen: Beacon’s Closet.
Moriah: [laughter]…I like that place.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?
Moriah: Prospect Park.
Nativen: Do you have a hidden gem in Brooklyn that you…?
Moriah: I’m not going to tell you that…. no I’m kidding. [laughs] …One sweet place to go and have a beer after work… is the little dock space behind Ikea… They’ve created a cool little park spot down there that can be really nice.
Nativen: That’s a good hidden gem.
What do you think, in Brooklyn, is the greatest resource to your work?
Moriah: Joel. [Cut Brooklyn]
Nativen: That’s awesome…. What do you think is your favorite piece that you’ve made so far, if you have a favorite piece that you’ve made so far?
Moriah: Well knife-wise… I’m really loving the steak knives that I’m making. I think that they’re really sexy, the shape of them and everything.
I don’t know why sexy comes up every time I think of the most beautiful knives, but they have this sex appeal to them… The really big 11inch chef knives I love. There’s something about the weight of them… They’re heavy, they mean business, but they still have a grace and lightness about them
Nativen: What part of the process brings you the most joy?
Moriah: I love forging them… That’s what got me into it in the first place, but I also really love when I’m doing the final buffing of the knife and the grain of the wood comes out… you see the character… It’s like the soul of the knife.
There’s a saying that when you heat-treat and when you quench the steel, that’s when you give the knife its soul. It’s a really meditative and powerful part of the process, because you have to really be paying attention. It makes or breaks the knife, literally, actually.
Nativen: That’s awesome. That’s a cool thing to experience in your hands.
What part of the process do you think is the greatest struggle?
Moriah: Well… The heat-treating process is the greatest struggle… I don’t always know if I did it right… There’s a few ways that I can tell, by the color of the steel after it comes out… I would test the edge, and if it got dull quickly that meant that it didn’t work.
Nativen: What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done yet?
Moriah: Go mountain biking.
Nativen: If you weren’t a knife maker, what would you be?
Moriah: That’s the million dollar question. I don’t know. Can I say I don’t know? That’s a great question.
Nativen: Yeah. You can say you don’t know. In fact, I think that’s a really good sign that you’re in the right place.
What destination do you want to travel to, and how do you think that might inspire or alter your work?
Moriah: I want to go to Normandy, and I want to go to Scotland to visit distilleries.
My father has a distillery in the apple orchard. We make apple brandy, so I’ve been tasting different bottles of calvados… I think it will be fun to meet different distillers in Normandy, which is the region where they make calvados… apple brandy.
I would love to take a bike trip through Scotland.
I’ve watched my father as a business owner do something that he totally loves but has taken a really long time to support more than itself… watching him try to figure out this work‑life balance. And I’ve watched my mom force him to take vacations and go do something that is totally unrelated to work.
Those are the times when he comes up with the most creative solutions to problems that he’s been dealing with… Sometimes it is just a matter of getting away, dropping work, and dropping back into yourself in a way that you can only do sometimes when you get away from work, and get inspired and excited about life outside of your work, and then you can go back with this new perspective.
Nativen: Absolutely, and France has beautiful knife makers, too. I bought a gorgeous knife from this man in Southern France. He hand‑forges them and shapes them, and everything, there.
Moriah: …We’re everywhere. [laughs]
Nativen: Yeah. It’s true. It’s awesome. I’m glad about it.
Do you listen to music when you work?
Moriah: I do. More recently, I usually listen to Pod casts.
Nativen: Do you have a song or an artist that you kind of have on regular rotation right now?
Moriah: I’ve been listening a lot to “Lake Street Dive.” Have you ever heard of them?… [laughs] There is a song called “The Neighbor’s Song” which is a song about living in Brooklyn, and it’s like, “I can hear my neighbors making love upstairs.”
Nativen: What are [a couple of] words that sum up your work? I feel like sexy has to be one.
Moriah: Sexy can be one!
Functional ‑‑ it’s kind of boring, but that’s true.
Nativen: No… Absolutely.
Nativen: What’s the most helpful advice that you’ve received, and/or what advice would you offer to creatives looking to develop their own work?
Moriah: I would say… It’s important to recognize when you need help from other people and not be shy about asking for it.
Nativen: Yeah, that’s great.
Who’s your hero or who is someone who’s helped [influence] your work?
Moriah: [laughs] This is going to sound cheesy, but I feel like my dad. I’ve mentioned him before… He doesn’t make knives obviously, but I talk to him frequently and… every time… no matter what he’s doing, he’s like, “God, I love my life.” [laughs]
He’ll be walking around the apple orchard and he’s sooo beside himself, feeling lucky for what he’s doing. It’s what’s been able to make his business work, because people want to support that, and it shows in the land, in the apples, in brandy, in everything.
…[A] piece of advice he gave me, which has been really helpful… Sometimes you just have bad days. At the end of a day if you’re exhausted, you’re trying to finish something, he has always said, “Never underestimate the power of a clean shop and a fresh start in the morning.”
Sometimes I’ll put what I’m doing down, and I’ll clean my shop, and go home. Sometimes if I don’t do that, that’s when I cut myself or break something. It’s a simple piece of advice.
