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Nativen is an American heritage workwear brand, for hands-on women with know how. 

From our curated collection of vintage pieces to our thoughtfully crafted USA-made workwear,  we are passionate about providing you with the kind of products you will love to live and work in.

We believe that you don't need more stuff. You need better stuff.

 

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Filtering by Tag: interview

The Ladies of Desert & Denim - Amy Leverton: Denim Dudette

Lily Hetzler

A tour de force, and seemingly endless fountain of energy, Amy is the kinda woman to bring excitement to any room she steps into.  She strikes the perfect balance between child-like spontaneity, and a confident command that could stop a snake in it's path.  As the founder of Denim Dudes, and Dudettes, she's got more than a decade and a half of blue jean expertise under her belt.  On our latest jaunt to the dusty town of Joshua Tree we chatted with her about rock icons and leading ladies. Hope you enjoy her charm, as much as we did...

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Amy:    My name is Amy Leverton, and I am a denim consultant and forecaster, and the author of two books Denim Dudes and Dudettes. 

Nativen:    What is your favorite stress relieving hobby? 

Amy:    Oh, wow. What am I going to say? Hiking, mate…  I was going to say my ultimate night in is pinning shit on Pinterest and watching inane Netflix stuff.
But actually properly relaxing, or if I'm upset, or down, or stressed, getting up on that hill. It really helps. I grew up in the countryside, and that's why I love LA, because I live in the city but I can get into the countryside. If you're in a good mood, it’ll make you ecstatic. If you're in a bad mood, you come back happy. 

Nativen:    Yeah, it's a total brain cleaner. It's the best. 
Who's the woman who's inspired you the most? 

Amy:    Well, I mean, there's lots of people. Of course, I'm close to my mom, and there's a lot of things that I've inherited from her that are good qualities. But in the denim industry, I think I'd have to say someone like Lynn Downey, who is the head of the Levi's archive, because she's come at denim from another point of view, from and archivist and historian point of view. We, the denim industry, just owe her a lot for putting all that together. Because obviously, Levi's holds a lot of history. She's just retired now. 
But I guess as a woman, and I'm getting older now, as well, it's just really wonderful seeing a badass woman in the industry who everyone reveres and everyone looks up to. She told me a story once. She was in Tokyo and she walked into a vintage store. She was just minding her own business. This guy looks up and goes, "Oh, Lynn Downey san." She was like, "That's the best thing." In Tokyo, of course, they think denim is the bee's knees. That would never happen anywhere else. Just that story and the fact that she got to this status, because of just knowing a lot about denim and the history of Levi's is really cool. 

Nativen:    That's a great one. 
Three women you'd love to sit around the campfire with, dead or alive. 

Amy:    I know many women will choose suffragettes, activists and very serious ladies but this is a campfire, right? I honestly can't think of anything worse than feeling totally out of my depth trying to sound intellectual and hold conversation with someone far superior than me. So I would go for women I know are going to entertain me, keep it real and teach me about life. I want women around me who I can connect with on their level.
For that reason, first up I'm going with Whoopie Goldburg! My first memory of Whoopie was in The Color Purple which I think totally destroyed me! But she's just badass and maternal and I can imagine her getting us all screaming with laughter too. Just a firecracker of a lady. My other thought would be Joanna Lumley for similar reasons but there's something incredibly 'overflowing' about Whoopie that I just love. 
Barbara Kruger is an amazing artist but she's self-depreciating, down to earth and straight talking. She's not my favourite artist (although obviously I do love her) but in my work in trend forecasting, her themes just speak to me SO strongly that I think I'd just hang on her every word. She talks about feminism, sexism, consumerism, hype... everything thats so relevant to today's culture and she'd just add a badass touch to the campfire vibes.
I love books and I adore the amazingly repressed passion throughout British history! I am totally obsessed with the Tudors but I would be waaay too scared to sit beside Queen Elizabeth 1st so my historical gal pal would be Jane Austin. To write what she wrote in her lifetime, I feel like she would have this incredibly romantic character and a million boy stories. My dating style is way more suited to the 18th Century so we'd have a lot to talk about! She might be a bit too stuffy n shy though so if she's not gelling with the group can I just kick her out?
Ooh! In fact what about Stevie Nicks?! She's be amazing. So Jane Austin but if she's being a bore then lets get Stevie Nicks in, half pissed on a gin n tonic and that'll get us back on track!

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Nativen:    Quick words of wisdom to anyone who's looking to pursue their creative dream. Like a nugget of advice you would offer them. 

Amy:    Well, I think that ... This is a personal taste thing. I don't like people who get too into themselves and lose that child-like quality of exploration and open-mindedness. I just think it’s important to stay open-minded. If you don't like something, you run towards it and you try and find out why you don't like it, and maybe you can understand it better.  Rather than just being like, "I don't like that."
Also, I was given this advice by my ex-boss. She's a badass, and was the head of design at Donna Karan at 30 years old. Someone said to her "How are you at this point, at this time in your life?" She just looks at her and said, "Work twice as hard as everyone else." 

Nativen:    If you could spend a day in someone else's jeans, who would it be? 

Amy:    Oh. Probably like Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin in his really tight jeans in the '70s, or Bruce Springsteen on the album cover. The 501s. Yeah. 

Nativen:    Oh, 100%. Yes. 
Last question. Three things you can't live without. 

Amy:    Ooh. I should probably be more spiritual, but ... Sleep. I'm useless without sleep, and I don't get enough of it. At present, probably like everyone else, unfortunately, my iPhone, because I use Instagram and all that, so it's not very spiritual, but functional. 
I guess just people. Being surrounded by positive people or inspirational people. Just people make your world. 

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Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photography by: Ashley Turner

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

The Ladies of Desert & Denim - Iris Alonzo and Carolina Crespo: Everybody.World

Lily Hetzler

It’s hard to not envision Iris and Carolina as superheroes of their own comic book, backlit with the wind in their hair, and the ultimate power pose. The duo, behind Everybody.World, has a symbiosis that, when forces combined, can seemingly tackle any challenge you throw at them.  Dressed in matching jumpsuits, and an air of sassy, but welcoming confidence, I sat down with these two on a hot arid morning out at Desert & Denim to discuss the inspiring points of a well-lived life, and the fundamentals of the perfect sweatpant.

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Iris:    I'm Iris Alonzo. I'm the co-founder with Carolina of Everybody World. I handle the brand and creative side, and sales. 

Carolina:    My name is Carolina Crespo. And I take care of manufacturing of all of our clothing that comes through.

Iris:    Our company's Everybody World.  Our main thing is recycled cotton t-shirts. They're made from a yarn that we came up and created in the Carolina's using waste from the manufacturing process. 
So we make this new yarn, we bring the yarn to LA, we knit it into jersey, and then we cut and sew t-shirts that we sell to the wholesale industry, which get customized for all different kinds of businesses. There's everything from the tiny yoga studio to the tech giant... So competitive pricing is part of it, but it's really about an interesting textile that's made from waste that has a great feel and cut.
And then beyond that, we have a whole wholesale line that we customize in collaboration with people. Then we have a direct to consumer line that we sell online. We also do what we call ‘informal shops’, which is basically just packing up the car and going where the people take us.

Nativen:    Awesome. What's your favorite stress-relieving hobby?

Iris:    Gosh. I'm pretty into doing the meditation thing.

Carolina:    A little meditation at night, trying to sneak one in in the morning if it doesn't get too crazy, but meditating.

Nativen:    Who's the woman who's inspired you most?

Carolina:    For me, it's my mom, who has been doing the hustle and the kids and work and running the family, running the show. I'm just like, how did you do it all, all at once?
I have two daughters as well. I have a 22 year old and a nine year old. And starting the business and family, doing everything and just trying to find the right balance-

Iris:    And then looking back to your mom, that she did that.
There's a long list in my mind right now. But I think I'm going to say one of our contributors, her name is Delores Kerr. 
I didn't get into this, but aside from our cotton basics, we have what we call our contributor collection, where we invite interesting people from all over the world, from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds, to... We say, okay, this is what we know how to make. We think you're fascinating, we think you have excellent taste. What's the piece in your wardrobe that's missing? And they come up with the piece de resistance, and then we manufacture it, and we sell this item with their name... So it's Margot and Ed’s flight suit, and then we have Delores's wrap top and wrap skirt. 
So she is one of our contributors. She's in her mid-80s now. She's a retired nurse and schoolteacher. And she's such an incredibly-

Carolina:    Happy-

Iris:    ... vivacious, wonderful, wonderful woman that has had such a range of experiences. She grew up in extreme poverty. She's black. She grew up in the south, in Alabama, during segregation. Very, very poor family. but she basically made it against all odds as the first family member to go to university. She went to Tuskegee University, and she was the first dark-skinned woman to win Miss Tuskegee. And her middle name is Shine, and everybody would be like, "There's Shine, there's Delores Shine," and that's how she is. She's just glowing. Wonderful, wonderful woman, and she's basically used her life experiences to help better the lives of others. And just maintains such a wonderful poise and way of being. 

Nativen:    Yeah, that's wonderful. Especially seeing older women, or people in general, who have really lived life, and against all odds, held on to youth and curiosity in really inspiring ways.

Iris:    Exactly.
Also Prakash. So he designed for us this really wonderful-

Carolina:    Sweatpants.

Iris:    Yeah, the perfect sweatpants, which only come in gray because he thinks that sweatpants should only come in gray. So there's all these nuances to his sweatpants of how they should be. And then he also did this button-up shirt, the perfect button-up, which also has really interesting idiosyncrasies, but they're so subtle that maybe the average person wouldn't notice. But he's in his late 70s, and he wears the same things basically, every single day. So it was just really interesting, how much he's thought about this piece. Button up shirts always have this extra button at the cuff, and he said, "Why do we need that button? I only wear my shirts rolled up." And I said, good point. So the shirt that we made with him doesn't have that button.
I forgot to tell you that they receive 10% of each sale. 

Nativen:    Oh, that’s great. Okay, three women you'd love to sit around the campfire with, dead or alive.

Iris:    Oh, okay. Now I can get into my big list… Dr. Sylvia Earl, is ... Do you want to do a joint list?

Carolina:    Yeah.

Iris:    This will be our campfire. Okay, Dr. Sylvia Earl, she's an oceanographer. She's someone who's dedicated her life to saving the oceans. And anything else that is part of her life, she just said, "It’s all about this" ... She just ... No pun intended, dove into it-

Nativen:    Or maybe all pun intended.

Iris:    Yeah, or all pun intended. She dove into saving ... Doing anything she can that will help save the oceans. She's amazing. 
Okay. Oh gosh. Well, I was thinking, what about Danielle Levitt? 'Cause she was always the life of the party, and-

Carolina:    Yeah. She's hilarious.

Iris:    Okay, so we have a friend, and also a contributor, named Danielle Levitt, and she's a firecracker. She's a self-made, very successful director and photographer. First of all, it's her personality that makes her extremely memorable and likable and probably what makes her a really good director and photographer. She’s just no fear. It's like she somehow brings you into this moment where-

Carolina:    Just the energy that she has.

Iris:    Where she's not telling you what to do, she gets in there. I think she'd be really fun to have at the campfire, 'cause she'd get everyone talking, and we'd learn so much more about these people that we never would have the guts to get down to the heart of it.

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Nativen:    So she's the emcee of your campfire, basically?

Carolina:    Totally.

Iris:    And then, let's think of someone that's not living. I mean, can we say Amelia Earhart? We're into these trailblazing women that don't take no for an answer, which is how we had to do our recycled yarn, 'cause basically, everyone was just like ... All these boys in South Carolina were just like, that'll never work. 

Carolina:    They were like "Sorry pretty ladies"-

Iris:    "Little lady, that's so sweet that you want to do that." And we're just like, little lady? We'll show you. and we really had to just bulldoze through it. And I really love stories about women have been told no, and just went on ahead and proved everyone wrong.

Nativen:    Yes, absolutely. Very inspiring. Against all odds. 
Words of wisdom, or a nugget of advice for somebody who's looking to pursue their creative goals or start a business?

Iris:    Caroline? You got your one line, that really has served us well, since we've started, which is “fake it 'til you make it.”

Carolina:    We always say, "Yeah, we can do it, we can do it" and turn around and think, how the f*ck are we going to do that? But let's try to figure it out now, and we'll go and get it done. That's usually what we do.

Nativen:    I think that's a really powerful way, also, to challenge yourself to learn, or to pull things off that you might not otherwise..
If you could spend a day in someone else's jeans, who would it be?

Iris:    I'm going to say Elon Musk.
I was thinking last night, 'cause we were walking around and you could see so many stars here. And we were talking about... My dad was really into telescopes. And I was thinking, it's such a perspective thing, to really start looking at outer space. That would be a really good habit: once a month, to go and find a telescope, and put your mind into the rest of the cosmos. It's such a reminder of how small we are.

Nativen:    So small. 
What are three things that you cannot live without?

Iris:    They're so simple and stupid, but-
Chapstick, Water-

Carolina:    Sunglasses.

Iris:    And what's the third one? Chapstick, water ... Yeah, I'm definitely big on hydration. Oh, hot sauce.

Carolina:    Oh yeah. You have an obsession with hot sauce.

Iris:    I could live without hot sauce, but I gotta have a serrano chili..

Carolina:    Something spicy.

Iris:    Something spicy. Because for us, if it's not spicy, what's the point of eating it?

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Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photography by: Ashley Turner

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

The Ladies of Desert & Denim - Lindsey Ross: The Alcemistress

Lily Hetzler

They say nice women rarely make history... In the case of Lindsey Ross, aka The Alchemistress, I would beg to differ.  She's clearly a woman who has forged her own path, but done so with great honor and homage to the processes of days passed.  An historical wet-plate photographer, she's not afraid to get her hands dirty, but above all, Lindsey is a storyteller.  Using meticulous care to capture a single moment with the perfect mix of stoicism and candid spontaneity.  I had the pleasure of sitting with her, not only for a personal portrait, but to chat about the long line of trailblazing women before her, that helped craft her work.

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Lindsey:    My name is Lindsey Ross, I'm a photographer. I specialize in historical processes, particularly wet plate collodion process, which is a 19th century photographic process.

Nativen:     What's your favorite stress-relieving hobby?

Lindsey:    Oh, wow. I am an avid runner, so I do that almost every day, and then, I guess, if I'm not running, I really enjoy skiing. That is maybe the ultimate in stress relieving for me.

Nativen:    Who's the woman who's inspired you most?

Lindsey:    That's funny, I think that it's changed with every phase in my career, but probably over the course of my life, my aunt, who is an artist also, and a career illustrator for Hallmark.
She’s been there for 35 years, and she was the first one that I knew who really, her work was making art, and she's the first one that made me feel like that was a possibility.

Nativen:    That’s good inspiration. 
Three women you'd love to sit around the campfire with, dead or alive.

Lindsey:    Oh my goodness, wow... Marsha Resnik is one of my favorite photographers of all time, and she was really in the mix of the underground Soho new wave movement, and I know she has really good stories, because I have met her, and I think she's amazing. So she's one person. Oh man, this is a really hard one. Susan Sontag, Deborah Turbeville… There's so many good ones, I know I'm not thinking of all the people that I want to. 

