We had the good fortune of connecting with Meriel Stern and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Meriel, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
The “Domestic Flow” or, “Art and Daily Life”

Ive been making and teaching art for more than 30 years now, and have come to view the flow of creative energy as a “pulsing” or seasonal condition. As a homemaker, wife and mother, teacher and mentor, a daughter and caregiver, I
have learned that the management of one’s creative energy is vital! It has taken me
quite a few years to become aware of the “pulse” of my artistic life, and how to accept
the seasonal nature of my ability to remain creative.

Background:
Some 25 years ago I was naturalist teaching young children on mountain hikes
connecting art with their science curriculum. I began creating ceramic “wish rattles”,
hollow seed shaped sculptures made of two pinch pots with a wish for personal growth
written on a paper and wrapped around small rocks that were sealed and formed into
eggs or pods, and then fired in a kiln. The soft clay was transformed into a shell, inside of
which the “seeds of possibility” (rocks) would make noise when shaken to remind the children to
work on their dreams. I was showing the children how to fill a sculpture with the
possibilities of their own growth and transformation. My own rattles always contained
the same word, “Baby, baby, baby” written over and over, as my greatest desire was for
motherhood. I struggled to understand why some things grow and others (like my
embryos) did not. What shapes, what conditions, what intentions are best for creation?
When, after an exhausting 8-year struggle with infertility I became a mother through
adoption, the words and the seed pods needed to change. I took a break from teaching
to stay at home with my newborn, and only sporadically entered the studio. I “enjoyed
the fruits” and gave no thought to the artwork for a little while.
After a period devoted to my child and family, I turned toward the “domestic arts”, the
many crafts that my mother, grandmother and her mother had practiced, cooking,
baking, sewing, tatting, knitting, crochet were all skills of daily necessity that my
grandmother had passed down from her childhood on a farm in Kansas. When I was able
to think about artwork again and since I found it was difficult to work in ceramics with a
toddler, I began to crochet wire, twine and other fibers easy to carry (in a diaper bag),
easy to do in small amounts of time, but not easily broken. When my mother (a baby
nurse!) began her years of breast cancer treatment, the work took on new associations,
and I began to include the used nipples from baby bottles to replace what she had lost,
crocheting while waiting for her at chemo treatments.
As a new mother I was realizing that fitting everything into one’s life at the same time is
not possible, but it can be viewed as an ebb and flow—like the ocean, sometimes your
creativity is at low tide, and going with the flow is required! This what led me finally
after many years to the latest ongoing and progressive body of work, which I call the
“Domestic Flow.”

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?

“Domestic Flow” is concerned with the processes of composition, transformation and
decomposition of all living things and is centered on the morphology of the natural
world and its relationship to the narrative of human experience. All living things grow in
cycles. Seeds are sown and that stored energy waits for rain and sun to begin a surge of
growth, preparation and storage, activity and fruition, Finally more seeds are produced
containing stored possibility, and these are stored in silos in reserve for the next
planting season.
I use a single line of cotton yarn to crochet dimensional shapes derived not only from
material and technique, but also from the close study of natural, fertile forms including
seeds, fruits and pods, diatoms, sea creatures, animal organs and body parts. Our
bodies: skin, fat, and bone, sex, food, and fetishistic attachments, these are in my
thoughts while working…
These forms are basically created from one strand and that one string can become a
shape that has many different associations. With crochet, as with many other systems,
changes are simply a matter of an increase or decrease in the number of units, in this
case loops. There is contraction or expansion, continued mathematically within a certain
range. This process connotes and embodies the many repetitive activities that are
ubiquitous in the maintenance of our daily lives.
The soft crocheted sculptures are further transformed into rigid structures after soaking
in porcelain casting slip and then firing. This leaves a vitreous “relic” of its past, much
like coral that we collect on beaches is a skeleton of the living creature that once grew
under the sea….the process of creation, transformation and eventual destruction of
these forms is temporarily captured for a brief moment in time, which allows us to
reflect upon not only upon narrative connections, but upon our collective domestic
condition.
The coloration and/or patina created by the application of a solution of various Mason
Stains, repeated sanding and occasional painting with graphite powder and a small
amount of chalky paint is used to enhance the texture, emphasize the form and evoke a
feeling or mystery. I have developed a personal iconography of shapes, which are then
arranged in various compositions on the wall or on tables to connote domestic or
scientific association. The installation is a growing, ever-changing collection of pieces
which are installed in site-specific ways according to the environment of a given gallery
space.
This process of creation, transformation and eventual destruction of these forms is
temporarily captured for a moment in time, which allows us to reflect upon not only
upon narrative connections, but also upon our collective domestic condition, and
creates a kind of index of previous gestures, containers of memory, and of the many
daily activities that make up women’s stories.

NOTE: Please feel free to edit to fit the parameters and needs of your publication. Also if you have the ability to include links, I can provide an “In the Studio” video of me at work. Thanks!

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my visitors were new to LA, I would take a whole day: We’d get to Downtown LA past Dodger Stadium, through Chinatown and stop at Olvera Street/Union Station, then Little Tokyo, eat breakfast or brunch at the Grand Central Market and then drive the entire length of Sunset Blvd for the complete cross-section of Los Angeles, ending at the ocean for dinner. If it was a Summer Sunday, so much the better, we would end our day with dinner and drinks in Venice for unparalleled people watching!

When my artist friends come to visit, we’ll do a day in Pasadena ( the Huntington, Norton Simon, PAM ), and then next day we’ll head to LA, park at Disney Hall, do the museums in DTLA ( MOCA, the Broad ) and then either LACMA and the Craft Contemporary. On the 3rd day, the Getty and Getty Villa!

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Important women of influence in my life:

My mother, Glenda M. Bogen, and my grandmothers, Esther Bogen, MD/PhD and Martha Miksch, who each taught me lessons on making meaning and sustaining creative energy through the various challenges of family life

My first art teachers, Anya Fischer and Juanita Jimenez, ( Juanita is retiring from The Westridge School this year after teaching ceramics for 50 years!) for inspiration and the skills to express myself

My mentor Elisa Callow, who first hired me, and supported my teaching through the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena,
and finally, my friend and comadre Sascha Robinett, Founding Principal of the PUCMilagro Charter School, where I am in my 15th year as Artist-in-residence.

https://www.sullivangoss.com/artists/anya-fisher-1905-1992
https://www.westridge.org/
https://www.armoryarts.org/

Home


http://www.theurbanforager.co/about (Elisa’s blog)

Website: www.merielstern.com

Instagram: @meriellyapplejelly

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/meriel-stern-8b1a117/

Other: vimeo: https://vimeo.com/506651687/9a322bc3ee

Image Credits
All photography by Michael e Stern unless otherwise noted. ( Image of me teaching with little boy circa 1985 by Walt Mancini, Pasadena Star News)

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