Nativen: What are five objects you can’t live without?
Moriah: My fiddle.
I want to say a hammer and anvil as one. Can that be a one object?
Moriah: [laughs] My bicycle, coffee maker. [laughs]
Nativen: Oh, that’s a good one. Coffee maker ‑‑ I like that.
You can check out more of Moriah’s work here.
Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler
This interview has been condensed & edited
all images copywright of Nativen
Last week we sat down with Textile Artist, Maryanne Moodie, to discuss the ins and outs of weaving (sorry we couldn’t resist), finding your craft through skip-diving, and the importance of creative community.
Nativen: How did growing up in Melbourne influence your choice to start doing weaving?
Maryanne: Melbourne is super creative… the last two governments ago, the state …put a huge funding into the arts. They created this enormous cultural center and anyone could get funding for whatever project they wanted to do. People were coming together in groups and they were making big installations and doing performances. People who were creative in many ways were coming up with all these new ideas.
It was amazing, and it still is. …Some of my favorite artists are coming out of Melbourne. It’s an exciting place to be, and it feels like anything is possible.
Nativen: When did you realize that you wanted to be a weaving artist? Was there a specific event in your life that influenced it?
Maryanne: I was looking for a craft, because I wanted to make things for my friends and family. I wanted to give them presents that were meaningful, that I’d made with my hands and not just bought from the shops.
I had all of these super-talented friends who were good at everything. I tried knitting and I was OK at knitting, but there was someone who was better at knitting. There was somebody who was better at crochet and someone who was better at basket weaving …none of them stuck.
I was an art teacher at the time… and at the new school there was no storeroom. The principal came and he got one of those big metal bins. We call them a skip…
He said, “Go get through the storeroom.” There’s a little row of cupboards at the new school, so you have to go through that classroom-sized room of junk, as he called it, and pretty much toss everything, if you can.
It depends on your personality whether you’re a keeper or a chucker, but it nearly killed me, having to throw away boxes of bottle tops that had been in there since the ’50s and big circles of raffia…As long as this school had been there, people had been donating things to the art room.
… I had done a lot of the organization, and it was nice to be able to go in there at the start of a semester and say, “Right, I’m going to figure out what I’m going to teach by using these items.” Rather than, “I want to teach this and this and I’m going to buy all this stuff,” which is expensive and not so great for the environment….it felt creative in that way. We were going through and got towards the back and under a big pile of newspapers, was this loom.
Nativen: That’s so fantastic.
Maryanne: … I’d done a little bit of work on a cardboard loom and I thought, “Maybe this is the thing. Maybe I can make this.” These were the first…I didn’t even have yarn. I had jute and some neon string, so that was the first thing that I made.
…In Australia there’s this idea called “tall poppy syndrome”. It’s like: don’t get too big for your boots, don’t put yourself out there because somebody’s going to come and chop your head off. You don’t want to say, “I’m making art,” because someone’s going to come and say, “No, you’re not.”
So… I’ll turn that into a zippered pouch, and it’s useful. This is utilitarian. You don’t need to find a space on your wall for this. I could give presents that were useful. And then I got better and better at it and I was like, “Maybe I can start hanging these on the wall”…”Just quietly”.
I was putting them on Instagram and it was this women’s circle where people were like, “Those are amazing!” and so encouraging. Some people who were weavers were saying, “You should try this thing and you should try this thing.” It was really empowering and exciting.
Nativen: Would you say that it was the introduction through the art school and then encouragement from other weaver women in your circle?
Maryanne: Yep, definitely.
Nativen: Now that you’re in Brooklyn, what do you love most about being in Brooklyn and how is that integral to your work? Or do you think it’s integral to your work?
Maryanne: I think it is. It feels really exciting. It feels like there [are] things happening here, there [are] people who do what I do here. Through Instagram I’ve been in contact with other weavers and we have Weavers-United drinks…Which is great. It’s really cute, and it’s that: making community and reaching out and…we’re not alone. Encouraging each other and helping. Giving advice about things. You have to be a businesswoman. You have to be all of those things now. Trying to be gentle and honest and at the same time getting your name out there and all of that stuff. Which can be tricky sometimes.
Nativen: In Brooklyn, what’s your favorite restaurant, if you had to pick one?
Maryanne: Talde is really nice.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite home goods store?
Maryanne: Etsy. [laughs]
Nativen: Is there one in Brooklyn…?
Maryanne: There is. There’s The Greenhouse. It’s really nice.
Nativen: Favorite park or outdoor space?
Maryanne: Prospect Park… It’s just there!
Nativen: Is there… a hidden gem in Brooklyn for you that maybe a lot of people don’t know about?…
Maryanne: I don’t know if we’ve been here long enough. Our house is really good. [laughs]
Nativen: That’s a good hidden gem…
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in Brooklyn?
Maryanne: Having those other weavers close by. I’m about to start teaching classes and they’ve both offered to come and assist…. They’ll learn something through the process as well, but yeah…The community.
