We had the good fortune of connecting with Rachael Mayer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rachael, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think I’m rather risk-averse. I love plans and thinking out every outcome to every single decision. It can be really hard for me to let go and just let things happen. I like to be in control. As anyone / everyone knows, this isn’t how life works. I’ve told myself for many years that I just need a moment of bravery. That bravery can be hard to find. It can feel like fear of the unknown will just completely overwhelm you. But that one moment can then set you down a path that you couldn’t have even imagined for yourself.
When I was younger, I was so afraid that I would make a decision that would dictate the rest of my life. I’ve always been so afraid that I wouldn’t have choices. That I would somehow back myself into a corner that even my commitment-adverse self couldn’t get out of. I think in reality there are very few decisions you can make that are irrevocable. I’ve been very lucky that even if I can’t take things back or would do things differently, I’ve always felt empowered to change my present into something better. Or to find ways to create change in my own life. Taking risks becomes less scary when you know you have a support system around you and friends and family who will catch you if you fall. They’re also there to remind you that you’ve done hard things before. I think the worst / best thing about risk is that you don’t know the outcome. You don’t know if you’ll be strong enough, tough enough, if you’ve prepared enough to come out the other side. And when you do – regardless of how things end up – you’ve done something difficult, you learned things about yourself, and all of that is going to better prepare you for the future. You’re going to be even better at taking risks in the future.
At some point, you realize everything has various levels of consequence. Every decision you make has some risk involved. I recently quit my full time job to focus on my art. I might fail. It’s been really hard. I am afraid. But I also wouldn’t change that decision for anything because my joy even on my most stressful day in the studio is still absolutely and completely worth it.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I inherited fiber art. My mother is a quilter, she learned to sew from my great grandmother. For much of our family history, knowing how to work with textiles was essential for survival in cold climates. Place is important to me. We all situate our stories and histories within landscape – we contextualize our experiences in places. I have moved often and I draw influence from landscape and topography. Before I pursued art, I went to college for Anthropology and Ethnic Studies. I love thinking about social structures, communities and their relationships to place.
After graduating from college, I found myself in Portland, Oregon – feeling far away from family and who I thought I was. I was working as a nanny and struggled to make ends meet. I started photographing interesting places and things when I had spare time. But my favorite part of the entire process was ordering photographs and receiving them in the mail. I loved to touch them. I was at a low point, off on my own, trying to make my way and I remembered the embroidery stitches my mom taught me to make. I started to embroider photographs, giving these flat pieces of paper texture and relief. They felt good to touch. It was in those moments, in a rainy Portland winter, that I got back in touch with textiles and fiber.
I knew I wanted to take time to really develop these skills, to see what I could create and so I applied to graduate school, was lucky enough to get fully funded and a part time job out of the deal so that I could afford to go back to school. I took those three years to really push myself, develop my craft, and really think conceptually about what I do.
Even though my work has changed rather significantly in scale and materials since I started embroidering photographs, it has always had a thread of place, of landscape winding through it. I draw color inspirations from places like Yellowstone and the Tetons – the places that feel like home. Since the pandemic, my work has evolved to also include color inspirations from scenes of domesticity. Stuck inside during long months of quarantining, I started appreciating the colors on my throw pillows, combinations of books on shelves, or even my shower curtain from Target and reimagined what colors and combinations I could use in my work.
Fiber is relatable to every person. We wear clothes, we draw comfort from blankets, we are so aware of textures on our skin. Across centuries and generations, it complements a deeply human experience.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live in Boise, Idaho and I LOVE it. There’s always something to do – you can be downtown at a fun restaurant or bar and take a 15 minute drive and be hiking in the foothills. Boise has an amazing downtown. It’s hard to pick a favorite restaurant – I think probably the Wylder for outside dining (think amazing sourdough pizzas and salads) and Red Feather for inside (it’s the perfect amount of moody and if you thought the salads at Wylder were good, just wait until you try them at Red Feather). But I think my favorite place is at the top of Wild Phlox trail, looking out over the city. You can turn around and see nothing but hills and sage brush. It’s the perfect combination of appreciation of people and community and natural splendor.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My family! I moved often as a child and young adult and so my community was always my family. They were my constant. They are still the people I rely on most in this world. My mom taught me how to sew, to quilt, embroider, and crochet. My dad taught me how to fix things that are broken. My brother taught me responsibility. My sister taught me how to believe in myself.