Nativen:    So words of wisdom, or maybe a nugget of advice that you'd give to anyone who's kind of looking to pursue their creative art?

Lindsey:    I think that, one of the things that has been hard learned over the last ten or fifteen years, was learning to protect my time. Because every other field, there is structure to it, and as an independent artist, making your work, and going on a path that's not really clearly cut, there's a lot of risk of people borrowing your time, wanting to, I don't know, assert influence on how you do things. I just think that I've become really skeptical, and hyper independent about protecting my time, and my intentions with what I'm doing, and making sure that, even though I'm an artist, and I am looking for some type of security at times, whether it's someone who can help me with business, or someone who can help me with getting more work, it's like, in the end, you're your own best advocate.

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Nativen:    That's really good advice. If you could spend a day in someone else's jeans, who would it be?

Lindsey:    Also a really hard question. I think, oh man. There’s so many directions I feel like I could go with. I think that it's never a bad idea to spend time in someone else's shoes who has a lot less resources than you do.
I feel like, if I could put myself in the place of someone who is an artist, but didn't have the privileges that I did growing up, whether it's getting a college education, or… I guess I would love to see how I would handle having to create my work with far fewer privileges than I have.

Nativen:    Yeah, that's an interesting exercise. I love that.
So last question, three things you can't live without?

Lindsey:    Let's see. I cannot live without spending time in nature, on a pretty regular basis. Not just for a week, twice a year. I need to spend time in nature every other day. That really recharges me. 
I drink a lot of yerba mate, and that is kind of something that I definitely cannot live without. It's just something that, when I'm in my studio, I'm always drinking mate throughout the day, and having tea is this type of ritual that, if I'm stuck on something, I'm like, "Whatever, it's tea time, I'm gonna make some mate." 
I think that being surrounded by lots of very thoughtful people that I could have good conversations with, about either work or life or whatever. Whether it's my boyfriend, who is a really good listener, and has a lot of really good perspective, or my friends. I guess I wouldn't be able to survive, at least it seems, without the support of a lot of people who look out for me. 

Nativen:    Yeah, I mean, we live in an interdependent world. It's basically impossible to have that sort of Jeremiah Johnson kind of reality. 

Lindsey:    I have the fantasy of that in my head, but it's totally not reality at all.

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Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photography by: Ashley Turner

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

The Ladies of Desert & Denim - Marissa Gonzales: Film Photographer & Activist

Lily Hetzler

Marissa Gonzales is the kind of woman who often says more with her eyes, than with her mouth.  She has a simultaneously biting power and hopeful optimism in her approach to storytelling. A photographer and activist, it's clear her vision is to bolster up the future, through the stories of the past. On our recent trek out to Desert & Denim, we spoke to Marissa about the importance of family, the lasting power of heritage, and the value of going your own way.

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Nativen:    If you want to just say your name and then talk a little bit about what you do in your own words.

Marissa:    All right. Can I say it in my native language? [Cherokee]

Nativen:    Ooh. Yes.

Marissa:    Osiyo. Marissa Gonzales daquadoa. Galieliga tsidenatloha.
It means, Hello. My name is Marissa Gonzales. Pleased to meet you.
I do film photography and I was really heavily involved in native activism out in Los Angeles during the time of Standing Rock and then also when a pipeline was going through my ancestral land out in Oklahoma. It was going to cross through five different routes of the Trail of Tears. But since then has been canceled and is no longer being built.

Nativen:    That is excellent. I'm happy to hear that. That gave me chills of sadness when I heard you say that. 

Marissa:    Yeah, a lot of people were mad.

Nativen:    Absolutely. 
What is your favorite stress-relieving hobby?

Marissa:    Probably shooting film. When I grew up, I didn't have a lot of outlets. I was kind of a sheltered kid. So it was either that or books. I have probably 20 books that are unfinished. 
I inherited my grandfather's cameras. I was going out and driving to reservations out in Arizona and photographing the landscapes there and the situation that surrounds a lot of that area, which isn't what most people expect. There are always these weird misconceptions of what a reservation looks like and I’ve been to some of the richest reservations and to the poorest of the poor reservations. 
San Carlos Apache reservation's one of the lowest income reservations and that's in Arizona and it's really sad, but also the photos are beautiful. You’ve got trailers. You’ve got broken down cars… and it's just kind of, a modern indigenous way of life now.

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Nativen:    Who's the woman who's inspired you the most?

Marissa:    Probably my mom, even though obviously we're mother/daughter, we butt heads, I'm a complete opposite of her, she has probably been the most stable person. Whenever I needed somebody, she's always been there. When I first got my cat, I got her thinking, that since she's a hairless cat, my mom wasn't gonna be allergic… but two weeks go by, three weeks go by, two months go by and my mom starts coming home a little bit later and I'm like, "What are you doing after work?" She's like, "Oh, I'm getting allergy shots so you can keep your cat," and I was like, "Aw, that's a true mom right there." She's just always been there.

Nativen:    Moms are the best. 
Three women you'd love to sit around the campfire with, dead or alive.

Marissa:    One of them is actually alive. She's a Mexican photographer named Graciela Iturbide and she has been photographing since the late 1950s. But she took phenomenal pictures all the way up until current and they're usually photographs of really bright highlights and dark contrast of the people of her area. It's more street photography, but she does it in such an artistic way that's just so beautiful and she's one of the most influential film photographers that I've come across. 
The second one would probably be my great-great-grandmother. The stories of her ... She was such a strong woman. She moved here single. She brought my grandpa here. She brought his brother, Alex, and their small sister, who ended up passing just a little bit after they arrived and she was a single mom in an era where Los Angeles was very oppressive to Mexican descent or Indians. They lived in Belvedere on the same street that the current police station is built now and it was all dirt road back then and basically shanty looking and so just hearing about her and how strong she was. Just up and moving from Texas to here is just like ...

Nativen:    An inspiring story. 

Marissa:    And then the third one, it's probably gonna be the most generic, but she's always fascinated me: Frida Kahlo.  Plus we share the a love for the same breed of dogs. I want one so bad and she had a million of them.

Nativen:    Words of wisdom or a nugget of advice that you might offer to someone who's looking to pursue their creative path?

Marissa:    Don't let outside people influence your work, tell you that it's wrong, or tell you you're not doing it right. There's never a wrong or right way to explore your creativity. I didn't really go to school for photography. I learned film just by reading up on it. I'm still very heavily a manual person. So if I buy a new camera, I will instantly download the manual and know how everything works and that's just what I do. 
A lot of the time, when I did sign up for photography, I had already taught myself how to shoot, and I was constantly told that I wasn't doing it right. My photos weren't good. I got an F on a lot of my assignments because they were either too out there or didn't hold, I guess, enough substance in my professor's eyes. But it was mostly people really close to me, things that really mattered to me. One of the biggest things I photographed was the Prop 8 protests back in 2008, and that was my final project. I got an F on it.

Nativen:    That's insane.

Marissa:    And it was just kind of an eye opener for me that it just doesn't even matter what other people say. I loved shooting that. I love shooting protests. I love shooting people making changes in the world and just inspiring people. It’s one of the biggest influences. If it resonates with you and who you are, just do it. Just don't stop.

Nativen:    Absolutely, otherwise, nothing interesting will ever come out of art.
If you could spend a day in someone else's jeans, who would it be?

Marissa:    My grandpa. He's a Wrangler man, for sure. He used to be a national rodeo and bronco rider in the 70s.

Nativen:    That's an amazing pair of jeans to be inside of.

Marissa:    Yeah, I mean, he's 87, 88 years old now. He's still alive and kicking and he still has his two horses and he's still going out to the rides, Deanza ride. He's still going out for memorial rides. I mean, he's just the most coolest old man ever.

Nativen:    Oh man, I'm totally a sucker for a good rodeo. Last question, three things you can't live without.

Marissa:    Number one, Gypsy, my cat. That's the first animal that I officially got with my own money.  She's a precious treasure. Two would be my cameras that I inherited from my grandpa because I mean, without him, my film photography would not have been anything, and then the third thing would probably be my family, my mom and my brother and my niece and his wife. Those people are the center of my being. They're everything to me.

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Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photography by: Ashley Turner

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

Alice Saunders: Forestbound Bag Co

Lily Hetzler

Alice Saunders is a collector of history, infusing new life into a forgotten past.  The beautifully crafted bags she makes under the moniker, Forestbound, are inspired by and collected from old textiles.  Each design is built to last with an aesthetic that feels both unique and instantly familiar, much like Alice herself.  If you sit and chat with the designer for even a few minutes her passion and excitement around the pieces she makes, and the story they tell is clear.  From WWII-era Flea Market treasures to vintage Toyota Land Cruisers, Alice's world may be filled with things from the past, but she's built something to remember.  

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Nativen:  Where are you from?

Alice:    Hopkinton, New Hampshire.

Nativen:  Do you think growing up in Hopkinton, or New Hampshire even in general, influenced the work that you're doing now at Forestbound?

Alice:    Yeah, for sure. I think that my work and my aesthetic is very much rooted in New England and is definitely influenced by where I grew up and what I was surrounded by. I started going to flea markets at a young age. There was a really good one right up the street from my house and I'd always go with my neighbor on Sunday mornings to find old treasures. I've always surrounded myself with beautiful old objects and those pieces have been such an inspiration to me over the years.

Nativen:  Awesome. Was there a moment when you realized that you wanted to pursue your own business… pursue bag making?

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Alice:    I had always made small pouches and bags starting around middle school, just using my mom's old Singer portable sewing machine. Then when I was in college, I would make zip pouches sell them at punk rock flea markets in Boston and realized that it was a way to make a bit of extra money. 
During college I was doing farm and garden work and in New England you don't farm in the winter. I was tired of looking for winter only work, so decided to give Etsy a try (this was right around the time Etsy started up). I started a shop with pouches and pieces of jewelry and people responded super well (I’ve been overwhelmed ever since).
It was around this same time where I had a seriously ‘ah ha’ moment .. I was at an indoor flea market in Massachusetts and came across a WWII era duffle bag. I thought to myself .. "Oh, I can take this apart and use this canvas and make something new" In that moment, everything kind of clicked in my head. I bought the duffel bag, brought it home, took it apart, and made a shoulder bag out of it. I put that bag on Etsy and it sold in five minutes. 

Nativen:  ...People want this.

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Alice:    That was the start of me truly understanding how I can mix these passions in my life: history, specifically military history, flea markets and beautiful old canvas. 

Nativen:  That's a cool little journey through your creative process.

Alice:    Yes, and this winter I’ll celebrate Forestbound’s 10 year anniversary. 

Nativen:  That's a big deal. It's awesome that you're in a new space for that transition, too.

Alice:    Yeah I’m really proud of being in business for 10 years. And this new space definitely feels like it houses a grown up version of what I started all those years ago. 

Nativen:  Exciting. What do you love most about Somerville, and do you think it's integral to your work in any way?

Alice:  When I first started Forestbound, I lived in a big house many roommates. We had an attic space upstairs that I used that as my studio. This space was part of the reason why I could start a business when I was 22-years-old - I had very little overhead. After a few years my business outgrew my home studio so I moved into a space outside of my home that I shared with another bag maker. A few years later I  moved my studio again, but this time it was into a co-working space in Somerville called Fringe. That was really the first time that Forestbound was surrounded by many other small businesses. 

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Alice: There was a letterpress business, floral design studio, a couple of illustrators; so I was surrounded by all of this new creative energy. I feel like moving to Somerville, and becoming part of this community at Fringe, helped me take my business to the next level. I built Forestbound on my own having basically zero knowledge of what having a business really meant and having no one to bounce ideas off of, and now I was surrounded by so many inspiring business owners who were there to help and support. I was definitely able to grow Forestbound because of the community that I found in Somerville.

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Nativen:  That's great. Do you have a favorite restaurant here in Somerville?

Alice:    I do. There's a place called Sarma that I really love. It's Mediterranean food, but it's small plates. It's incredible. 

Nativen:  Wow. Do you have a favorite home goods or clothing store?

Alice:    My friends that just opened Queen of Swords.
I'm a little biased because they're good friends of mine, but it's truly a beautiful store.

Nativen:  What about a favorite park or outdoor space around here?

Alice:    I live in Jamaica Plain, about a quarter of a mile away from the ultimate outdoor space in the city - the Arnold Arboretum. I try to go there every day with my dog and I especially love going on walks in the evening during the summer.. you can be up on the hill and hear nothing but the sound of frogs in the ponds below.

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Nativen:  Oh, wow. Do you have a hidden gem around here?

Alice:    There's a pub in Jamaica Plain called the Galway House. It’s one of my favorite places because the food is actually very good but it’s also super cheap, and you can still get $3 gin and tonics.

Nativen:  Wow. What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here?

Alice:    I think just community, for sure.

Nativen:  Yeah.

Alice:    In a lot of ways Forestbound can be run from anywhere. But I have such a great community here of friends and other small business owners here in Somerville and that is an invaluable resource that you can’t find just anywhere.

Nativen:  Right. You're isolated. This is the asking you to pick your favorite child question. Do you have a favorite bag or favorite thing that you've produced?

Alice:    I did a project in this past fall where I was contacted by one of the producers of a WWII era movie.
She wanted to get some gifts for the cast and the crew, just as a thank you. She was familiar with my work and was interested in having me make bags out of materials that would correlate to the movie’s time period and location. It was basically my dream project since I got to really tap into my inner canvas nerd. 

Nativen:  Wow!

Alice:    It was such a fun project and I know that the bags were going to people that really, truly appreciated the heart of what I do.

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Nativen:  That's awesome. What part of your process brings you the most joy?

Alice:    I love finding old canvas, that's always the thing that will always bring me the most joy. It's like a blessing and a curse, in that I go to flea markets, and the only thing that I see is canvas. I'll go to the flea market with a list of many things but once I get there the only thing I come away with is old duffel bags. It's crazy; it's all I can see.
Another benefit of New England living is that there’s so many old treasures here.. there will always a new barn or basement filled with really beautiful old things. 
I think what brings me the most joy for selling the ESCAPE Bag and these things that aren't made out of old canvas, is being able to interact with my customers and knowing that they really love the product. I put a lot of time and effort into my customer service and I love writing hand written notes with every bag. I think my customers really appreciate the little things like that.. I like to make the experience of buying Forestbound bags special.

Nativen:  Right. What is the greatest struggle for you, in your work?

Alice:    Doing it all myself is very hard, but that's a choice that I've made. I've had many people work with me over the years, but I'm in a place right now where I want to do it by myself. It’s also taken me ten years to understand that even when you own your own business, you can't work all the time. I'm in my mid-thirties now and I don't have as much energy as I did when I was 25. I can't work 70 hours a week and then expect to be present for my boyfriend and my friends. I’m doing my best to balance life and work, but that will forever be a struggle. 

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Nativen:  What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?

Alice:    I would love to hike the PCT; but that's something where you would need three to five months to do which isn’t really an option for me right now. I would absolutely love to do it some day though.. I love physically challenging myself and my body.

Nativen:  Yep, I think it's an important part of a feeling of life accomplishment to push yourself and really see your physical limitations, because living in the technology driven world that we live in and a world of convenience. I mean, we live in that world, and we forget that we're animals still.

