Profile: Marcia Stuermer/Fossil Faux Studios

We’re big on natural materials but really, there’s nothing quite like resin (done right).

It’s sexy. It’s slightly mysterious. It glows. The colors–an infinite range–can have surprising depth. The look–and mood–morphs, depending on the light, from almost solid to translucent to almost transparent. It’s incredibly sturdy (stain resistant, even) but looks soft, almost liquid, and like something you want to touch or poke at (or even eat).  And the colors, together with the translucency, remind us of all those good kid things, like Jell-O and jelly beans. Yum.

Its uses? Just look around you. Tabletops. Bar fronts. Doors. Dividers. Counters. Stairs. And countless little objects. But it’s also art: you can embed (almost) anything in it, creating an infinite variety of patterns and moods.

Alas, like so many good things, it doesn’t come cheap, but it’s durable, flexible, and telegraphs cool, modern, hip, playful, and smart in a way that not much else does.

Thing is, to get the look you want,  you really have to know what you’re doing (from head-scratching chemistry to design to knowing your way around things that slice and whir, buff and buzz.)  You need to be fearless, and a bit of a renaissance “man” to do this. And that person exists. Except in this case, we’re talking about a renaissance woman: Marcia Stuermer, founder of Fossil Faux Studios. Inventor. Resin wrangler. Designer. Artist. Entrepreneur.

We met at Marcia’s studios on Folsom Street in San Francisco. It’s really the perfect glowing showcase for her work, even on a lovely summer’s day in San Francisco (fog, drizzle, unremitting grey). Arranged in front of the window are the commercial resin examples, and against a white wall is some of her art work: a great, colorful series based on identity–or more specifically, DNA and barcodes. And in the corner…well, you’ll see in a bit.

Is all your work done out of this facility? I’ve got this studio in SF, which houses my personal art, a place for sampling, and an R&D studio in the back. Then there’s a larger fabrication facility in San Leandro.

You were trained as a fine artist, so lets start with the obvious: how’d you get into resin? I was always interested in 3D and larger installations. I used anything and everything in my work, from steel and lighting to a lot of manipulated wood. I’d gotten several requests for art furniture and I guess that pushed me into creating usable architectural applications or furniture.

But of all the materials out there, why resin? I was always interested in amber, and wanted something that simulated it. Basically one day I was playing with something translucent and I realized that I wanted to do more with it.

Your resin has this lovely depth and glow that’s pretty special. Thanks! We think of it as artisanal resin, and it’s actually our very own creation. There are 2 exterior layers of acrylic resin and a core of polyester. It’s tougher (if there’s a nick, you just sand it off) and has much better light and color properties than the large sheet resin makers. It gives it that depth that makes it so much more interesting.

So this is a special technique you developed? Yes! We had to develop a new recipe for it. There’s a chemical fusion of the layers that provides that durability and tone that makes the difference. How did you come up with recipes? Trial and error. (Visions of a Marcia in lab smock with wild hair and singed eyebrows.) Do you have a background in chemistry? Nope. But I did talk to people who knew a lot. And I also had to design equipment to make this 3 layer system. It took 5 years to make it a really solid process. Now, it’s pretty much down to a science for us.

Come on, could we really tell the difference between commercial and artisanal resin? Oh absolutely. It’s apparent that things are done by us if you place two pieces side by side. And when you get into the embedments, it becomes about composition, the art of it. You can get more variety, breathe a little more life into the piece when you’re doing it on a custom basis.

Your business has two sides to it: resin that’s being commissioned (by architects, designers, consumers) and then an art side that has you doing large installations and commissions and more personal art that you show. (At the moment, she’s working on an installation for the Sacramento Airport.) Right. Basically, when I started, I knew that there was only a small percentage of fine artists who could support themselves. I wanted to figure out a way. I had to find that perfect marriage for myself.

In some sense, though, you’re lucky enough to bring your art into what you do on a commercial basis. I like to think of my work as an artistic functional investment.

You must have a lot of fun doing the embedments. They’re artistic, but also meaningful. (Marcia’s embedments are diverse, not just stalks of wheat or grass that seem to be so popular these days in restaurants. No, think paperclips and rosebuds, leaves and stones, strings and spores. And that’s just the start….it just gets better.) Yeah it’s great. And it really allows you to bring in something personal into your home or shop or whatever. You won’t ever get the same thing twice; variation is just part of the embedment process. Do people always get that? (Wry smile.) Oh let’s say it’s a challenge working with people who want to know exactly what they’re going to get. People have to understand that it really is more like art that way. But it also gives it that personal sense, that humanity.

