Seek out the sweet spot where fantasy meets reality and you may stumble upon Ann Wood.
The Brooklyn-based textile artist is beloved by collectors worldwide for her stunning curiosities—whether a fleet of spectacular papier-mâché ships or a troop of delightful little birds. She’s known for fashioning her creations—each more exquisite than the next—out of vintage and scrap materials she’s tenderly salvaged since childhood. For Ann, searching for these materials is akin to an adventure through time. Her hunt often takes her through New York’s boroughs and its bucolic upstate farmlands to find personal, perhaps once treasured, possessions—a label with a name, an unexpected lining, an odd bit of mending by someone else’s hand—that make each lovingly crafted piece one-of-a-kind.
Sweet Paul talked with Ann about becoming an artist, where and how she finds inspiration, and her dream projects.
SP: Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
AW:I freelanced for years, making things for various commercial purposes—objects and paintings for films, advertising, and some illustration. I had lots of fun projects—papier-mâché martian heads for Snickers, an evil garden gnome for Toyota, and giant fur showgirl hats for E-trade were some favorites.
A lot of that work was very personally satisfying for me. In May of 2006—for
the first time in a very long time—I began making self-determined, self-directed work on a regular basis. I had always intended to, but it never happens, at least not regularly, or in any sort of purposeful or disciplined way. When I turned 41, I started to feel some real urgency about it. So, with the hope of generating some momentum and discipline, I gave myself a small, manageable creative assignment: to make a cardboard horse every day until I had 100. I did, and exhibited the group at Tinlark Gallery in Los Angeles about a year later in 2007. I also started a blog and posted each horse for some accountability and a record. The discipline of the horse project sparked all kinds of new ideas and helped me learn to carve out time for my own projects. It also got me past the difficulty of starting. Within two years, I was making and selling my own work full time.
SP: What’s the best piece of advice given to you that you’d share with others?
AW:To begin, to make your mistakes, and to keep going. There have been lots and lots of missteps and failures on the way to anything I ended up feeling good about.
SP: Who taught you how to sew? To papier-mâché?
AW:My mother taught me to sew when I was very small. We always had projects— sewing, papier-mâché, lots of things. I was as encouraged as a child could be to value and nurture and enjoy my imagination and creativity. I still sew on my mom’s old White Rotary sewing machine—the machine she taught me on—and I still sew from bags of scraps that I’ve had since I was a child.
SP: Where do you find inspiration?
AW:I’m very interested in the possibilities of things. The very first birds I made
were inspired by and made from a terribly tattered but heartbreakingly beautiful Edwardian gown I came across accidentally. The featheriness of its tatters inspired birds. My very first owl was inspired by a bit of old tweed and a pair of flinty metal antique buttons. Walking past the piles of discarded dye-cut cardboard outside the fancy grocery on my block inspired a cardboard castle. I’m also very inspired by memories and imagery from my childhood—the forest that was all around me, the toadstools and Jack in the pulpits and Lady's slippers, the bats in the barn, a Beatrix Potter film I saw when I was five, a photo that I loved of an antique crystal chandelier in the shape of a ship.
SP: You work with so many lovely vintage and antique fabrics and lots of salvaged materials. What draws you to them?
AW:I’m attracted to the sense of time and place and history, especially of antique garments. They were such personal and often treasured possessions. And they seem like time travelers—from a way of life a world away. Searching for materials to work with is a big part of the joy in the process for me; I love the adventure of it, the happenstance, and the surprises.
SP: Are there any recent pieces you’ve made that are particularly special to you?
AW:The first sort of sinister piece I made, an owl—Chillingworth. He is made from one of the oldest garments I have come across, a tiny black silk bodice, and he’s also one of the very few pieces I’ve kept. Until he appeared there was some darkness of mood, a melancholy to the things I made, but Chillingworth was a diabolical surprise; he seemed to emerge almost on his own.
SP: How do you feel when you’re working?
AW:I love being lost in inventing something new, working out a new shape, experimenting with a new idea. I don’t mind the endless drafts—time disappears. Even on my 50th draft of something, frustration doesn’t even register. Noticing that is part of what motivated me to start selling patterns. I have a million ideas and selling patterns or kits rather than only finished things affords more time for creating new designs.
SP: Do you have a dream project?
AW:I have so many. I used to decorate the window of a shop on Orchard
Street. I miss that and I’d love to have a collaboration like that again. I’d love to illustrate, to create a more fully formed narrative with the things I make. I’m more and more interested in animation and hope to take some baby steps in that direction this year.
SP: What kind of feelings do you hope to inspire in people who see your work?
AW:I hope they feel a little bit of mystery and melancholy and a little bit of delight and a little bit of enchantment. I hope the things I make cast a spell for a moment and offer a glimpse into a secret world.
Ann Wood was part of the Sweet Paul Makerie in Philadelphia on April 11+12, 2015. Visitthemakerie.com for more info.
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