Alice:    Right.

Nativen:  If you weren't making bags and running your business, what do you think you would be doing?

Alice:    I always thought that I would be working on farms. That's what I really, really actually love to do, is grow food and be outside and be around plants. I actually struggle a lot with finding myself in a job or in a business where I'm inside all day. 

Nativen:  What destination do you want to travel to next, if you could go anywhere?

Alice:    That's a good question. I've been doing a lot of New England only travels the last couple of years. Part of that is because my boyfriend doesn't really like to fly, and we do so much camping and there's so much to see in New England. But I would really like to go to Mexico. I've never been there before. I think that being in a completely different environment that is very colorful, energetic, and the complete opposite of New England would help reset and reenergize me. 

Nativen:  You should do it. I don't know if you listen to music while you work… is there anyone that you've been listening to regularly?

Alice:    I think I'm on kind of a Van Morrison kick lately. I've also been nostalgically listening to The Traveling Wilburys a lot.
They make me think of my childhood. My mom used to play The Traveling Wilburys all the time, so it's comforting music. 

Nativen:  What are three words that sum up your work for you?
Alice Saunders:    I would say classic, durable, utilitarian.

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Nativen:  Yeah, absolutely. That's great. Is there anything you do with your work to specifically connect you back to your community currently?

Alice:   I've done a lot of fundraising work in memory of my dad who passed away in 2014. Through Forestbound I've hosted raffles and sold a number products where all the profits go to charity. I try to use my platform to talk about not just the positive parts of my life but also the really hard times. And raising money and awareness for the AFTD, for the ACLU, and for the Disabilities Rights Center helped bring some positivity into a heartbreaking time period of my life. 

Nativen:  That's great. What's the most helpful advice you've received, or what's advice you might give to someone who's looking to pursue their creative goals?

Alice:    I’d tell them that it's really, really hard. Even when it’s your dream job.. it's not going to be fun and easy all the time. People look at what I do and they say, "Oh wow, you must truly love what you do. It's your passion.” And yes, that’s true, but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It’s hard and you doubt yourself all the time. I think that a lot of times people go into starting their own business and expect that it's going to be easier than what they were doing before; but it tests you emotionally, mentally, on all these different levels that you don't anticipate.

Nativen:  Right.  Do you have a hero or someone who's maybe helped influence your work in a big way?

Alice Saunders:    Yeah, my dad, for sure. He raised me and is the force behind my strong work ethic, but he also taught me compassion and thoughtfulness. His example was work really, really, really hard; but also love really, really hard. I try and do that with my personal life, but also in my business. I care so much about all of my customers, and I want them to know that. 
My dad really taught me to value the people around you. I'm very appreciative and very humbled by the fact that I get to do what I do and that I couldn’t do it without the people who surround me.

 

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Nativen:  What are three things you can't live without?

Alice:    My dog, for sure. She's brought a lot of joy into my life, so I definitely couldn't live without her.
Probably my truck. It's an '88 Toyota Land Cruiser. My parents actually bought a Land Cruiser in 1989, new. It was our family car, and I learned to drive on it. It became my car, and I drove it into the ground.

Nativen:  Amazing.

Alice:   I have a little silver pendant that my dad's first wife gave to me, just a month or two ago.  It just has AGS inscribed in it. That's my dad's initials. 

Nativen:  That's really touching.

Alice:    Yeah, so it's a really, really special little thing. It's only been in my life for a couple of months, but it’s become my most prized possession.

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Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photography by: Ethan Covey

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

Natalie Shook: Supersmith

Lily Hetzler

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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? 

Natalie:   Exactly. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.   

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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.  

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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. 

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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? 

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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

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Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photography by: Ethan Covey

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

Lane Walkup: Metalsmith

Lily Hetzler

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but when you enter the three dimensional world of Lane Walkup, her illustrative style truly bends the rules.  Her simple, yet highly expressive work is both playful and moving.  On a cool, but long-awaited sunny morning, I paid a visit to Lane in her new Portland studio. We got into all the details from pioneering her way through the boys club of southern metal smithing, her goal to empower young girls through working with their hands, and the enchanting smell of old books.  Join us for the story behind Lane's creative world. (Plus check out the song that gets her going, below)

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Nativen:    Where are you from?

Lane:    I'm from Texasoriginally. Born there, moved to North Carolina when I was eight, and then, lived there most of my life. I moved here four years ago. 

Nativen:    All right. So, you're like fresh into Portland.
Do you think, where you grew up influenced your creative work?
 

Lane:    For sure. I started with welding and blacksmithing. Blacksmithing has a rich history in North Carolina, and, my dad had a friend who’s German, but he moved from Germany decades before. He started a blacksmith shop. I hung out with him for a little bit. I don't know if I honestly would have gotten into metal working had I not lived in the south, because I think I had something to prove a little.
Yeah. Out here I feel like people would be like, "Oh, yeah.” You know, “doesn't matter." But a girl doing it [there]? I was the only girl at these meetings. I would go to with my dad. I just felt like I had something I had to prove, that I could do it too, and better probably.

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Nativen:    Yeah, absolutely. Well, that's a powerful motivator to sort of feel like you're pioneering your way in a field. 
Was there a moment in your life where you realized you wanted to pursue metal work?

Lane:    Yeah for sure. As soon as I started doing it something clicked in my body and I was like, "this is it." This is my thing. It was harmonious, I don't know how to explain it. I’d never had anything like that in my life… 
I started a sewing club in high school and made my prom dress. I was very into sewing and textiles. In fact I went to college initially for textile design.
It just didn't feel right. The more I was doing it, I was like, "I don't think this is for me. I don't really want to sew all day." I was doing more of the science background behind textile design. The school I went to, they designed Kevlar, the textile, so that was cool, but it just wasn't as inspiring for some reason. Then I started trying to paint. 
Actually, my degree is in nutrition and public health. So I have a heavy science background. I thought I would do that. I went to school five years because it takes a long time to do nutrition. I got out and I did a little bit with it, and I was like, "I can't do this!" 
It was really depressing. And the health care industry's so f-ed I as a person need something lighter in my life because I have a tendency to really feel the weight of the world. I need to do something that's adding lightness and even though I'd be helping people it was just kind of crushing me.
[With] my dad one day I was like, "teach me how to weld," and he was like, "okay," so I did it. And I was like, "this is it. Metal work. This is it." 

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Nativen:    That's great. That's a good evolution. It sounds like you're on the right path. What do you love most about Portland? And do you think it's integral to the work that you're doing in any way?

Lane:    That is a good question. Well, I'm going to have to say that moving across the country, Portland was probably the best city for me. Especially from the south. Because people are pretty nice in the south, and friendly. And it's really similar here. And I felt like that made it a lot easier for me to meet people.
As soon as I visited here, it didn't really feel like a city, it felt more like a town. I feel like that aspect of it I fell in love with, that it was like a warm, small city. 

Nativen:    Do you have a favorite restaurant in Portland?

Lane:    Luc Lac

Nativen:    How about a favorite clothing store?

Lane:    I love BackTalk because she's awesome. And she kind of took me and my stuff when I was just starting out. I have wire stuff all over her store. I just liked her, I always liked her aesthetic and her vibe a lot. I was like, "Man, I would really make it if I got in there."
It's really awesome. I still don't feel like made it all, but at least I accomplished one goal... And then my friend has a shop called Johan, which is really awesome too. It's really Scandinavian, but she has a really good minimalistic eye.

'The Bod' on display at BackTalk in Portland

'The Bod' on display at BackTalk in Portland

Nativen:    Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space in or around Portland?

Lane:    Around Portland… The Washington side of the gorge. 100 percent. Which is not Portland, but it's very close. I guess, in Portland, I really, really love Peninsula Park, when the roses are in bloom.

Nativen:    Cool. Do you have a hidden gem in Portland?

Lane:    Yeah, the downtown library is really cool. I don't know if it's a hidden gem but it's a cool spot.

Nativen:    I think it is, libraries are one of those things that are really fascinating too because obviously living in a techie world, they're less of a destination maybe than they used to be. It's kind of fun to wander into those little worlds. And that smell that occurs when you're in a library, that old book smell.

Lane:    I know. I wonder if that's going to go away when ... decades from now. People are not going to know what that is.

Nativen:    I know. I feel like somebody should make a candle that smells like that. 
What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here?

Lane:    Honestly ... the shops are really cool here. They have really good massive warehouses where I can get stuff for pretty good prices. As cheesy as this sounds, just being able to not be in a city and go somewhere where it's quiet and feels very vast is really good for flipping the script. Just clearing out the general anxiety and stressors of living in a busy place.

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Nativen:    So this is the like asking you to pick your favorite child question. Do you have a favorite piece that you've made?

Lane:    I don't know if I have one favorite piece. I feel like that would mean that I wasn't still… you know, I'm kind of glad that I don't because I feel I wouldn't keep trying to do more.
I have things that I really loved making, and tipping points kind of, when I first did Hangers, I started making some hangers for my friend Lars who has a clothing company. And that just changed the game for me a little bit. These mouth hangers I was doing. That kind of put me in a position where I was like, "Okay, I have a little more focus and I know a little bit more what my interest and aesthetic is." So those are near and dear.
I also really love making these masks that I've been making. They're just wire masks that are kind of weird. 

Nativen:    What part of your process brings you the most joy.

Lane:    Honestly, just coming to a studio space and just being alone with my thoughts and not, having something in my head and being able to hold it a couple of hours later is the one of the best feelings ever.

A face on display at BackTalk in Portland

A face on display at BackTalk in Portland

Nativen:    What do you think is the greatest struggle for you?

Lane:    Oh. Trying to make money. It's one of those things where if you really love it, you almost don't want to do things that you have to do to make money. I'm kind of figuring that out. It's becoming easier and easier but it's a really long process to go from loving something. And making it ... clearing a path, evolving as someone who makes art and also someone who makes money. So I think getting the business side of it down is difficult. And I think most people who make things would agree with that.

Nativen:    What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?

Lane:    Honestly, travel somewhere where I don't know the language and I'm totally alone.

Nativen:    Ooh, that's good.

Lane:    I guess I've done it, but in Europe. I feel like if I was somewhere with a bigger culture shock where I didn't know the language, I didn't know anything about the culture really, and I was just alone. Because I think it would be horrifying but I think it would be really amazing to see how I did it.

Nativen:    Is there somebody or a song that you've been listening to a lot lately? To get your creative mojo on.

Lane:    I mainly eat up podcasts when I'm working. But if I'm not listening to a podcast, or I need a break from them, I love listening to hip hop but I also like new wave a lot. One of my favorite bands to listen to while I'm working is Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.

Nativen:    They're the best. What are three words that sum up your work for you.

Lane:    I think, there's a sense of humor to a lot of my work. It's kind of a little weird or a little whimsical. I'd just say ... illustrative.

Nativen:    That's a great word, and seems very fitting. Is there anything that you do to specifically connect with your community here?

Faces & flowers on display at BackTalk in Portland

Faces & flowers on display at BackTalk in Portland

Lane:    I want to do workshops in Portland in general because I feel like there's a lot of people here who like using their hands but they don't really have access to tools like metal working. I want to be able to incorporate that into my life and be able to hang out with people… I want it to be more a hang ... where we just make things. People are so excited to do something different with their hands and walk away with something they made and designed.
My long term goal is I really want to write a grant to work with teenage girls in the foster care system. Because I found metal work to be the most empowering thing I've ever done. I feel like being able to connect that with people who might not always feel really empowered and really need that outlet but don't have access. Or they're just not able… they're not supported in that way.

Nativen:    Definitely. It's nice to be able to inspire people. And when you feel like you can do that, especially with young ladies. 
What's the most helpful advice you've received, or maybe some advice that you'd give to someone who's looking to pursue their creative endeavors?

Lane:    One of my good friends who has always been right there with me, trying to pursue odd goals, a little bit. He was like, the hardest point is the point where people give up and the people who keep going are the ones who become successful, [if] only because of the fact that they kept going, weeded out all the people who stopped. So not even if you're the best thing ever, it's just that you stuck with it.
I think about that every time. I just gotta keep with it because statistically speaking ... something will come from it.
It's an endurance race, is what it is.

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Nativen:    Definitely is. The tortoise always wins. Do you have a hero or maybe somebody who's really helped influence your work in a major way?

Lane:    I didn't know of him when I first started working. It wasn't until I started making wire things that people were likening my work to his that I was like, "He's my spirit guide." Alexander Calder is amazing. It was just this amazing connection I felt.
Also, I really like the sculptural work of Heikki Seppa. He is amazing. 

Nativen:    Final question. Three things you can't live without.

Lane:    Duct tape. My car. Not because I don't love biking, but because it affords me this sense of freedom that I get really stifled. Having a car just makes me feel like I could literally just drive to the beach right now if I wanted to. That gives me some sort of mental clarity.
And ... my cat.

Nativen:    Ahh. What's your cat's name?

Lane:    She's the best. Scoot. I took her from North Carolina.
I hope… I mean I'm going to have to live without her one day … but if the odds are in my favor. She is the best.

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Interview and Photos by: Lily Hetzler

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

Chloe Swantner and Mamie Minch: Brooklyn Lutherie

Lily Hetzler

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….

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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. 

Nativen:  Wow.

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 

Mamie 

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.

Nativen:  Right.

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.

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Chloe:    Yeah.

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. 

Chloe:  Yeah.

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.

Chloe

Chloe

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."

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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.

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Nativen:  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with you and historical instruments.

Mamie:    Yeah.

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.

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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.

Nativen:  Awesome.

Chloe:  Jalopy.

Mamie:    Jalopy, yeah. Really love Jalopy. 

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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.

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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.

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Mamie:     Yeah.

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.

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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.

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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.

Nativen:  Oh?

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?

Mamie:     Wood.
Patience.

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.

Mamie:    Resiliency?

Chloe:    Yeah, or like ...

Nativen:  Longevity?

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.

Mamie:     Yep.

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.

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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.

Chloe:    Right.

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-

Chloe:    Love.

Mamie:    Yeah. Fela Kuti.

Nativen:  Ooh nice. You like encompassed both of them. Music and love, within Fela Kuti. 

Chloe and Mamie

Chloe and Mamie

 

Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photos by: Ethan Covey

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

This song contains explicit lyrics

Rachel Budde: Fat and the Moon

Lily Hetzler

Rachel’s bungalow in the woods outside of Nevada City imbues all the qualities of warmth, tranquility and the sweet, woody, welcoming smell that we long for in home.  Fat and the Moon, is rich with story, from her Slovenian heritage of herbal healers to her new California roots. On a warm Autumn day we sat and chatted with Rachel and her four-legged friend about the beauty of healing, the art of creating from the natural world, and the inspiration of travel… Take a journey with us from the woods of Slovenia to the mountains of California.

Nativen: First off, can you tell me about where you're from?

Rachel: Sure. I'm from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I lived there up until the time I was 18 and I moved to New York at that point. It's interesting because it’s the Midwest and I actually learned so much from growing up there. I’ve always been really different than my family, so eventually going to the coast made a lot of sense for me just because that's where I really found myself. But when I think about the Midwestern ethic—hardworking and trustworthy—I have come fully around in my adulthood to really value that kind of upbringing actually.

