Saturday, May 28, 2011

Interview with Merritt Kirkpatrick

by Merritt Kirkpatrick of Not Without Merit

Hi there! I am so honored to be one of the new members of Boston Handmade! This introduction was a lot of fun to do, and I hope it gives you an idea of who I am and what I do. Thanks!

BH: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Kirkpatrick: My name is Merritt Kirkpatrick, and I live in Salem with my husband Kris and our two Siberian Huskies Lilly Munster and Damien the Terrible.

BH: What is your background?
MK: I grew up all over the place (my mom has a serious case of wanderlust!), but we stayed east of the Mississippi, except for a brief stint in Missouri. My childhood was in the Midwest, my teenage years were in the DC suburbs and my twenties were spent between Baltimore, Philly and Memphis. Kris and I moved to Salem in February of 2008. I have a BFA in Fiber Arts/Textiles from the Maryland Institute College of Art. My MA is in Museum Communication from the University of the Arts in Philly. I currently run two small museums in Peabody.

BH: Apart from creating things, what do you do?
MK: Read, plant things (I am finally having success with keeping them alive!), and work on renovating our giant Victorian-era house. I love a good craft beer and am currently working on brewing at home. Oh, and I am on some arts and history boards.

BH: What is the first thing you can remember making by hand? How and why did you make it?
MK: The first thing I remember making is when my grandmother taught me how to crewel when I was seven. I know I made things before then, but that is the first real memory that I have. I have not stopped embroidering since then! Textile work is in my blood it seems, I have a collection of quilts, tatting projects, embroidered pillows, etc. going back several generations from my family (I guess that is how I got into museums!).

BH: What's your favorite color?
MK: Favorite color? Gosh, that is a hard one. I am obsessed with plum lately, as you might notice on my logo. I am also into slate, avocado, eggplant and anything yellow. I am kind of a color nerd, I took color theory three times in art school.

BH: What inspires you?
MK: The houses in Salem are my current obsession. I love just walking around my neighborhood with my camera. I love the little architectural details on each house, like how brackets on stoops seem to be like snowflakes, I have yet to see two just the same. Houses used to be made so beautifully, with such craftsmanship, and I find that to be really inspiring.

BH: What do you love most about what you make?
MK: I like the reaction from people. True, I love the hours spent drawing, printing and sewing, but what really excites me is seeing the expression on someone’s face when I give them their new pillow! A good friend in grad school screamed in the middle of the street when I gave her a pillow with her beloved Lionel Richie embroidered on it. I will never, ever forget that joy!

BH: Are there other mediums you’re not working in that interest you?
MK: I am so interested in ceramics right now. We just opened a ceramics studio in Peabody, and I am so excited about getting to do some work there. It was the only medium in art school that I completely failed in trying. I am so envious of ceramic artists!

BH: How do you promote your work?
MK: I think word-of-mouth is the best thing for me, so far. The history community has been good to me, with custom orders coming from fellow board members and other museum folks. Luckily, I have good connections to local newspapers, because of my current day-job, so that has been helpful too—The Salem News just wrote a piece on Not Without Merit, Inc. I tried Twitter, but I am so terrible at it—I don’t really get the format of tweets. Facebook is much better for me, but I have to remember to update it.

BH: Why should people buy handmade?
MK: Oh, wow! This is something I talk about almost every day. One thing, you are supporting an individual, and not some big corporation (I will stop there with that one, no need to get into my political beliefs!). Two, handmade is almost always better made than store-bought--there are a few exceptions, though. Three, you are supporting someone in your community, whether that is your local community, or online community. If it is in your local community, your tax dollar stays in that local community, which is great if you want your streets fixed and good schools.

BH: Name your top five books and musical groups
MK: Books- Shadow of the Wind, The Historian, The Peabody Sisters, House of Leaves and Heart-Shaped Box. Music- Tom Waits, Sigur Ròs, The Pixies, Laura Marling, and Neutral Milk Hotel. My husband says that I listen to the most depressing music ever, and tries to make "happy cds" for me (the bird and the bee, and almost anything 80s), but I still go back to these favorites!

BH: If you are a tree- what kind of tree are you?
MK: I would totally be a manzanita. I had no idea what one was until I went to Southern California to visit my parent’s new condo. They are everywhere! They have this beautiful smooth plum-colored bark. My little brother lives on Manzanita Street in LA, and I love it whenever I send him a package and I get to write his address—he makes movies and I make a pillow based on each script he writes!

BH: What’s your favorite way to spend a Sunday morning?
MK: Driving up the coast to Maine with my husband, Kris. We usually end up at this great little bagel shop in York, and then wander around some beach.

BH: Is there anything about you that would surprise people to know?
MK: I have a terrible fear of publicly speaking in front of people I know. People I don’t know, I am completely fine with, though! Kind of backwards, right?

BH: In ten years I'd like to be...
MK: living on the coast, making pillows and designing fabric full-time.

I will be participating in the 4th Annual Boston Handmade Marketplace, and have five dates at Sowa, so I hope to meet you all this summer! -M.

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