Motnyk spent almost two decades working in fashion for the likes of Calvin Klein and Isaac Mizrahi before she opened Thompson Street Studio in 2015. Discouraged by the fashion industry’s impact on the environment, the designer took a slower approach and began quilting. “I love weaving and knitting, but quilting is a great way to recycle materials,” says the 41-year-old. “Making a patchwork piece is the same thing as creating a painting for me,” she says. To experiment with natural colors, she grows plants and flowers like indigo and marigolds at her property in upstate New York. This fall her pieces will be in a group show at Manhattan’s R & Company gallery.
— Gisela Williams
What is it about ceramist Victoria Morris’s refined homewares that make them look and feel like sculpture? Her clients have told her that they can feel the energy she puts into each handmade piece. Morris studied pottery growing up but found a career as a production designer. Four years ago she decided to take ceramics more seriously and soon had orders from design firms like Commune. Morris, who works out of a storefront at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains near L.A., says her biggest challenge is to make clean, simple forms. “There’s an interesting duality at play when I work,” she says. “As perfect and refined as I try to get, each object is still a little different, and that’s what makes them beautiful.”
Jessica Green started A Little Weather, which might be described as a vertical weaving business, on her 40-acre “accidental commune” in the mountains outside Asheville, North Carolina. In the fields around her studio, she grows the plants to make her dyes and raises the sheep that provide the wool that she weaves into blankets, pillow shams, and framed artwork. It’s been a full-circle journey of sorts. The 34-year-old Texas native says she has always worked on farms and been a seamstress and a knitter, but only came to weaving 11 years ago at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn. While she once had five weavers working with her to create modern interpretations of Colonial American designs, these days it’s just Green at her multiple looms. “Since I grow my own natural dyes and I grow so much of my fiber, I’m able to create cloth that is a chronicle of time,” she says. “There’s story upon story hidden in what looks like a piece of cloth.”
— Rima Suqi
Ido Yoshimoto describes himself as a self-taught woodworker, but it’s more likely that he learned through osmosis. His father, Rick, assisted the late sculptor J. B. Blunk for almost 25 years; the artist was known for using chain saws and hand tools to carve large-scale works in wood. Yoshimoto, 41, works in a similar organic style out of Blunk’s onetime studio in Northern California, and his home is nearby, on land that once belonged to Blunk’s patron, the surrealist painter Gordon Onslow-Ford. “J. B. was my godfather, and friends with Noguchi, and my father is Japanese. So there’s an aesthetic that was there,” he says. “It’s a cool thread that feels very natural and not contrived.” A former arborist, Yoshimoto favors sustainably harvested redwood and eucalyptus. “I let the material guide the design,” he says. “When I see a piece of wood that sparks an interest, I grab it, start working on it, and whatever will be, will be.”
“Nobody ever told me not to be an artist,” says Los Angeles–based ceramist Ben Medansky. “There were always artists in the family, so growing up I knew that was an actual option for a career.” Now 32, Medansky started early, apprenticing for a glassblower in his hometown of Scottsdale when he was just 13. He later worked for Memphis Group artist Peter Shire simply by showing up at his studio and asking. But it’s the Haas brothers, whose ceramics department he developed, who encouraged him to go out on his own. From his studio in Frogtown, Medansky makes large-scale architectural ceramics and one-of-a-kind vessels. “Sometimes I work super ornate, and sometimes super minimal,” he says. He’s amassed a cult following, with fans including designer Kelly Wearstler. “I like balancing between those two worlds.”
Although he works with abstract ideas, Steven Haulenbeek is very much a “hands-on tinkerer.” The 40-year-old, Chicago-based designer is drawn to making permanent objects inspired by temporary things, such as seasons and climate. In 2011 he began to experiment with “ice casting,” a technique in which he pours bronze into containers of ice. The resulting pieces are imprinted with a texture that looks like a tangle of thin vines, which he then applies to works like small tables and mirror frames. He developed another technique that uses the by-product sand from a bronze-casting factory. He injects blocks of it with resin, which hardens into shapes resembling cactus and coral. Haulenbeek has often created the tools to make his work, appropriating a water squirt toy to inject hot wax, for example. “When I find myself having to hack and make the infrastructure to create the work, that’s when I know I am in a great space,” he says.
Dan John Anderson, a native of Cheney, Washington, is a craftsman who seems to have a connection to nature in his veins. He grew up in a log house that his father built, and spent winters there cutting apart naturally felled trees with a chain saw for firewood. He earned a BFA in wood from Oregon College of Art & Craft. Not long after graduation, he met the artist Andrea Zittel in Joshua Tree, California, who in turn introduced him to the sculptor Alma Allen there. Anderson, 43, spent four years working for Allen, where one of his first tasks was finishing pieces headed for the 2014 Whitney Biennial. When Allen relocated to Mexico three years ago, Anderson started making totem-like organic sculptures of cedar, pine, oak, and walnut. “There’s a life in these objects, and I try to honor that,” says Anderson, who is represented by Matter in New York City. ”Some have more life than others. That’s what I keep trying to find.”
Born into the Tó’tsohnii clan, Navajo textile artist D. Y. Begay never had any classical training. “In our culture, weaving is taught by watching or showing,” she says. “When I was four or five, I became fascinated observing our mothers and grandmothers go through the process, and seeing how the colors change when they’re together.” Based in Santa Fe, Begay, age 67 and a fourth-generation weaver, maintains the ancient system of raising sheep, processing the wool, and washing and dyeing it. The “special gift of weaving came from the holy people,” she says. Her designs draw inspiration from classic Navajo rugs and are available by custom order. Her work has been shown at institutions such as the National Museum of the American Indian in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
— Annie Davidson