Nativen: Do you think the environment or anything else about Milwaukee inspired you to create Fat and the Moon.

Rachel: My mom's side is Slovenian and my grandmother was a big part of my upbringing because she helped raise my sister and I. We went back to Slovenia a lot. Both the connection to the garden and the connection to nature was there because of her influence. But also living in the suburbs I really felt it's lack. I had a strong desire to connect with something more, or to connect with a different way to be in the world, so living in the suburbs was influential by contrast. Then I went to a high school for the arts in Milwaukee and that was huge because that was a total shift from just living in the suburbs and being a weirdo, and to being in a den of weirdos.

Nativen: I don't quite know how to define you as a creator, but would you call yourself an herbalist? And was there a moment when you really realized that you wanted to pursue herbalism as a career? Was there a epiphany moment or something that happened in life specifically to tip you in this direction?

Rachel: Yes, well I'm an artist. I think that's the way I would describe myself, an artist and an herbalist. I was going to art school in New York, and that's what brought me there. The work that I was doing was always influenced by mythology. I was super interested in Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. So I would ask, “What is mythology about?” It's about how people orient themselves in the place that they're living. It’s about their connection to the plants, their connection to the animals, to the landscape, to the weather patterns. I was living in New York City and had no relationship to those things. At the same time, I was doing a permaculture course, and I heard this idea that really that changed my life: weeds that grow in urban landscapes have a direct correlation with the illnesses that people suffer from in those same landscapes. 
All of a sudden, I noticed these places where a dandelion would be coming out of the concrete or burdock or mugwort. This thing that seemed ugly or derelict became alive and full of magic. That cultivation with those plants was like a remembering of my own Slovenian heritage and I realized that the way that my family has used plants I had taken for granted. It was a real coming back to the idea of what being an artist is. For me it's been a pursuit in understanding compositions, understanding relationships, how things come together and what the bigger picture is in that. It really changed my life. At that time it felt like herbalism, feminism, and my life as an artist had converged in Fat and the Moon. It was this perfect organic synchronistic series of events that just put me in that direction. I realized we are nature. The relationship is continued even in the middle of a concrete jungle. 

Nativen: You’re in Nevada City now. What do you love most about it? Do you think being there is integral to your work in any way?

Rachel: There's so many things I love about this place. I think coming here also felt like a magical journey. There's just something special about the people, the landscape, and this sense of community. There's so many makers here, it's amazing. There's brilliant people all around here. That both Fat and the Moon could be held here, but it could also give back, it just felt like a perfect place to do this work. 
Then just personally when I'm traveling and I think about coming home, I feel so excited. It just feels like a little haven. 

Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Nevada City?

Rachel: There's a couple of good places. I like Three Forks—that's a good spot. I love the co-op. I'm a health food store connoisseur. The co-op is really my jam. Then Sushi in the Raw, but you have to get reservations five days in advance. 

Nativen: Do you have a favorite home goods or clothing store?

Rachel: Kitkitdizzi. It's run by really incredible people. Really cool ladies.

Nativen: We're surrounded by it, but do you have a favorite outdoor space in and around Nevada City?

Rachel: I mean everybody in Nevada City says this probably, but the Yuba River was a big part of me moving here. The influence of that amazing river. My time on the Mendocino Coast by the Pacific, which is such a powerful, formidable body of water, was very much that: crashing, vast, rich. Here, the river is much sweeter. Powerful still, but a little more nourishing. 

Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here?

Rachel: A sense of community and seeing other people's creativity. I'm really blown away by the people here and I feel really lucky to be in the midst of these folks.

Nativen: Do you have a favorite product or something that you produce?

Rachel: Every product is for a pretty important purpose. But the deodorants have been the huge thing. I get to meet the people that my potions armpits are in, it's so intimate, and there's something that I creepily like about that. That I get to be invited into that space in a small way is really cool. When I came up with that recipe I felt really good about it. It was like a divinely inspired recipe. I'm very grateful for all that's come my way because of deodorant.

Nativen: What part of your process brings you the most joy?

Rachel: That's a tough question. It's thinking about the greater life of this business. I like seeing where the direction goes, imagining where and how I can tell the story of the plants through this business. I think that brings me a lot of joy. This business feels like a vehicle for a bigger message of self-care, self-love. Connecting to the plants, connecting to the fact that you're nature and that it's joyful and fun and humorous. I think the story of Fat and the Moon is what I take a lot of pleasure in. That looks different sometimes: sometimes it's writing about products, sometimes it's teaching workshops, sometimes it's coming up with a recipe, or asking people what they think about the recipes. 

Nativen: What part of the process is the greatest struggle for you?

Rachel: I think the business side of things. I’m not a “business woman.” In terms of numbers and profit, it’s all very alienating language for me. I can't say enough about my employees and I think one thing that I've really learned is to surround myself with people who have skills that I don't have. There's so many skills I don't have. To see that people take joy in things that I find really tedious, like accounting or spreadsheets, has been an epiphany.

Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do, but haven't done yet?

Rachel: I want a farm. I want Fat and the moon to have a farm and that's my goal. 

Nativen: If you weren't an artist and herbalist, what do you think you would be?

Rachel: I can't even imagine myself not being an artist, that's just such a core part of the way I look at the world.

Nativen: That’s a good sign you’re on the right path. What’s a destination you want to travel to and do you think it might inspire or alter your work in any way?

Rachel: There are places in South America that I'd really like to go. I think I'm really interested in cultures and in places where the connection with the plants is still very strong. That's something that’s really dying out for a lot of different reasons. I would love to go to Peru, I would love to go to Brazil, I would love to go to parts of Japan. There's so many places. 

Nativen: Do you have a song or music that you listen to or that's really inspiring to you?

Rachel: I just went to the Beyonce concert. It was so amazing, and I just love Beyonce. I feel like that's my new goal. If Fat and the Moon can be part of Beyonce's toiletries, I would die feeling complete. The song I like is “Girls”. There’s been a lot of power behind Fat and the Moon from that song.

Nativen: What are 3 words that sum up your work?

Rachel: “Relationship”. That's really what this is all about in the end. Reconnecting with relationship, the relationship with ourselves, our bodies. Both the plants and with where things come from. I think that's a really big one. Another word is  “nature”. We have this idea that nature is somehow this separate thing from culture, from who we are. I always try to take an opportunity to break that down a little bit more. That we are nature and the decisions that we make are connected to nature. We know that humans are having a really negative impact on the natural world. Then I think “self-care”. What that means in a much bigger sense around connecting back to what really feels good and what really nourishes. Often times there's a lot of this self-destructive loop. We think we want something because it'll make us happy, but if we really examined it, it would be because we think that there's something wrong with us that we need to fix. If we can be in a relationship with ourselves where we're really caring for ourselves, I think that we would act in such a different way. It would be fun to be around humans who are really caring for themselves.

Nativen: That's a beautiful way of describing that. Is there anything you do with your work to specifically connect with the community?

Rachel: Kitkitdizzi is the center of a lot of the worlds of the makers around here. We also collaborate with farms like First Rain Farms and work with different organizations in town. One is Women of Worth, which is a shelter and resource for women and children in domestic violence situations and also human trafficking situations. We’re also working with New Roots. They're in Sacramento and in Oakland, but they basically make farms and community gardens available to refugee populations who have had to flee their home countries and completely lost their way of life and their connection to the land. This is something that as we grow is a bigger piece of how I want Fat and the Moon to live in the world. 
Essentially herbalism is about healing. So the question is how do I take that idea and make that the ethos of this business? 

Nativen: What do you think is the most helpful advice you've received, or maybe advice that you would give to someone who's looking to pursue their own creative endeavor?

Rachel: That's a good question. I've gotten a lot of wisdom along the way. It's just one baby step after another. It's important to keep the big vision, to keep your eye on the prize, but let things evolve organically. Try not to get too ahead of yourself because then you can't enjoy the steps along the way.

Nativen: That's some solid advice because I think people get turned off by the having to do it all at once sometimes. Do you have a hero or maybe somebody who's helped influence your work in a big way?

Rachel: My Slovenian grandma—the difficulty of her having to leave where she was from, and her influence on me as a little kid, the love, but also just her connection with plants and with the natural world, and going back to Slovenia with her and seeing her there. I feel like she has been a guide in my life and I have followed her story backwards and it's been such a rich process for me to uncover her story, find out what happened, and understand what were the circumstances in which she had to leave Slovenia, what were her skills, who were her neighbors,w hat was the house that she lived in. That has given me the gifts and also the traumas. I've learned a lot about pain, about medicine and pain, about medicine and the wound. That's been my work in this world and it's really because of her.

Nativen: What a beautiful lineage. What are 3 things you can't live without?

Rachel: Chocolate. I'm fueled by my god, the cocoa plant. Connection to both humans and to the plants. I couldn't live without it, that's for sure. And I think curiosity. There's just so much in this world that is so fascinating and I feel like every day I'm learning so much. I couldn't be who I am without curiosity.

Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photos by: Monica Semurgiu

Edited by: Mary Warner (This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

Greta de Parry: Woodworker, Welder, Furniture Designer

Lily Hetzler

Greta is one of the hardest working women, I know. The ultimate hands-on sculptor, she lets the playfulness of process define and refine each of her pieces.  Hearing her story about finding the creativity in the skillsets she took for granted, and the pioneering family that inspired her to get there, is a motivating one.  Greta de Parry is a natural, and her work and the story that got her here is too…

photo by Erica Gannett

photo by Erica Gannett

Nativen:    Where are you from?

Greta:    I'm from Michigan. I grew up there. My mom is from the Deep South, and my dad is from France. He is a home-builder, so I spent a lot of time on construction sites, job sites. He always had blueprints scattered across the table. Both of my parents were business owners as well, so I think that's kind of my influence. I spent a lot of time in the South and overseas. 

Nativen:    That's great. Do you think Michigan specifically influenced your work in any way? 

Greta:    It's hard to say. That's a really interesting question. I wonder if it would have been the same scenario if I was in Idaho or something, if I would have been inspired differently. I don't think Michigan the state necessarily influenced my work. More so, my teachers; I had really, really great, influential teachers at a really young age, and both my parents were super supportive of me wanting to draw all of the time. Nurturing my creative desires, whatever they were. I think it would be more people than location.  Michigan is a great state. Not to knock on Michigan at all. 

Nativen:    That’s wonderful to have people as a catalyst because it has a fluidity to it that doesn't necessarily lock you to one area of the world. Was there maybe a moment of epiphany that you came to that made you realize, "Yes, I want to be creating, woodworking," or was it just a gradual process?

photo by Alyssa Miserendino

photo by Alyssa Miserendino

Greta:    I don't think there was any ephiphanal moment that stands out. Honestly since like 2nd grade, my art teacher was like, "Greta, you should think about going to art school for college." I loved to draw and knit things and paint and all sorts of stuff. So I had my mind set from that point on going to art school. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do because I really liked a lot of things. I did work with fine arts, charcoal was my medium in undergrad, then I did a lot of graphic design. I'm really interested in typography, and sculpture has always been there. It wasn't necessarily even at the forefront until I moved to Chicago for school.  Like say if I needed corner shelving for my dorm room or something like that, I was able to make it because of my dad. That wasn't really art per se, because it was more like a straight, “I need some storage, how do we do this efficiently? “When I moved to Chicago I took this woodworking class my very first semester. Again, I had a really good professor. I'd never taken a formal, traditional woodworking class. I've taken metal sculpture, and other sculpture and I really just loved it and it came really naturally to me, and I really cared about the process. It sort of enveloped my time and set the tone for the rest of my time at the Art Institute. Then I got a job working in the shop, as a shop tech, and after that I spent all of my time in the shop. It wasn't furniture then, it was first sculpture, and installation pieces. I started to make the furniture that I needed in my apartment, and I used my woodworking skills there. Yeah, so It really was a gradual thing, and by the end of my time at SAIC I had developed a solid skillset in wood and metal. My foundry professor, he was a former artist in residence at this program that was affiliated with the BBM with the Art Institute. He was in charge of recruiting. When I was in the program they only took one artist at a time, and it was to learn at this farm outside of the city, and work with a master craftsperson. So I was able to do that, and that was really transformational. If I hadn't done that, who knows what I would have ended up doing? I was just immersed in furniture, and I lived up there for a few years, and it's been nine years, and I share shop space with the partner who I apprenticed.

Nativen:    It's such a nice journey through your creative process, because for you, it started out as something that was sort of second nature and somewhat inherited through learning from your father. It sounds like it was a skillset that you took for granted, and then through other creative pursuits, you found the art in it again.

Greta:    Absolutely. It's so true. It's funny, when I think about this, my most successful furniture pieces, the pieces that I love the most or that people appreciate the most, every single one of those pieces came accidentally. I was either working on other projects at the time, and happened to have off-cuts, or forms that weren't working and I was trying to fix. Those are the pieces that are really beautiful. It's much more difficult for me to sit down and design a chair. That's sort of why I design. The world is saturated with so much stuff. Why put more and more unless it’s really special.

photo by Jim Prisching

photo by Jim Prisching

Nativen:    Absolutely. What do you love most about Chicago? Do you think it's integral to your work? 

Greta:    I really enjoy Chicago. It's a liveable city, there's so much going on as far as my alma mater, major shows at the art museum. There's a big solid community of woodworkers. I live in the city but then escape the city to the studio, so to have that, it's a really nice balance. At the same time, I'm not making every single piece by hand anymore, I'm working with really great local manufacturers and fabricators that help this process become way more efficient, and even more beautifully made then I was able to do by myself. They're able to develop new products, which is very exciting. I think that could happen anywhere, though. It seems like all these cities that I visit have good solid communities, which is really exciting. 

Nativen:    Do you have a favorite restaurant in Chicago? 

Greta:    That is a tough one. I love the Publican. There are so many great places in my neighborhood…. Stout is a great one in Chicago. 

Nativen:    Favorite park or outdoor space? 

Greta:    Millennium Park. 

Nativen:    Is there a hidden gem in Chicago for you? 

Greta:    Yeah, there's so many hidden gems. The neighborhoods are packed with hidden gems. I live in a great neighborhood called Wicker Park, it’s just full of dive bars with great jukeboxes, and a lot of outdoor spaces. I think it's the dive bars in Chicago. 

Nativen:    What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in Chicago? 

Greta:    I’m really close to the fabricators and manufacturers that I work with. There's an abundance of them. When I was starting to figure out how to get the steel base made for my barstools, I looked up welding companies in Chicago, and there are 50 of them. That’s an amazing resource being in the city, and if you're a person who is starting to develop a product line, that’s not made by you. Letting go of something that's like your baby, is hard enough, so it’s nice to be able to go by, and be more hands on that way. 

Nativen:    Do you have a piece that's your favorite? Or maybe it was the greatest accomplishment throughout your work thus far?

Greta:    My favorite new piece would be a bar stool called the Nico Stool. It's just really beautiful and smooth and comfortable. I just love it. My standout is definitely my Coleman barstool. You know when I look back at the evolution and the course that it's taken, because I've been making this thing for almost 7 years now. The path, where it is now and where it started, just feels good. It's a really beautiful piece, and now the process is really buttoned-up, and I make it in all these colors. 