Nativen: This question might be like asking you to pick the child that you love the most…but what is your favorite piece that you’ve made thus far?
Maryanne: It was a combination piece that I made in Brunswick, in Melbourne. We had a big loom made up, and I got to be in a beautiful florist’s. We had two stools, and we invited people to come and add to this big piece. I sat there for two weeks and wove. And people would come and sit, and we’d have a talk and a chat… It was creating community, creating a piece, and at the end we gave the piece to one of the people. They had to leave their name and number. We picked one out of the hat and gave the piece to somebody. It was so nice.
Nativen: All that collaboration is awesome.
What part of the process brings you the most joy?
Maryanne: Hanging. It has to be hanging. [laughs]
It used to be warping, and just thinking about what I was going to create, but I think the hanging…and the thinking about the person who it’s going to. I’m fortunate enough to still have that close contact with my clients that I know where it’s going.
Nativen: What part of your process do you think is the greatest struggle?
Maryanne: …It’s hard. I’ve had a couple graphic designer clients…My husband is a graphic designer, some of my best friends are graphic [laughs] designers, but people who have a really strong, particular vision that they’d like recreated is often tricky.
It’s easier if somebody gives a general vibe about something. That they like me and like my work enough, that they can let me go, let me run.
Nativen: What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done yet?
Maryanne: Wow… I’ve done a lot.
I didn’t get married and have a baby until my mid-30s so I had a lot of time doing whatever…I wanted… I traveled heaps. I’ve taken a lot of risks. I felt like when it was time to settle down, I was ready to settle down…I think the last thing that I hadn’t done that I wanted to do was get married and have a baby.
Nativen: And you did it!
Maryanne: And I did it. [laughs]
Nativen: That’s good. You’re living with no regrets. That’s fantastic!
If you weren’t a weaving artist….What do you think you would be?
Maryanne: I like being organized, and I really like filling out forms…Going in and helping people get organized with their stuff. I also really like talking to people, obviously, so something where I could help people organize their space. I don’t know if that’s a job.
Nativen: It’s totally a job. People do that. That’s great.
What destination do you want to travel to next and how do you think that might inspire or alter your work? Is that something you’re thinking about?
Maryanne: Central America. I haven’t been to Central America.
I’ve been to South America, but I was 19 at the time. Central America will be the next…big waterholes and tropical-y kind of swimming. Swimming is what I’m after next. [laughs].
Nativen: What song is currently heavily on rotation in your work? Do you listen to music when you work?
Maryanne: Yeah. I’ve been listening to mariachi.
[see below post for a sample of her favorites]
We went to the Etsy Talent Show, and there are seriously talented people there. It’s not just like, “Here’s someone juggling badly.” …there [are] seriously talented people, and they had a mariachi band. These two people, a guy and a girl were singing, and there were guitars, and shakers, and I just thought, “I don’t know this music at all,” and it seemed fun and exciting. I’ve been…exploring. There’s some of that.
Nativen: If you could find or choose three words to sum up your work, what would they be?
Nativen: “Color-ific.” I love that, I think that’s my new favorite word. I feel like that’s an onomatopoeia…
Nativen: Is there anything you do with your work to specifically connect with your community…?
Maryanne: I’m always looking for opportunities to get out there, so teaching classes… I’m making beginner loom kits now, so people who want to learn to weave but can’t get to wherever I am…I always tell the people, “Here’s my email address if you don’t have any…” because I want them to do this. It’s fun. It’s so much fun. It’s satisfying, and it makes you feel good. Then you have something to give to someone.
Nativen: It’s inspiring, just being around it, I have an urge to get on a loom.
Maryanne: Yeah…to do it.
Nativen: Where are you teaching classes?
Maryanne: Do you know The Old Stone House? The first ones I’m teaching there, and I’ve got a couple in LA with Designlovefest.
Nativen: What’s the most helpful advice you’ve received through your work?
Maryanne: Be honest and forgive others. Everyone’s on their own journey. Don’t judge them. Let that stuff go and just be true to yourself.
Nativen: Who’s your hero, or who’s someone who’s helped influence your work?
Maryanne: Jen [Griffiths]… I think she was one of the big influencers at the start, and she’s such an amazing woman. They’re living in New Zealand now, and it’s her partner who painted these paintings.
We’ve got a few of Jake’s paintings around and they’re just a super creative couple. She’s an architect, but she does beautiful ceramics. She does crochet. Whatever she lends her hand to is that level… She’s really inspiring. I keep saying to her, “I don’t know what you do, and I haven’t seen any of your architecture work, but you should just let that go…because you need to do more of these. [laughs] Forget about the architecture game.”
Nativen: What are five objects that you can’t live without?
- I guess my loom. It’s pretty important.
- My baby. He would have to come along even though he threw a tantrum this morning. [laughs]… and my husband!
- … I guess my phone. It’s awful but it’s true.
- Cast iron pot. I use that every day.
- My plants.
Nativen: That’s important for a good balanced life, more green in your space.
You can check out more of Maryanne’s work here!
Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler
This interview has been condensed & edited
all images copyright of Nativen