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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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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

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