Coleman Bar Stool

Coleman Bar Stool

Nativen:    That's a really cool thing to look at as a creator, one symbol that can imbue that evolution for you. As far as your creation process goes, what part of it brings you the most joy? 

Greta:    Definitely the prototyping, the studio time. My process always starts in the shop, instead of pen to paper first. I feel like I can draw more with my hands in it, and do a million renditions of it… it's just endless amounts of tweakage. Something else will come by way of doing one project, and then ... I'll push on that for a bit ... It definitely starts in the shop. 

Nativen:    What part of your process do you think is the greatest struggle? 

Greta:    For a while it was the reverse engineering of it. I have a background in graphic design, but studio modeling programs were just never my thing. I never got the hang of them. So translating pieces over to CAD was challenging at first. Now I have trusted people, and I have a system that works for me, because it's really essential: working with people that want to do a rendering of a space, that's how things are operating these days. 

Nativen:    If you weren't doing furniture design, what do you think you would be doing? 

Greta:    If I wouldn't have gotten my artist in residency, I was in the application process for the Peace Corps, so I think I probably would have joined the Peace Corps. Also, I love kids and I love pediatric art therapy and that sort of thing, so I think I would have either been in teaching or something academic. 

Nativen:    That actually transitions really well into my next question, which is what destination do you want to travel to next? 

Greta:    Oh my gosh, I think about this all the time… I'm planning a trip right now to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. That will be in the spring. I've never been to the far East, I've spent a lot of time in Europe, but I've never been anywhere in Asia. 

Nativen:    Do you think that might inspire or alter your work in any way? 

Greta:    Definitely. I'm sort of like a sponge when it comes to architecture, and design, and seeing how people integrate cultures, and how countries use objects in different ways. You're always imagining those things that you don't necessarily think of until you travel through other countries. 

Nativen:    When you're immersed in another culture, you see not just their functional evolution from an engineering standpoint, but how that interplays with the decorative elements of the culture, like in the way that they speak to each other. I don't know if you listen to music at all when you work, but do you have any songs that influence you right now? 

Greta:    I always have The Current streaming. It's a public radio station based out of Minneapolis. They play an amazing mix of music. The DJs are awesome. It's everything from Miles Davis to Die Antwerp ... It gets all the genres, and just really good music. I also have a secret love of mashup mixes, with 30 minutes of mashup dance jams that get me moving. 

Nativen:    What are 3 words that sum up your work for you? 

Greta:    Contemporary, authentic, and lasting. 

photo by Steven Sampang

photo by Steven Sampang

Nativen:    Is there anything you do with your work to specifically connect with your community? 

Greta:    I donate pieces every year to different charitable auctions. A friend of mine is part of Save the Children, which is sort of an ongoing thing. I would like to eventually root myself with an organization that I can give part of the proceeds to… I've thought so much about this, I care about trees obviously and I care about the planet, but it's kids that pull at me...

Nativen:    That's your calling? 

Greta:    Yes. 

Nativen:    What's the most helpful advice you've received? Or what's some advice maybe that you'd offer to a creative, that's looking to develop their own work? 

Greta:    I would say don't be afraid. There are a few parts of that. If it's a person that's coming and wanting to get into the shop and learn how to build stuff with their own hands and make things, the first piece of advice I would tell them is call or email carpenters or cabinet-makers in your area. Tell them you’ll clean their studio, if you can learn some things and help them in their shop. People don't turn down free labor, so it's a really nice way of learning. The second thing I would say is, don't be afraid to fail, because most of what you’ll make will be a failure, so you have to get over that hurdle. Not everything is going to be the final piece. Just make, make, make, make, make. Hone your skillset, because that's very important. 

Nativen:    That's good advice. I think culturally, we don't acknowledge that fear is a necessary part of success, that you can't have success without fear. Do you have a hero, or maybe someone who's helped influence your work in a big way? 

Greta:    My grandparents are my heroes, for sure. There are a lot of other furniture makers and designers who have inspired me I guess, but just as a whole, to the core, I think my grandparents definitely. I just like to think about them and for any hurdle that seems like a challenge, I'm like, “I got this. This is all good,”. They're such incredible hard workers. My grandfather is actually one of the leaders in Ukrainian Independence, and he fought in the Ukraine. He's a nuclear engineer, a brilliant man, and went through a lot, lost everything, to come here and they lived for their family. 

Nativen:    That's inspiring. What are three things you can't live without? 

Greta:    Coffee is definitely a big one. I can't live without coffee. 
My Action Book – it’s a really smart, beautifully designed notebook by the Behance team.  I’ve used the action method for 5 years now, it works well for my brain.
I don’t want to say my phone…. But I kind of have to say my phone.  It’s really helpful for tracking work. I’m also constantly listening to music and podcasts, so it’s kind of a lifesaver.

photo by Jim Prisching

photo by Jim Prisching

Interview by: Lily Hetzler

This interview has been condensed & edited

Laura Evans: Outra Textiles

Lily Hetzler

As daunting as the leap from the strangely reassuring cacophony of urban existence to the cricket chirp-filled lull of a rolling green mountain town may seem to us city-dwellers, in Laura Evans’ sun-soaked Asheville studio, it’s clear that life’s pleasures do indeed prevail in the South. Laura’s North Carolinian pad is filled with inspiring images of what a home can be: simple, beautiful, and playful.  From her Southern roots to her days as a Brooklyn landscaper, Laura finds her art in quiet moments. Now based permanently in Asheville, Laura’s creativity finds its genteel yet contemporary expression in the novel world of her brand, Outra Textiles

Nativen:    First off, where are you from?

Laura:    I'm from Georgia and Alabama. My parents are both from Georgia and my mom has an enormous family; she grew up on a farm with 10 kids! When I was five, we moved back to Georgia. I grew up there and went to college there. 

Nativen:    So you're a real Southern woman?

Laura:    It doesn't totally feel like that! But I guess, by definition. 

Nativen:    How do you think growing up in Georgia influenced your work and your creative life?

Laura:    When I was growing up, I was pretty mainstream in a lot of ways. Georgia is a conservative situation, and it doesn't accept people who are very different. I think when I was in high school, and even more in college, the creative part of me started to feel like creativity was a way to resist, a very safe way to break out of that mold. 

Nativen:    How do you define your work? Would you call yourself a textile artist?

Laura:    Yeah. I went to school for landscape architecture. After graduating in Georgia, I moved to Brooklyn and worked for several years doing that. But my excitement for it wore off pretty fast. I realized over time that I'm more interested in patterns and graphic representation of things, as opposed to design spaces. Landscape architecture as a whole is pretty tedious, like an office job for the most part. You're at a computer 95% of the time. 
I was majorly questioning whether I wanted to stick with that, and we decided to move to Asheville. When we moved, we didn't have work, but we thought it would be fine. We were moving from a big city and thought that we'd find work, no big deal. But that's not how Asheville is, and I didn't have a job for the first month that we were here. It was really uncomfortable for me. My life in New York was constantly crammed, so it was pretty uncomfortable to not have many friends, not to have anything going on. But, during that time, while it was hard, it gave me space to think about what I was actually really interested in. I started making stuff for our house, and that felt much more satisfying than anything else I had done in a long time. I needed to break myself a little bit and sit with the uncomfortableness in order to get back into my creativity. It's hard, but that's part of my process now. 

Nativen:    Beautiful things grow from dirty places. It's good to have that. What do you love most about Asheville and do you think it's integral to your work in any way?

Laura:    One of the biggest things is that there isn't a big focus on career here. It’s really nice. It’s not that I don’t want to be productive or motivated, but it's nice not to have that pressure. It works well for me. There’s also a big sense of community here and a big crafty community. 

Nativen:    Do you have a favorite restaurant in Asheville?

Laura:    I'm on a funky diet right now so I don't eat out a ton anymore. But there’s this place that looks really cheesy, but the food is actually so good, it's called Posana. It's downtown and they have a really nice outdoor seating area. 

Nativen:    Do you have a favorite home goods or clothing store?

Laura:    The shopping in Asheville is not awesome. When we first moved here, there was just Old North, a men's clothing place. When I stumbled upon it, it felt like a haven. Luckily, they did well, and they expanded to women's and a couple home goods. It's beautiful and well curated. 

Nativen:    Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space? 

Laura:    There's a ton around here, so it's a little tricky to pick! There is the North Carolina arboretum, which is associated with UNC and is really wonderful. They have pretty Rhododendrons and covered trails, and the gardens are also really gorgeous. Then there's an infinite amount of hiking trails and swimming holes around here.

 Nativen:    Is there a hidden gem in Asheville?

Laura:    There's a park close by that’s not well known called Azalea Park, and there’s a spot there where you can get into the river. There aren't that many places close to town where you can access the water, so that feels pretty special. It gets a little overrun sometimes with some bizarro people, but anyway…

Nativen:    What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here in Asheville?

Laura:    There is a really awesome craft gallery downtown, The Center for Craft Creativity & Design. It's a pretty contemporary take. The space is really beautiful and it’s a very accessible community. My husband and I are pretty plugged in with them. 

Nativen:    What part of your process brings you the most joy?

Laura:    Probably that moment when a new design occurs to me. But sometimes, it comes a lot harder. I have to sketch a long time before I can come up with things that feel new and fresh. But the stuff that I end up liking the most usually occurs to me really quick. That excitement is about making something new that I haven't felt before. Novelty. That’s definitely the most alluring and addicting part of the whole thing. 

Nativen:    What part is the greatest struggle for you?

Laura:    Probably the time right before that. Like what I was just saying saying about that feeling—the novelty—like it's not going to happen again. And then there’s just feeling exhausted. Like all right. I'm done. I've had all the ideas I’m going to have and it's not going to come to me again. But the longer I do it, the more I am comfortable sitting in the uncomfortable space. I know that it's only temporary, and there is a whole other side to it. I'm also used to being in a studio environment where I can bounce ideas off of people constantly. For better or worse. That constant feedback (or lack of it) can be a real struggle. 

Nativen:    If you weren't a textile artist, what do you think you would be? 

Laura:    Who knows! I like looking at design books and thinking about design. I am also very into interior design, and thought about studying it in college. But when I was picking a major, somehow, I just felt really self-conscious about going in that direction. It felt like such a housewife thing to do. But still, that’s just what I gravitate towards. I've been dancing around it for a while now, but I don't know how much I'll ever get into it.

Nativen:    Do you have any tracks you like to listen to while you work? Anything on heavy rotation at the moment?

Laura:    For the last couple of years, I've had the really bad habit of listening to podcasts.

Nativen:    i think that's a good habit.  

Laura: Recently I made a playlist of Erica Badu and Alicia Keys that I feel very into. I think the music is very good but they are both really strong self assured women. It's really good. 

Nativen:    What are three words that sum up your work for you?

Laura:    I'm bad at describing my work. It's such a struggle to describe what I do. It’s this weird edge between something that is really off-putting as well as something that feels classically beautiful. It's weird to call your own stuff weird. 

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Nativen:    There's got to be a word for that in some other language. That's such a great image of describing your work. Is there anything that you do specifically to connect with your community? 

Laura:    I work a little bit for a non-profit design center that has architects and landscape architects. They do small projects for people who have a blown budget that wouldn't otherwise be able to hire a design firm. I also volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. The first time I went there, there were some really warm women, most are retired, that I started talking with. They gave me giant hugs. They love me! This is the first time that I've really had friends that are a little bit older and it's such a nice experience, because, at least for me, it makes me feel so much less fearful of getting older. They're totally smart. And I have things in common with all of them. They are sharp and edgy and subversive and still really active and involved. 

Nativen:    What do you think is the most helpful advice you've received or what's some advice you maybe give to the person who is starting to pursue their creative work?

Laura:    Expect the struggle to continue! Early on in my career, I read an article in Business Insider that talked about how even entrepreneurs who are really successful constantly doubt. You are always going to feel like you're a phony, like you're losing your creativity no matter how well you do, no matter how much validation you get from the outdoor world.
I also got this really good advice at one point: try to rely less on external validation. When you get an exciting magazine placement or whatever, be excited about it but don't let it define you. That's not the key to satisfaction. Sooner or later, it’ll fade and you might not sell anything for a month and that's a major bummer. Try to sit somewhere in between, easier said than done, but have enough integrity so you are less affected by the external. I do this because I enjoy creating, not because I'm looking for fanfare. 

Nativen:    That's solid advice. Do you have a hero or maybe someone who has influenced your work in a big way?

Laura:    As far as inspiration goes, the women who run Sight Unseen. I am so incredibly inspired by them. It's not a mainstream website, but it's sparked, and people feel excited by it. They're a big one. 

Nativen:    What are three things you can't live without?

Laura:    Sunshine. That's pretty huge for me. I'm bummed about winter coming. I also definitely need those close friendship connections. Newness is also big for me. I'm always craving especially visually new and stimulating weirdness I haven't seen before. Back to the novelty thing.

Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photos by: Ethan Covey

Edited by: Kristin Knox (This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

Katie Levinson: Mixed Media Artist

Lily Hetzler

Katie, is a collector of stories, a romantic and an archivist of a playful past that we can all remember.  It was a sunny, humid morning when she welcomed us into her studio and greeted us with fresh fruit and iced coffee.  We could sense right away that “home” is something important to Katie.  As I sat and chatted with her, I felt both at ease and rejuvenated by the story of her creative process, and the things that inspire her.  From tiny seashells to epic glaciers, read on for a look inside Katie Levinson's playful world…

Nativen:  First off, can you talk a little bit about where you are from?

Katie:  I was born in Korea and then I was adopted, so I came to New York when I was just three months old. Yes, I grew up on Long island - actually in Ronkonkoma. It was in the suburbs of Long Island and I do feel like it plays a role in my art. Most recently, I had been living in Chicago and just moved to the city for the first time.

Nativen:  How do you think growing up in Long Island influenced your work specifically?

Katie:  It's funny. I see a lot of kids drawn to my stuff and when I started creating a lot more, I was taken aback by some of the small nuances or themes that were, not immature exactly, but there was a juvenile quality to them. By that, I mean a lot of collecting and organizing and scaling things down. Thinking about it in retrospect, I see that having been a child in the suburbs and having only a limited amount of space to explore, like just your backyard, I would collect rocks, I would collect sticks, I would cut out pictures of magazines, but then I would sort them in very specific ways - the ways that I liked. 
That’s the world I see. Maybe it's not so much about suburbia. Maybe children all over do the same thing whether you live on the farm or wherever. But in my context that's what I relate to from my childhood.

Nativen:  It's lovely… it's kind of a romantic organization of sorts. There is like a cleanness and a preciseness to your work. When you think about it with that context in mind, it's actually a very romantic idea. 
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue this art? Was there an epiphany or a moment in your life that really influenced it?