What’s a really memorable embedment? One time, a client wanted a huge dining room table out of resin. We were going back and forth about what they wanted, when I spotted a family collection of lace doilies. And that’s what we ultimately embedded in resin…the table became about collected memories. That kind of association with things–presenting things out of context/norm–creates a new reality. As a designer, it really helped make something that was personal and not throw-away. And as an artist I like that too. I have a fascination about the freezing of time.

Talk about that. What do you think that’s about? I’m not really sure. But there’s something about the concept of a freeze frame. Plus as an artist, I’m trying to present that elements that pique a viewer’s curiosity–to come to new realizations.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever embedded? I think the trash in this chaise.  It was an art piece, and a political statement about trash and homelessness in SF.

And then, I also embedded bread into resin for a wall at a food bank!

But it doesn’t always work. One time, I tried to embed meat as a political statement about GMO food. But the meat I first did…well let’s just say the process cooked the meat. (Ugh isn’t quite a strong enough sentiment here…)

Yeah, you really have to be careful with what you embed. There was the time that I tried to embed twigs and small branches….but the resin actually pulled out the resin from the branches and created air pockets. It still has liquid sap in it to this day. (That actually seems kind of cool!)

Let’s switch gears…sustainability is a big theme for you. Absolutely. And it starts with what we do, not just how we do it. The entire premise of this company from Day One has been to NOT create a disposable commodity, but rather, to create something you invest in. We really do see things being used for generations. That’s why we’re also so concerned with the durability of our work. And if they’re not, we have a take-back program, and offer reclaimed materials to customers at a discount rate. We also make sure we’re using post-consumer/industrial material when we can in our various commercial lines.  I’ve always been concerned about waste….maybe it’s my German background!

So…what’s a transcendent moment? Oh, I can think of so many! Do I have to pick just one? (Of course not.) Most occur in nature. I used to have a motorcycle that was my primary mode of transportation. It was great, going up Route 1, right up against the waves, just seeing the spectacular beauty the cliffs unfold in front of me. Nature can bring me to tears. There really are so many other moments: Yosemite, surfing, (whether I got up not the board or not!) There’s something about water for me. (We see a trend: translucency, water….hmmm.)

Let’s go darker: name your biggest fear. Failure, personal or perceived. I’m a harsh critic, of myself at least. Being self-employed you have a lot of freedom, but also responsibility.  But I guess more than that….not being true to myself. That goes into my own artwork. And then there’s loss…letting go of something I don’t want to let go of.

What’s it take to stay true to yourself? I’ll always question where I am at certain points. You know, bigger isn’t better. I don’t want to be a big sheet goods manufacturer. I want to continue to create objects that are usable to others that continue to be new. But I also want to find what’s important to me to emulate in my personal work.

Who’d play you in the movie of your life? You know, I’ve heard lots of ideas on this one. Maybe Cate Blanchett. Or Laura Linney. Or Julianne Moore? (Oh how tough is that choice, fabulous as they all are. But they’re all right on, particularly in combination.)

Life is (what genre): a drama, since my mom died at an early age. But sweetened with great moments, and humor. Maybe a humble drama. Certainly not an epic!

What are you reading now? Third book of the Steig Larsson trilogy. (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). In some sense I’m surprised that I like it….Lisbeth, the main character, is an almost anime character, so I think I’d be disappointed in the movie. The book/movie transition is hard but sometimes the movie is better than the book. Example? I read the book, A Single Man and saw the movie version by Tom Ford. The movie was fantastic. (Vehemently agreed!) The book not so much.

Any guilty pleasures? Massages. So it’s a pleasure but I don’t allow myself to go a lot…which makes me feel guilty! Oh, and fine wines.

What 5 things define you?

Globes and maps

Light and translucency

Scientific or mechanical objects–things that measure. I’m not sure why, I’ve always loved them.

If you could be anything else, what would it be? I’m not sure that there’s anything else! Being an artist is a pretty sublime thing to be. Well, then maybe I’d be a professional swimmer or surfer….

Well, we have a preference! Thanks, Marcia.


Fossil Faux Studios


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