By Regina Connell.
Getting craft out of the studio, gallery, or art museum and into the home is, for many artisans, the whole point. And a natural ally in this endeavor is the interior designer.
Interior designers are, of course, always hiring artisans to bring their designs to life, but in many cases it’s the interior designer designing and the artisan executing, or maybe just accessorizing.
So what happens when you put design-driven, visionary artisans together with open-minded, collaboratively oriented, adventurous designers? You get the American Craft Council’s “Make Room: Modern Design Meets Craft” showcase created for the August 8-10 San Francisco show, where inspiration goes both ways, and sparks (good ones, hopefully) fly.
This year, the designers got to choose which artisans they got to work with, and we wanted to focus on a single collaboration to see how it worked. Enter our triumvirate: Lilith Rockett, a Portland-based designer-maker of beyond-elegant, ever-fresh pottery (primarily porcelain); Ealish Wilson, a genre-bending artist, previously profiled here, working primarily (for now) in textiles and fashion; and Alison Damonte, a San Francisco-based designer known for color, wit, and design exuberance.
At first glance, their work looks wildly at odds: how well can Lilith’s minimalist beauties play with Alison’s colorful designs and Ealish’s textural, layered sensibility? It’s all in the mix.
First, a little background. Ealish and Lilith were initially invited by the ACC to participate in Make Room (quite an honor in itself). Once they submitted their portfolio, the designers participating this year (an august bunch, including John K. Anderson, Tyler Dawson, Chad DeWitt of HwangDeWitt, Jiun Ho, April Powers and of course Alison) got to choose.
It’s Ealish’s first ACC show, and so it was quite an honor to be chosen. Lilith, chosen to participate last year as well was ready for more. “It was such a great experience that I was delighted to do it again for this show.”
It was instant aesthetic chemistry between Alison, Ealish, and Lilith. “I immediately liked Ealish and Lilith’s work. I couldn’t decide between them and the more I thought about it, I realized that their work really complemented one another and so I requested to be paired with them both,” says Alison.
Craft inspires design. Alison’s work is color-based, and she found ready inspiration in Ealish’s work. Ealish had been experimenting with a textile repeat that she manipulated with smocking and then photographed. She then followed this up by printing the design onto velum and tyvek which she tied onto mizuhiki strings to create the volume. (All in a day’s work for the experimental Ms. Wilson.) “I immediately thought that developing a wallpaper from Ealish’s designs would be a perfect way to translate her work into something functional as well as decorative. I was also very interested in her use of mizuhiki cord in her work and wanted to weave that material into my room as well. We worked very closely together to develop one of her patterns and her mizuhiki technique into a bespoke wallcovering for the show.”
But how does Lilith’s movingly austere work play into the work of a designer known for her vibrance and exuberance? “ The only real certainty I had about the room from the beginning was that the influence from Ealish’s work would impart pattern, texture and color, so I needed something simple in the space to create balance and a pause. Lilith’s work is minimal in form, color and material and the perfect antidote to my walls.”
Ah, yin yang. Of course.
How did the collaboration work? Ealish and Alison live in San Francisco, while Lilith lives in Portland. Alison was able to visit Ealish in her studio, and gained a good understanding of her process. Ealish’s studio, chock-full of bits of fabric, photographs, materials and completed work also provided rich inspiration.
Alison, used to working remotely with artisans and collaborators, was able to work extensively with Lilith to zero in on the work that was the best counterpoint to Ealish’s inspiration.
“My pedestal bowls are some of my favorite forms, because I really enjoy the sculptural and compositional opportunities that arise,” says Lilith. “For this collaboration I spoke with Alison to understand how she wanted to use these forms so that we could select the right collection for the room. We decided to use a grouping with a wide range of sizes. As Ealish’s textile piece has a cactus motif, one of my pieces will contain either cacti or succulents to emphasize that element. I often use flowers, plants, and other natural elements with my work to enhance the textural and material qualities of the forms.”
Fundamentally, though, Alison’s a believer in the power of understanding the creative process to help tell the story and give depth to design. “Whatever the scenario, I think it is incredibly important to understand the artist’s process so you (and your clients) can really appreciate the work and thought that goes into a piece.”
All good, but we all know that collaboration can be ugly. What made it work in this case? Let’s start with chemistry, of course. Each of the collaborators talked about how much they loved working together, how the ideas flew and the camaraderie was strong. And there’s a commonality of style.
As Lilith says, “What’s common among us is a strong graphic sensibility. Ealish’s textiles are often colorful, rich and complex, and they have a graphic quality that works well with the strong lines of my forms. My work has simple clear lines that create a bold impression while still expressing the quieter, more nuanced and organic details of the material and process. And Alison … she has a lovely way of combining color, texture, and form to create spaces that are cheerful and uplifting and full of interesting details and accents.”
But it goes deeper than chemistry and aesthetics. It’s about taking ego off the table and being as open as possible to the opportunities. Ealish advises, “Be flexible, experimental and enjoy the exchange of ideas. Always keep in mind that there are individual parts but they have to make a whole.”
How did it all turn out? Honestly, I have no idea, though the process and the talent certainly bodes well. The big reveal takes place at he ACC San Francisco show running from August 8-10 at Fort Mason. Details here.
Go see it, consider how well and how deeply the collaborators collaborated, and the results of other collaborations, and let me know what you think!
Lilith Rockett: All images by Eliot Rockett
Ealish Wilson: All images courtesy of Ealish Wilson
Alison Damonte: All images courtesy of Alison Damonte