Katie:  Years ago, if I met someone who said that they had wanted to be a teacher since they were a child and they always knew. I’d say, like, ‘man, that must be so great to exactly know your passion and to go after it’.  But you know at some point I realized I actually always knew that I wanted to pursue art. But the path wasn't always so clear.
There was a period after high school that I really stepped back from it. But one of the things that got me back into art was having to take liberal arts courses (in college). I said, ‘cool, why shouldn't I?’ I took art history because I've always liked it and being immersed in it again, it's like, ‘ah – this is just so refreshing’. It was like I forgot how much I loved this.
Around that same time I randomly found a New Yorker article about how David Hockney had written this book about how renaissance, or even pre-renaissance artists used instruments to help them draw and paint realistically - like the camera obscura and things like that, which kind of turned my understanding of art on its head. 
I had known what contemporary art was and what modern art was, but it just helped to really solidify where we are now in the art world, and that art expression today can be anything. It didn't need to be very realistic representation or what I used to consider artistic skill.

Nativen:  Classical skill or classical tools or ...

Katie:  Exactly, it just seems crazy to me. I mean, shouldn't art be something they teach you when you are in first grade? It's great to draw the apple so that it looks like the apple, but it doesn't have to. Your expression doesn’t have to be internalized or externalized in that way.

Nativen:  What do you love most about living in New York and do think it’s integral to your work in any way? 

Katie:  I guess it's hard because it's still new. For me, it's not moving to New York, it's returning, even though it's my first time in the city. The city feels new but my mom still lives out on Long Island so that was a part of my moving back. Sometimes I’d be at Artists and Fleas (a weekly Brooklyn maker and vintage market) and they would ask some of the artists to make pieces called, ‘Why New York?’. 
You can translate it however you want, but I had an idea that fit into that. I did four framed pieces and they were all labeled ‘History’. Those geodes over there (pointing to a nearby shelf), I actually cracked them open. So one piece was arranged geodes.

I did one where seabricks had been eroded by the water, from a place that was on the beach 10 minutes from my mom’s house, where I had worked two summers when I was younger. One of the others was made from pieces of branches near our house ... my parents moved after I graduated and so I was becoming very sentimental about letting go of that house that I grew up in. 
They built the house and so I had to go back and visit. I knocked on the door and I asked the people who live there, 'do you mind me going through the backyard and cut off a piece of branch from a tree?’ My parents had a live Christmas tree that they had planted in the 1980’s and it's still there.

Nativen:  It's nice to discover your evolution and to be re-introduced to your childhood space, that's so inspiring. 
Now that you’ve been living in New York for a brief minute, do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?

Katie:  When we were living in Chicago we were right by Lincoln Park, so we thought it was really important when we moved to New York to be by a park. We thought it would be a sacrifice not to be near open water or a park. We were hoping to get one or the other, so moving here we obviously were aware that it was close to the park and we thought that was great - Central Park. We had no idea how much use we would actually make of it. It sounds stupid but Central Park bing so close - we really made use of it, especially since summer started. When it was hot in here and the AC wasn't going on, a little later in the evening we’d take our dinner down there and eat dinner in the park and say to ourselves, ‘we're living in New York!’ Stars in our eyes.

Nativen:  What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here in New York?

Katie:  This is going to be corny but it’s my husband. The first time I displayed my sculptures was in Chicago at a renegade craft fair and it was as we were driving away… I don't even know if this is the right quote... but he said, ‘you know, Eleanor Roosevelt said that one person can't achieve success by themselves that it takes another’s support.’ I'm not sure I would have been able to do it by myself even though I strive very desperately to be the person who can do these things by themselves. 
It was in July that I had a show up in Beacon and I had to do the installation. I had never done an installation before. The entire time leading up to it I wasn't nervous about all the work that I had to do. And I was very stoic about not asking him for help or anything. I was looking up online for instructions on how to install stuff.
There are so many aspects to it and maybe I could have done it in two days but I needed to go in at 7 o'clock in the morning and have it up by 2 o'clock in the afternoon. There is no way that I could have done that by myself.

Nativen:  That's a sign of a good partnership. You feel like you have somebody who is in your corner. So this is like asking you to ‘pick your favorite child’ question, but do you have a favorite piece that you've made?

Katie:  There is. There is one, it's called ‘Little Things’. They are really small, like millimeters small - absolutely tiny. They are fully formed shells that I arrange, and I attached a chain and a magnifying glass. Even though I'm still doing sculptural things in frames, it was the first time I started getting a little further away from that. 
After ‘History’, the one I was telling you about, the frames actually have brass pull drawer handles on them so that they all slide into a wooden cabinet, which you can then pull out. So I'm starting to go down that path where I am still working within the frame but then incorporating more outside sculptural elements to it.

Nativen:  It's very cool and it's a wonderful idea. Again, it sort of like capturing a romantic moment of your past in what you're creating. That's really nice.   What point of your process brings you the most joy?

Katie:  It's funny that you ask that because I am very candid, I think, about the process and about just being an artist and how hard it's been. I used to see this therapist - she was great. She was a Jungian therapist. But then she became more of an advisor to me. A couple of years ago I had had a great month where I was just creating and I was at ease. I was like cruising and making and doing and being really high about it, and then all of a sudden that momentum and inspiration just stopped for whatever reason. It went back to like clawing - trying to be productive - and making myself sit at my desk even when I didn't want to. So I went to her and I was talking about it and she laughed at me and she was like, 'Oh, I am sorry. You thought it was going to be easy?' 
I guess I thought I was going to reach this plateau of like “creative enlightenment” or whatever and it would just be ... I'm just making art. This is just how it will be forever.
But to answer your question, when I'm finished with a piece and I know how hard it was sometimes to sit down and engage with the piece and interact with the piece, that would bring me the most joy and pride, knowing that the fruits of my labor are complete.

Nativen:  That's a lot more rewarding in the scope of things… feeling like things are flowing out of you, which is beautiful, too. But also to know that you had a dynamic relationship with a piece and then to see it finished - it's just very gratifying.
What do you think is the greatest struggle for you in your process? I think you sort of touched on that, and the dynamics of that, but if you can re-articulate it.

Katie:  I guess it's more commonly applied to writers but just sitting at the desk, forcing yourself even when you don't feel it. I'm trying to think of the percentage... but let’s say 25 percent is inspiration and obviously the other 75 percent is the working hard part, both, if not all of that can be hard to do. Sometimes I think that I'm a bit of masochist because some of the stuff that I do is so small and so precise, it can be back-breaking work hunched over something, cutting and… Those struggles of, ‘I have this idea of a project on this other plane that I then need to take from up here and translate down here’, but I know in that process that it's going to be hours of horrible work.

Nativen:  Decision to precision.

Katie:  Yeah. The hardest struggle is to motivate yourself to sit down and to discipline yourself.

Nativen:  What’s one thing do you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?

Katie:  I would love to go to all of the Scandinavian countries because I love their design and settings. I think it translates a lot in my work, how much I admire that. Most of all I want to go to Iceland. We just booked our tickets for September so I haven't gone yet, but I am excited.

Nativen:  That's so exciting. Do you think Iceland specifically might inspire or alter your work in anyway?

Katie:  I do and it's funny because there are things that I started working on already that I see influences of. I kind of identify with Scandinavian countries because I love their clean, simplistic aesthetic. Especially in Iceland, I love their contemporary art and even their music but there is also a playfulness with it and a colorfulness that I really like, and the landscape as well.
I have a small sculpture… it's an iceberg… it's called ‘My Native Land’. People always ask me, ‘Oh, where are you from?’ (someone thought I was Inuit), and I have to tell them ‘no, it's just that out of the geographical landscapes, glaciers really resonate with me and so it's just kind of re-occurring theme in my work’. (Pointing) The three on the bottom are my most recent pieces. 

This one on the end on the right hand is called ‘Fjord’ because it's formed when a glacier comes by and there are two plateaus on either side and water that runs between them. The other one is just called ‘Reccurring Theme - Glaciers’ because it's very archetypal of humans. And that last one relates to our talking about my childhood house.
What I'm doing now is a bunch of pieces that relate to items or things that I was inexplicably embarrassed of when I was a child. We had a yellow and green-striped shower curtain ... You know when you are a kid and you are just like ... 

Nativen:  Like you are weirdly mortified about ambiguous objects? 

Katie:  Yes. We had two white cars and I remember being really embarrassed that we had two white cars. Why, who cares? No one else thought anything about us having two white cars. It's just something I personally felt and it's the same thing with the shower curtain. Nobody came to my house and said, ‘Your shower curtain is ugly!’. But I was just very embarrassed.

Nativen:  That's funny. It's interesting - the glacier thing, too. It makes a lot of sense because you know it is the original forging of landscapes in those places.

Katie:  Yes, I think there’s something in the history of it… there is so much held inside. And also, it's a monolith. It's just so big and almost unfathomable - something that endures before us and after us.

Nativen:  That's great. What are three words that sum up your work for you?

Katie:  The first I go to is ‘clean’. I know it's not like there isn't self-awareness there. I know how stripped down things are. 
I want to say I hope it's not too sentimental for other people because I think there is such a fine line with that, but for me it is ‘sentimental’. Even if something seems a little stoic it still rings for me, so, ‘sentimental’.
I'm trying to be more ‘playful’. It's funny, because people will come up to me and people will appreciate how clean it is and that’s the design aesthetic that I like. But also, I can go on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. I appreciate so much the baroque and the embellishment - especially color. I just love when pieces have color in them because sometimes it's white and I'll look at it and just feel like ‘no’, it's just doesn't fit with me. So, at what point do I try to break out of myself a little bit, and at what point do I listen to my intuition and stay true to my vision.

Nativen:  Is there anything that you do with your work to specifically to connect with the community around you?

Katie:  There are a few pieces that I'm working on now that I would like to connect with a couple of larger groups. One is the World Meteorological Organization. This sounds so silly, but I just watched “An Inconvenient Truth”. I had this idea a while ago to do a catalog for the different types, to make graphic representations of them. I’m working on that now.
One of the things that I would like to do is to help bring awareness of our surroundings. For example, I wanted to go into the surrounding New York area and regenerate native moss. It's really easy to do. And then have their Latin names and a little description displayed in some way just to bring awareness of natural and ephemeral surroundings.

Nativen:  That's beautiful. I love that idea. What's the most helpful advice you've received or some advice you would give to someone who is looking to pursue their creative endeavor?

Katie:  One thing I have heard and a hard lesson that I've learned is how much of your success is going to be due to resilience. Everyone has a different path, I think very much so in a creative field that resilience is key. I don't want to say above talent but it's a necessary characteristic if you want to do it. 

Nativen:  Yeah, that's an important thing to remember. Success is often born out of failure so you'll have to be willing to go through that to get to the other side. It’s sound advice.

Katie:  The thing is, obviously, I'm still learning. I'm still new to this, but the stuff that I’ve learned I always am eager to share with people. If I have any small knowledge or something, I'd love to give that to someone and help them, because sometimes I think there isn't a transparency with creativity and with pursuing being creative… that there is this romantic veil that people think is very easy in a certain way, but how much work and resilience it takes, and how work, resilience and discipline are something that people don't necessarily associate with pursuing art. And they are so key and so fundamental.

Nativen:  That's good solid advice. Do you have a hero or someone that's helped influence your work in a meaningful way?

Katie:  Yes. One person who I love is Joseph Cornell. You can definitely see how that resonates in my work, too. My love for Joseph Cornell – it’s the same thing - that he lived with his mom and his brother in Queens… and for me it was in his nature – that, if nobody recognized his work, he would have kept making it. It was just in him that he needed to keep making it. And even though it is hard to sit down at the table and to sometimes be productive, I think you have to have that always in you. It's about letting yourself be the conduit.

Nativen:  That's great. And last, but not least, what are the three things that you can't live without?

Katie:  Cheese. [laughs] It was the first thing that came to my mind. 

Nativen:  That's awesome. You are not the first person who’s said that. 

Katie:  It's hard because I'm trying to be minimal, as a lifestyle, so I'm trying to think, ‘what are those things that I can just arbitrarily cannot have?’

Nativen:  That's a good way to live your life if you don't feel attached to things.

Katie:  But then my only answer is going to be cheese. 
[laughs]

Interview by: Lily Hetzler

Photos by: Ethan Covey

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copyright of Nativen

Leeta Harding: Photographer

Lily Hetzler

Exploring the rolling green landscape of Murfreesboro, replete with miles of decaying early American estates, gave us a unique window into small-town life, it's charm and mystery. Photographer Leeta Harding's most recent work, is deeply rooted in the south and the history of America, which is what inspired our latest editorial collaboration.  We spent a few days exploring the area and discussing the benefits and challenges of life there, and the development of her work.  Read on...

Nativen: First tell me a little bit about where you're from, where you grew up. 

Leeta:    I grew up on the west coast of Canada in a fishing town called Campbell River. My roots were based in the land and I grew up riding a horse. My dad was a logger and my mom was a dressmaker. Growing up in the late '70s, photography, music, and nature were really the fundamentals. So when I moved to Vancouver in 1983, it was because of a David Bowie concert. My parents were free to let me go, they thought that I could handle life on my own. I was 15 and I did. And I really never looked back after that. 

Nativen: Was there a moment in your life, an “aha” moment which made you realize that you want to pursue photography? 

Leeta:     At 20 I was backpacking in Europe and learning about European culture, going to Turkey and Greece and thinking, "God, this is such a huge world." It was the quest of the traveler; you're searching, you're looking and you're discovering. I was most comfortable behind the camera, because I was shy, I was able to observe people and I found out pretty quickly that I was good at photographing people because I was very easygoing and I put them at ease.

Then, after spending a month in Turkey, my girlfriends and I moved to London and got jobs illegally. I remember I was walking through Hyde Park and someone said, "What do you want to do?" And I was like, "Huh? I want to be in New York and be a photographer." I just said it matter of fact. I guess it was in my brain by that point that that's what I wanted to do. 

Nativen: So when did you move to New York?

Leeta: I was 22 when I landed in New York and I knew that that was a place I could live because it was a melting pot of people just like me, searching, looking for an identity. I went to SVA for a little, and I knew that my background had to be art. I chose my education a la carte and I paid for all my classes on waitressing tips. 

Straight out of art school I ended up working for Harper's Bazaar and then Index Magazine and then all the other glossies and downtown magazines. That was complete fluke in a weird way, but it was a time in the '90s that there weren't a whole lot of women out there doing that. 

Nativen: What made you decide to leave New York in the end?

Leeta:    After 20 years living in New York working for magazines and having a diagnosis of cancer and living through that, I knew I had reached an endpoint in my career that I didn't need to explore any further. I felt like I had done a lot of what I'd set out to do there, and that was a great feeling. I was just looking for change. I was tired, and I wanted quiet. It was 2008, and people were leaving in an exodus looking for life outside the city, and I knew I needed to be out in New York State. I wanted to try something completely different and my then boyfriend (who is now my husband) and I went on two trips across America photographing old abandoned theaters and diners and ghost towns, and I thought, "This is something I love to do, I love taking photographs but I don't need to be a commercial photographer, a magazine photographer anymore." I had reached my saturation point and I was just, again, that point of searching and wanting something new. 

Nativen: How did you wind up in Murfreesboro?

Leeta: Serendipity brought us down here and we happened to find this house. It was the story of the house and the renovation project that enchanted us. We both had money, we were able to do it, so we spent two years in another world learning about the South. Looking back now, it was about the love of an old home, saving this home in a weird way. Maybe it was like saving myself or saving my soul, and wanting to be connected to land again, to have property, to have animals and let my dog run free and not walk her to Tompkins Square Park. I really wanted a quiet, simple life away from the art world and the fashion world.

