Growing up in Boston, and going to school in NY, what led you to settle in New Jersey?
We were a bunch of newly graduated art students, with no jobs, no money, not much of a plan, and a big New York City dream. We were ready to ply our trade in the trades of textile design, illustration, painting and sculpture. But where to set up shop? For any self-respecting artist in 1979, it was a SoHo loft or bust. That dream lasted about the time it took to read one page of classifieds in the Village Voice. The sculptress of our group, a New Jerseyan, suggested the mile-square, Hudson River City of Hoboken—as she had friends and family there. Hoboken at that time had the grit, the character, the diversity, and the affordable railroad apartments where we could unpack our stuff, line ourselves up in long narrow flats, and begin. The town was unpretentious and unsuspecting, and did its best to get on with life. I’ve been there ever since.
What odd job [or jobs] did you have before you became a textile and home product designer?
I’ve always, or almost always sought out jobs that were related to my interests—that of handmade goods, and products for the home, and the commercial arts. As a teenager, I worked for a company silk-screening canvas that was made into products, which we then sold at Faneuil Hall. I’ve also worked in retail; at George’s Folly in Brookline, and in the housewares department at Bloomingdales – where a customer once asked me if Hellerware (which was plastic) was oven proof! There was also a Swedish textile designer [I’d worked for] who’d landed on Beacon Hill – of all places! And a fabric store where we stretched Marimekko textiles over wooden frames to be used as art—for they were art. I’ve been honing my craft ever since.
Looking around your studio now, tell me about your setup.
My studio, though once the dreamlike, fantastic artist’s loft—the kind I’d always imagined, is now paired down to a home studio. I work on two separate, long, facing desks. One, cluttered with artist’s materials–tools that are almost going extinct. The other, orderly and lined up with the tech-tools that have helped to transform my work in ways I could not have imagined; iMac, iPad, iPhone, printer, scanner, chargers, external hard-drives, etc. Designing in my home studio has cut my commute down to five seconds, and I’ve learned that creativity and big ideas can happen in small spaces.
Tell me about one of the most fun or challenging methods you have used in your designs.
One of the more recent, and more involved, techniques was learning how to marble fabric and paper. New York is a fantastic place to learn just about anything–so of course, there was a course. Why not learn an art form practiced since the 12th century in the span of a weekend? One class turned into two, and then three, and then a private lesson. One of my teachers even made house calls! I learned about the history of marbling from Japan (suminagashi), to Central Asia (ebru), to Europe. I learned about the difference between methylcellulose and carrageenan. I learned about all the materials and chemicals that make marbling even possible. I bought books on how-to, studied You-Tube videos, and dove deep into on-line message boards on trouble-shooting. My favorite piece of advice was from the book 105 Helpful Marbling Hints. The author said that marbling can be a frustrating business, and sometimes the best solution is to back away from the marble bath and pack up your tools–before you begin to hate marbling—too much.
I eventually learned how to create some of marbling’s time-honored- patterns, by floating pigments atop water, or on a viscous solution, known as size. I dripped, spattered, stippled, coaxed and combed my way through swirls of color, and transferred the glorious patterns to fabric and paper. Some of the results were astounding. The whole process seemed like magic.
Marbling is thrilling art. It’s a colorful, glorious, often infuriating science experiment. And it is nothing short of a miracle.
If you were to have people over, what type of art would they see displayed in your home?
My home is decorated with a mix of textiles, saddle blankets, art, furniture and photos I’d collected in the Himalaya. They live alongside collages and paintings by talented artist mom, as well as charming etchings by her painting teacher from the 1940’s. I’ve also hung an antique embroidered bell pull that was my grandmother’s. Sitting atop my childhood drop-front desk is a shadow box of red wax seals lined up on a turquoise mat from a Paris flea market. I have enamel signs and letters and other ephemera given to me by dear friends. On top of the Tibetan chest is a haphazard arrangement of vibrantly colored crackle-glazed vases, and a tiny teapot stamped with Chinese characters. I’ve got a mantle full of photos of my family, and a pastel drawing that my niece drew of my Tibetan terrier. I have fantastic photos from around the world taken by my photographer friends…that have to be framed. I’ve surrounded myself with a few things that I love. And somehow…it worked.
You’ve been known to gather inspiration for your designs from your travels; what was it like to traverse the Himalayas? Where would you like to go next?
My Himalayan adventures were all month long, high altitude, trekking trips. I’d drag myself up and over the last climb of the day, and though we’d not seen another soul since breakfast, there’d be a teahouse next to a shop that sold vibrantly colored woolen textiles. By the sheer dint of necessity, ingenuity and creativity, glorious textiles are made in the most barren and remote places. And I’ve been lucky enough, or determined enough, to happen upon them.
As to where I’d like to go next, I’d be happy to get back to any country that has the Himalayan range running through it. But I’m game for anywhere else too.
When I’m out in the world, be it another country, or on the trail in the Hudson Highlands, I’m looking around, passively absorbing, and letting ideas percolate as they will. Getting away from my desk has always been the surest way of wanting to get back to it.Nancy Green
What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?
There was a time when I couldn’t stop talking about it, and so everyone knew. But you wouldn’t know by looking at me that I dance the Argentine tango. Those who’ve had the guts to step into the embrace of a stranger, and then onto the dance floor, and move as one to the music from the Golden Age of tango, almost always get hooked. I talked about it so much and spent every night doing it, that my friends were getting a little concerned, if not completely bored. In order to maintain my pre-tango-obsession friendships, I decided to write it down. I’ve been writing essays about learning the Argentine tango ever since in a blog titled: Nancy Learns The Tango. I talk about it less, as the dance has become just part of what I do.