Nativen: What effect did the move down south have on your work?

Leeta:    It wasn't, I think, until I moved here that I was able to take all of my published work and put it aside and start again. Here I was able to work in isolation without any outside influence and strip myself of what I knew. All of a sudden, I didn't have a deadline. I didn't have to produce images for anyone or anything as a way of survival. I dug deep and then dug deeper, trying to find that voice. When you commercialize yourself and you measure something, it changes. The freedom of not having to make money was a wonderful feeling to start again, to begin again. 

In my search for solitude, a happenstance encounter with an old dilapidated plantation called, Myrick Plantation, in a very rural little farming community propelled me to pick up the camera out of sheer joy. It was me and bats in a room, just me being alone with the wind and the creatures of this antebellum home, and feeling this ultimate sense of timelessness, of peace, and my breathing and the sound of my shutter.

After that came more old plantations and an old home called Smith Farmhouse in Milwaukee, North Carolina, another rural town. Soon it occurred to me that I didn't have to be me alone in these places, I could bring new life to these homes, and I decided to do a search for models who would sit for a portrait for me in these places. It’s a great explanation or a great definition of rebirth, really, isn't it? Recycling things that are existing but forgotten and no one cares about anymore. 

By creating this work, for me, I wasn't really conscious I was creating a body of work. I just said, "Well, we'll see what happens." I didn't know it was really going to turn into something over a period of a couple of years, but I was working mostly with Africa-American girls and it was very important to me to connect with the black community because it's not by nature my experience. Before, I’d photographed mostly white girls, models in New York. I really had to strip myself of what I knew in order to experience something completely different in portraiture, and even skin tone, for instance. 

Nativen: How did this kind of creative process go down locally? 

Leeta:    There's no getting away from it; I'm not an activist. I didn't start out thinking I was going to draw attention to racism at all. It was more about my own love of creating beauty, finding some of these girls that were living in these tiny little towns, and to approach them. 

At first, I was like, "Oh, how am I going to find models?" But then driving in town, going home, and I saw this girl walking down the street, who was absolutely perfect, and I pulled over, jumped out of the car, went running up to her, and was like, "Please don't think I'm crazy. I'm a photographer but I'm doing a project for an exhibition, and I really think you would be perfect for my project, my photo series." 

She looked at me and she laughed, she said, "I've been praying for somebody to come along and take my photo because I really want to be a model." Her name was Shea and she went on to become a model in Miami. She's very successful now.

Nativen: What part of your process, your photography process in general, brings you the most joy? 

Leeta:    For me the joy comes after or before. I like the research and the collecting of imagery or clothing, it's like wrapping Christmas gifts. It's like the time you have alone, steaming the clothes or choosing the lipstick color or the search for the right shoes to create the story with creating your props, building your collection of things to choose from. That is exciting. 

Then once you're behind the lens and then you get everything into place and you get the image, and you know you've gotten the image, that's the joy, but then it's the editing afterwards that I end up getting excited, really excited because it's fresh, it's new. 

Nativen: What part is the biggest struggle for you, do you think? 

Leeta:    I'm a one-woman show. I art direct, I style, I do makeup, hair, I edit, I write, I have to be all these things or do all these things.

Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet? 

Leeta:    Go to India. When I was four years old, my babysitters were Indian and I loved the food and the smells coming out of the kitchen. I love the colors and the saris and the gold jewelry. I just think Indian women are just extremely beautiful. And then there’s…the light. 

Nativen: I don't know if you listen to music in any part of your process of inspiration or editing, but are there any songs or musicians that you listen to regularly?  

Leeta:    I was watching the Grammys a couple of years ago and there was an amazing performance by Jack White, and Ruby Amanfu. They did this song called Love Interruption. The styling of both of them and their lyrics and their performance was so charismatic, it stopped me in my tracks and so I downloaded Blunderbuss. I listen to that album over and over and over, driving the back roads of North Carolina.

Nativen: Your work is very much about engaging in what's happening around you in the community here, but is there anything through your work that you do to really try and specifically connect with the community here? 

Leeta:    I keep in contact with the girls that I photograph and have a dialogue with them. I became a mentor to one of the girls who interviewed me for her 12th grade project. Feeling like I made some difference in their lives, whether it's just through an image that they will have of themselves documented at this age that's a beautiful, iconic image is kind of a heartfelt feeling. But also just having personal relationships with a community of women who I wouldn't have gotten to know.

Nativen: What's the most helpful advice you've received or what's advice that you'd give to someone who's looking to build a career out of their creative interest? 

Leeta:    Have faith in yourself, first and foremost. You don't have to justify creative process to anyone. Keep trusting what you do, if you love what you do, and continue, hopefully, to work on that relationship with trust and respect with people, but then, ultimately, with moving forward if you feel stuck. Because in those places, those in between places of waiting for something to happen or self-doubt, those are the times that you need to hang on to because when the going gets good, that's not necessarily going to be your best true work. 

Nativen: Is there someone who's really a hero to you or maybe someone who's really helped influence your work that's been a vehicle through all of this? 

Leeta:    I was in my 20s in New York and I happened to be walking along Broadway and I was feeling very alone and not knowing how I was going to do what I wanted to do. I saw this sign, and two girls were sitting at a table with a sign that said, "Free Advice." I sat down and we just started talking. They said to me, "What is it you really want to do?" I said, "I really just want to take photographs and travel the world." 

They asked me, "If you could do that, what would you do right now?" I said, "Well, I'd probably go up to Central Park and photograph people, but I have to go to work." They said, "That's what you should be doing," and it was just that simple.  It was one of those things; it just occurred to me, if that's really what I think about all the time, then that's what I really should be doing. It was that simple anonymous advice from two girls I don't even know.

Nativen: What are three words that sum up your work for you? 

Leeta:    Finding personal truth.

Check out the editorial Leeta shot for us here!

Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler

Edited by: Kristin Knox (This interview has been condensed & edited)

all images are copyright of Nativen

Alea Joy & Sarah Helmstetter: Solabee Flowers

Lily Hetzler

The smell of freshly cut greens and the flurry of moving pots and buckets of water, were my first glimpse into Solabee, and the botanical space of green-thumbed duo Alea and Sarah.  Over a cup of aromatic tea inside their shop in downtown Portland, we discussed childhood flower stands, a youth spent in the Ozarks, and the beauty of the Oregon landscape. Their commitment to sourcing locally, and the bold delicacy of their work, show it's clear these two feel more natural in the natural world.

Nativen: Where are you both from?


Alea: I'm from Oregon. I was born in Eugene and lived in many small towns until I moved to Portland in high school. I've been here for over twenty years now.

Sarah: I'm from Missouri originally, I grew up in the Ozarks until I was ten, and then I've lived in Oregon ever since.


Nativen: Do you think growing up where you did had any effect on your decision to become florists, floral artists ... I don't know what to actually even call you.


Alea: We’re not sure either right now because we do a lot of different things! We do styling, floral arrangements, a tiny bit of event planning, plants and greenery, interior greenscapes, retail...
As for your question, when I was trying to make my way in the world, the botanical world just felt like a place I was really familiar with; I feel more natural with the natural world around.

Nativen: How about you, Sarah?


Sarah: For me it definitely did. I come from a long line of serious plant hoarders.
Both my parents really being into gardening, both like vegetable gardening and flower gardens, huge ones, where we lived in Missouri. We had eighty-five acres and two rivers. When we moved to Oregon, it was the same thing, lots of gardening year-round. We had a flower stand when I was little.


Nativen: Was there moment where you knew you wanted to pursue this as a career?


Alea: For me, it was totally accidental, like a knack in the background. I basically got a flower stand job right out of college just because I was working in a cubicle, I was depressed and would do anything to get out of there.

Sarah: Sammy’s Flowers was just a night job for me when I was going through college. But I kept quitting. I would leave for the summer to go on vacation or go away for school, but every time I came back, there would be another location open, or another spot for me to move up. I thought I was going be a teacher or something.


Nativen: How did you two meet and start working together?


Sarah: We both worked for at Sammy’s for years, but not at the same shop. So we kind of knew each other in passing. And then when the economy took a dive we both were kind of laid-off.

Alea: It just got really, really hard. We couldn't find a job that paid us anywhere near what we had been making. But we knew all the farmers, we knew all the clients, and so we kind of cut out the middleman—our employer—and dealt with everyone directly.

Sarah: We started off really slowly, like working out of our homes and our kitchens. Our first shop was in the lobby of a wellness center.

Alea: Tiny little thing.

Sarah: But it had the best light we've ever had!

Alea: Since then, we've just kind-of jumped up, very opportunistically, with locations. We’ve been very conservative. It's almost like we've got like Depression Era mentality when it comes to running our business because we came out of such a place of scarcity when we first started. As we get busier and busier, we're just kind-of like, "Whoa! This is amazing!" [laughing] It's actually working.


Nativen: What do you guys love most about Portland and do you think that's integral to what you're doing here in any way?


Sarah: I love that you can grow things year-round here in Portland, and I definitely think that is integral to our business. I love that it's so seasonal in our climate, and so, every month we have a whole different palette to work with, and different textures. Spring is really branchy and bloomy, then the tulips come, and then slowly comes peony season. It's always changing.

Alea: I also like how easy it is to get out of the city because I have to do that in order to remain sane. My big treat every year is to go to Eastern Oregon and not see another person for a good period of time. Or the ones I do see are super rural weirdos that, you know, live the free life.


Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Portland?


Sarah: I think some of our accounts are my favorite. I really like Little Bird and Le Pigeon, if I was going to go somewhere fancy, those would be my picks. I also like Lardos and the Grassa.

Alea: It's harder to get a bad meal in Portland than to get a good meal.


Nativen: Do you have a favorite home goods store or clothing store in Portland?


Sarah: I like consignment shopping. My favorites are in my neighborhood, Button and Give and Take.

Alea: I get a lot of my stuff from people that make the things personally. We can trade if they want plants. There's like a barter thing that goes on. It's awesome.


Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in Portland?


Alea: That we're in a growing region.

Sarah: We have a really nice climate here, a microclimate that enables us to grow things year-round. We don't have the deep freeze in the winter.


Nativen: Right. So you have the ability to be really seasonally committed.


Sarah: Yeah, we can do that! Other places are mums year-round or everything's shipped in. We have so many local growers that we can source directly from here, which is unique.

Alea: Right now it feels like a lot of Oregon product is going out to the rest of the country, and it actually creates (ironically) this weird little desert of local product because it's all being drained out.


Nativen: That's wild. It makes a lot of sense though, because, obviously, if you can do local and seasonal, that's the priority.


Alea: The flower industry in Oregon has been local for a really long time, long before it was cool to be local.

Nativen: This is the asking you to pick-your-favorite-child question: is there something that you've done, an arrangement or a project, that you feel was your greatest accomplishment or the thing that brought you the most joy in your work so far?


Alea: There have been a lot of great things that, we've learned so much. There was that vertical garden that we did for Whole Foods. When we can get budget like that behind us to really bring in all of the resources we have, we make some really cool things.

Sarah: I really like that whatever we do, whether it's a planter out in front of a business or a bouquet that goes to an individual, I just think what's really unique about our job is that 99% of time is bringing someone joy and making someone happy, even if it's for something sad. I like being a part of that. And I like that when we leave a place, it looks a hundred times better than when we started there.

Alea: We get to have a positive impact, even if people don't notice right away. I had this one guy that came in for a year every Friday and bought a bouquet. When I was leaving that particular job, he brought his wife in to meet me. And as he was leaving he was like, "you know you saved me marriage."


Nativen: That's really beautiful. What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?


Sarah: I want to travel for work, have work pay for it, and come back with really cool things.

Alea: We both want to do the same thing [laughing]. I'd love to do a buying trip in some of those larger, cool greenhouses in California or something like that.

Nativen: As far as creating work, is there like a song or anything that gets either of your creative juices flowing?


Sarah: I listen to podcasts, usually, if I'm here by myself. "Serial" was really great, but it's over now. So, that's depressing.

Alea: I've been actually exploring. I did the "Reply All" and "Start-up" as well, that was interesting business podcast. I was listening to "The Read" for while, which is like a totally hilarious, like pop-culture, out of New York. "The Read" is basically just a rant, and they're hilarious.


Nativen: Can you think of three words that sum up what your work is about for you?


Alea: I would say, "always changing." That's two.

Sarah: Seasonal. Green.


Nativen: Can you talk a little bit more about the kind of stuff that you do to connect with the local community?


Sarah: Tonight I'm doing some stuff for a local auction. We're donating gift certificates and little planters for an auction in the neighborhood that I live in and the neighborhood where we started. We donate our time a lot.

Alea: Just last night we did a symphony fundraiser. We get paid for product and stuff, but we gave them deep, deep discounts. I'm still driving around with an eight-foot botanical chandelier on the top of my truck, right now!

Sarah: She's had it for like three days.


Nativen: What's the most helpful advice that you've received or what is advice that you'd give to a creative looking to start their own thing?


Sarah: [laughing] Take it, Alea.

Alea: The worst feeling advice was actually the best advice ever, and the first thing someone said to me when I said, "I wanted to start my own business." They said, "Hire a bookkeeper."

Sarah: And we didn't do it!

Alea: I hated that advice so much; I thought it was the worst. And I used to do bookkeeping too, so I was like, "screw that. I can totally do this." No. If you start a small business and you expect to be busy or make a living on it, running your finances and running your business is also a full-time job, so, you have to pick. You have to continually protect yourself on the path of creativity and if you don't outsource some of that like computer time, you’re burning out because you’re spending fourteen hours a day tending to the business.

Nativen: Do you have a hero or someone who has influenced your work greatly?


Sarah: My family influenced my work because I grew up being around plants a lot. Inside my home I have plants that were my grandma's that are probably fifty or sixty years old.

Alea: Their gardens are gorgeous. She has one of the prettiest gardens I've ever seen in anyone's house. She's a plant whisperer. As for me…I think my greatest inspiration comes from when I step back and get back into nature and get back into touch with myself and just kind of tap back into "how-is-this-done-when-no-one's-watching?"


Nativen: What are three objects you can't live without?


Sarah: We've done this one before. I think clippers. Clippers are essential.

Alea: I also have clippers on me 100% of the time. Except for going through security at airports.

Sarah: Our phones are very valuable for our business right now, so unfortunately...

Alea: …iPhone

Sarah: Can we think of a third thing?

Alea: I'd say, you know, water.

Sarah: Water!

Alea: Light and water.

Sarah: Bees are really essential to our work too, but they're not really...

Alea: …the first thing I did think of was my cat! But I didn't really want to say it.

Sarah: Oh god! Please delete that part [laughing].

Alea: [laughing] He's just so cute.

Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler

Edited by: Kristin Knox (This interview has been condensed & edited)

all images copyright of Nativen

Emily Elsen: Four & Twenty Blackbirds

Lily Hetzler

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.

[laughs]

Emily:  I really like Whisk in Williamsburg, and A Cook’s Companion over on Atlantic.

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.

(Raspberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie)

(Raspberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie)

…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.

(Chocolate Chess Pie)

(Chocolate Chess 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.

Emily:  Completely.

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.

(Emily Elsen, owner)

(Emily Elsen, owner)

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

Moriah Cowles: Orchard Steel

Lily Hetzler

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.

Nativen:  Amazing.

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?”

Nativen:  [laughs]

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.

Nativen:  Yeah.

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:  Obviously.

 [laughter]

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.”

[laughter]

Nativen: What are [a couple of] words that sum up your work?  I feel like sexy has to be one.

[laughter]

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?

Nativen:  Sure.

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

 

Ry Scruggs & Nadia Yaron: Nightwood

Lily Hetzler

For this month’s story, we sat down with the awesome duo behind Nightwood, Ry Scruggs and Nadia Yaron.

Inside their studio, they took us on a journey thru what it means to be part of a truly inspiring partnership… From scavenging industrial Brooklyn to Tree House dwelling escapes….

Nativen:  Where are you both from?

Ry:   I was born in California. I grew up in Missouri, in the Midwest, and I lived in Denver. Now, I live here.

Nativen:  Wow… US trotter.

Ry:  Yeah… Very American.

Nadia:  She loves America…. I was born in Brazil, and I grew up on Long Island, and I’ve been in Brooklyn for 15 or 16 years now, a long time now.

Nativen:   How do you think growing up in Missouri influenced your choice to start doing woodworking, Ry?

Ry:  It didn’t. [laughing] It absolutely didn’t…. Nothing. None whatsoever. It was not even a part of my early adulthood. It was totally born out of nowhere.

There are things now that I look back and say, oh yeah. I always had spacial relations… I’m really strong with that kind of stuff.  Logic and problem solving, so, those skills I’ve always had. Nothing about where I grew up had anything to do with it. For me, it felt like it came out of nowhere. I had an epiphany, and then it started.

Nadia:  Did it come out of a desire to furnish interior spaces?

Ry:  Yeah. More than anything else. It came out from a want to decorate.

a collaborative piece of wood and weaving (image taken at  Trunk  in Brooklyn)

a collaborative piece of wood and weaving (image taken at Trunk in Brooklyn)

Nativen:  Do you feel the same way, Nadia?

Nadia:  Well… I always made stuff. My mom was an art teacher so she always encouraged us to be creative and make different things… Because of that, I never took it seriously. [Like] I could do this as a job, have a living doing this.

So…When I went to college I wanted to be intellectual. I went to school for women’s studies. I got a job outside of that working on city council. I hated all of it. I basically escaped and went and lived in a tree house for a month and realized that I needed to work with my hands. That’s when I started taking it more seriously.

Nativen:  That’s a great beginning, though… I guess that answers when you realized you wanted to be [artists].

So…What do you love most about Brooklyn, and do you think it’s an integral part of your work?

Ry:  That’s a good question… I love Brooklyn. I have been to a lot of places in the US, and I can’t find anything that compares to New York in general. I don’t know if it’s now that I’m older, the city is way too overwhelming for me. Brooklyn is the nice, perfect medium between huge, overwhelming city and smaller towns.

It’s got a whole new thing now. I spent all my early 20s here and it was different for me then. It is now, too. It’s developed this whole identity and community that is this artisanal thing. Which is great, and it helped us find our identity within it, because we started doing it right around the time all of that energy was culminating here.

Although, now it’s getting maybe crazy and overdone possibly. I don’t know what it’s going to morph into next.

Nadia:  I feel like when we started, because we were literally finding wood on the streets of our neighborhood in Brooklyn, I think that our pieces really were truly a part of Brooklyn and its history. We were also taking apart old furniture from old brownstones, so I think it really was a piece of history and a piece of Brooklyn.

Ry:  The architecture of Brooklyn is very inspiring to us… Our Brooklyn apartment was one of the first catalysts for us starting to doing this. Just the beauty of the brownstone apartments and the neighborhood feeling. The history of the people and the architecture. Everything here is kind of what, I think, helped shape our aesthetic so that played a big part into it.

Nativen:  That’s great. Brooklyn’s an incredibly rich city. Culturally, and just sort of the dichotomy of industrial space with the reuse of that and beautiful architecture.

Ry:  We have lived in different neighborhoods a lot of different neighborhoods, from the industrial to the very charming and quaint. I think that it’s all played its part. It’s like different categories of art work. It definitely helps.

Nativen:  In Brooklyn, what is your favorite restaurant?

Nadia:  I think it is Isa, in Williamsburg… It is beautiful we love the woodwork and the way it is decorated its spacious and the food.

Nativen:  Do you have a favorite home goods store?

Nadia:  We go to a lot of vintage places, I feel like we kind of scavenge [laughing] everything you know.

Ry:  Yeah, it’s true…We shop at our own store… It’s hard for us. We don’t really shop for home goods that much because we make them… Moon River, we did a lot of shopping there.

Nativen: Do you have a favorite clothing store?

Ry:  Well I pretty much love vintage clothes.

Nadia:  Usually, we go to the flea market… There are these Japanese guys that have some really nice Japanese textiles and old Japanese clothing that we like to get and mend it and patch it back up…. They have really nice stuff.

Nativen:  Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?

Nadia:  We usually just go to Fort Greene Park a lot in the mornings. We have a dog and it’s off‑leash before nine. He likes to run free like a little wild man.

Ry:  I love Fort Green Park. It’s got hills… It’s not too big. Just right.

Nativen: Is there a hidden gem in Brooklyn that you have?

Ry:  There used to be more, so, I don’t know. We use to go to a guy called Crazy Eddie.

Nadia:  There was also a guy on Carlton that it was just like a junk yard. He was like a hoarder basically. When he first started…

Ry:  He had crazy junk. You had to climb mountains. It was like an episode of “Hoarders.” It was hardcore… When we first started we got some good stuff there and we kind of furnished our apartment with stuff from him.

Nadia:  That was the gem.

Ry: The secret. You would be brave to go there.

…Local hardware stores were actually a really good resource for us because we like to use crazy, weird hardware that you get at a hardware store.  Sometimes they’ll give you old stuff. They think it’s ugly and I think it’s just perfect.

Ry:  We have lived in different neighborhoods a lot of different neighborhoods, from the industrial to the very charming and quaint. I think that it’s all played its part. It’s like different categories of art work. It definitely helps.

Nativen:  In Brooklyn, what is your favorite restaurant?

Nadia:  I think it is Isa, in Williamsburg… It is beautiful we love the woodwork and the way it is decorated its spacious and the food.

Nativen:  Do you have a favorite home goods store?

Nadia:  We go to a lot of vintage places, I feel like we kind of scavenge [laughing] everything you know.

Ry:  Yeah, it’s true…We shop at our own store… It’s hard for us. We don’t really shop for home goods that much because we make them… Moon River, we did a lot of shopping there.

Nativen: Do you have a favorite clothing store?

Ry:  Well I pretty much love vintage clothes.

Nadia:  Usually, we go to the flea market… There are these Japanese guys that have some really nice Japanese textiles and old Japanese clothing that we like to get and mend it and patch it back up…. They have really nice stuff.

Nativen:  Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?

Nadia:  We usually just go to Fort Greene Park a lot in the mornings. We have a dog and it’s off‑leash before nine. He likes to run free like a little wild man.

Ry:  I love Fort Green Park. It’s got hills… It’s not too big. Just right.

Nativen: Is there a hidden gem in Brooklyn that you have?

Ry:  There used to be more, so, I don’t know. We use to go to a guy called Crazy Eddie.

Nadia:  There was also a guy on Carlton that it was just like a junk yard. He was like a hoarder basically. When he first started…

Ry:  He had crazy junk. You had to climb mountains. It was like an episode of “Hoarders.” It was hardcore… When we first started we got some good stuff there and we kind of furnished our apartment with stuff from him.

Nadia:  That was the gem.

Ry: The secret. You would be brave to go there.

…Local hardware stores were actually a really good resource for us because we like to use crazy, weird hardware that you get at a hardware store.  Sometimes they’ll give you old stuff. They think it’s ugly and I think it’s just perfect.

Ry: I don’t know if I would be a musician. Maybe also just something in pop culture. I love pop culture, TV, movies, celebrities, music, all of that stuff. I think that’s for me…

Nadia:  And astrology.

Ry:  Astrology too, but I don’t think that I would do that for a job. Probably one of those artistic realms of things. Entertainment based.

Nadia:  I’m more of a spiritual person.

Ry:  We know her backup plan.

Nadia:  I would go more into a… I don’t know.

Ry:  She would be a shaman. Don’t be shy.

Nadia:  Kind of. I would be more into spiritual, healing…

Ry:  Or a Buddhist monk.

Nadia:  Or I would go to a monastery, basically. I had a dream last night that we went on vacation and there was a Buddhist monastery next door. There was a monk there that was like, “Come in.” I was like, “OK, great.”

I went in and I just stayed for a week and then I went back to tell everybody that I was going back there and I was going to stay there. Like… I’ll be here, guys.

Nativen:  That’s great. That’s awesome. It’s good to have an out plan. Always in life. What destination do you want to travel to and how do you think that might inspire or alter your work, if it would?

Nadia:  I guess after this long winter, I’ve been craving tropical weather like Brazil. I wouldn’t go to Brazil. I probably would want go somewhere in Asia, like Thailand or India.

I’d love to see the textiles there, too. I love block print fabrics. I’d like to see their woven processes and things like that.

Ry:  I still don’t know where I would go.

Nadia: She likes Scandinavian….

Ry:  I do.

Nadia:  She likes very civil…

Ry:  I would probably go to… northern Europe. Basically, I like the architecture, the old European architecture. That is definitely more inspiring to me. I do enjoy the casual feeling of Island spa retreats and such… So, I would get into driftwood materials and such.  Those things would definitely be even more inspiring to my work.

Nativen:  That’s great, it’s funny how that works out; how you take on individual affinities towards a place even if you have no connection there. Maybe you do, I mean, northern Europe I clearly have a connection to, but it is, you just kind of get sucked in by your soul.

Ry:  It’s true.

Nativen:  Do you have a song that’s currently heavily on rotation?

Ry:  It’s usually a mix of things. What’s the last thing I listened to? One artist? Electrelane, I’ve been really feeling.

I listen to all kinds like cheesy pop music too. I mean, everything. Classic rock. We have a little bit different…She doesn’t include the pop music in her rapporteur.

Nadia:  I take those songs off the playlist

Ry:  I make them and she’s like, “Is this appropriate for me or not?… She’s a much more discriminating editor than I am.

Nadia:  I have been listening to podcasts while I work..I listen to Ram Dass a lot… He was a Harvard professor in the 60’s, for psychology. Then he met Timothy Leary and they started doing acid together. He went to India and became a Buddhist and Hindu. It’s just really interesting his talks and hearing…They are from the 60’s and 70’s so you just feel like you’re transported back in time.

Nativen:  That’s nice go on a journey in your own work space. I love that.

What are [a couple of] words that sum up your work?

Ry:  Well I like to think of it as being very primitive..

Actually, after going to go this design shows this past weekend and seeing everything is so finished and polished and smooth. It hardly feels natural to me.

I would say our work is very organic, as well. That’s very important to us. That’s two.

Nativen:  Great. Is there anything you do with your work to specifically connect with your community?

Nadia:  I am going to be doing a community weaving project. I am doing a woven backdrop for PS1 for summer stage. It’s going to be 16 feet by 20 feet. I’m going to get together some people and have some community weaving sessions to make it because it’s going to be very large and time consuming.

Nativen:  That’s fantastic though, that’s great.

Ry:  I more put my head down and try not to…Nadia pays attention to everything that’s going on out there in our realm of work and such. I am not as good at that. In fact, I usually prefer to keep it really in insular. Just because I work better that way.

But I do think about my clients and it’s very much more, rather than being community based, it’s very much service based. The fact that I work well trying to assess and accommodate my client’s needs and their interests and their style and that. I think a lot in terms of that, less so than the community.

I think, probably, it influences me more. Just more one on one.

Nativen:  Well that’s the community in and of itself too, just a smaller scale…

What’s the most helpful advice you’ve received, or what would you offer to creatives looking to develop their own work?

Nadia: I feel like a lot of people that are starting get bogged down on the details of the things that they need to have and the things that they need to do in order to do this.

Ry:  Like, the traditional stuff.

Nadia:  Well I need these giant tools and this giant table saw so that I can make a table. You don’t need all that stuff. Or, I need a giant floor loom so I can weave.

You don’t. I think you just need to do it.

That’s usually our advice. Just start making stuff and see what happens. Don’t get bogged down in all of the other stuff. If you’re starting a business, all that stuff that just feels so overwhelming. Like business plans and all that crap. Just start doing it and see where it takes you.

Ry:  If you’re business is creation based and you’re making something, just start making something.

Nadia:  Just start making it. That’s our advice.

Nativen:  That’s really good advice. Solid advice.

Who is your hero or someone who’s helped maybe influence your work?

Ry:  Nadia. You’re my hero

Nadia:  Oh! Really, that’s so sweet.

Ry:  I know, I am getting choked up but it’s true. I think that for me our business wouldn’t be what it is.

Nadia:  That’s so cute. Thank you.

Ry:  I try to explain that to people. That whatever we have was born because we came together.

Nadia:  We do actually inspire each other and get excited when we talk about stuff together.

Ry:  I think it might be impossible for me to do what we have done without You.

Nativen:  That’s fantastic. That is like the ideal match, right there. Amazing.

Nadia:  Do you feel like Barbara Walters now?

[laughter]

Nativen:  It’s inspiring to hear that and it’s really reassuring too… To know that you can create that together and constantly be refueling that fire.

Life is crazy and the creative journey is so crazy. There are those moments where it’s so great. Then there’s moments where you’re like, “What am I doing?” To have somebody who’s on that journey with you and reinvigorating the fire for you, it’s really powerful. It’s awesome.

Ry:  It’s also really helpful just to have somebody to talk to about all this decisions you have to make.

Nadia:  Exactly. For sure.

Nativen:  Yes, a sounding board, if nothing else, absolutely.

What are the five objects you can’t live without?

Nadia:  I need a loom of some kind. I guess then I need yarn.

Ry:  I need a television or some sort of media device that I can be entertained by.

Nadia:  We aren’t that type.

Ry:  We aren’t that object driven.

Nadia:  I think also because we make stuff too, we usually get rid of stuff. We’re not that attached to that many things. We redecorate our apartment a lot. We usually just don’t get too attached to the stuff we have. I think

Ry:  I think a home is…

Nadia:  A home. Yeah.

Ry:  …is an object I can’t live without. I would not be able to be homeless. So a home.

Nadia:  Something to play music with I guess, too.

Ry:  Yes. Whatever object that would be. Have to have music. I think the home thing is the biggest thing and then whatever is inside of it doesn’t really matter because we’ll just make it, I guess.

Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler

This interview has been condensed & edited

all images copywright of Nativen

 

Maryanne Moodie: Textile Artist

Lily Hetzler

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.

[laughter]

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?

Maryanne:

  • Textural.
  • Graphic.
  • Color-ific.

[laughter]

Nativen: “Color-ific.” I love that, I think that’s my new favorite word.  I feel like that’s an onomatopoeia…

Maryanne: [laughs]

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?

Maryanne:

  • 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