Womxn we love

A Studio visit for our next womxn we love

We had the pleasure to visit the artist JoEllen Wang in her studio. JoEllen Wang is a conceptual artist interested in the overlap between social, economic, and environmental structures. She mainly explores the theme of shelter and often uses tarps as both subject and medium. She showed us her studio, home and chickens!

Interview by Lilia Ramirez

5/9/23

How did you come about the theme of shelter as the base of your work?

I spent my childhood moving every two years. I loved it. We didn’t move because of any insecurity, rather my parents were wanderlusts. With each move, I reinvented myself and had a new space to make my own. Then I studied architecture in college and was in that profession for a decade before starting a studio art practice. 

I think I came into the world predisposed to being interested in shelter and then choices and circumstances led me to where I am now – expressing that interest through visual art.

What is your creative process?

For me, ideas often come about in the “in-between” times. Interesting thoughts tend to strike when waiting at my kid’s sports practice, commuting to a design job, or walking my neighborhood with my dog. The starting point of my art is everyday things and places around me. I might get a specific image of a “thing” in my mind – something I want to draw or paint – or I get an idea about a material or process that seems conceptually promising. With the latter, it’s a matter of carving out time to research or test ideas. The mixed media work happens in the “shop” side of the garage studio or spreads to other places in my house. When painting or drawing, I’m in a dedicated “clean” studio space, typically working from photographs. I move between “producing” work, testing weird ideas that may go nowhere, and researching. It’s not a linear process.

Read full article here.

“I am drawn to ubiquitous yet universally devalued subjects – plastics, weeds, and mothers. I want my work to evoke awe – to be wonderfully disturbing. In all my work, I try to balance humor and sincerity, hoping the combination leads viewers to nuanced conversations”

Who is laura cassidy?

The Womxn We Love series highlights womxn in the Pacific Northwest that inspire us and whose work we admire.

Laura Sullivan Cassidy has been a long-time inspiration for Prairie Underground team members, and we are honored to have her featured for Womxn We Love.

 

Interview by Lilia Ramirez

3/13/2024

 

Who is Laura Cassidy?

I’m a Gen X, Enneagram #2, Pisces Sun. I’m a writer, editor, and artist who is also a creative consultant and grief coach, who also works part-time in an advisory role doing outreach and community work at Recompose, the pioneers of human composting and urban environmental deathcare.

 

Lately I’ve also been thinking of myself as an aspiring elder. I resisted it for a while but now I’m embracing it and learning to love the contradictions and possibilities. I hope to become more tender and more vulnerable even as I continue growing my capacity to support others.  

 

“As a person who used to work in fashion and now works in funerals and juggles a pretty wild variety of projects and tasks in any given week, it’s been harder and harder to get my “What do you do?” answer into a good sound bite. I really appreciate that you didn’t ask that——that you went much broader and allowed a rangier response. I often encourage people to indulge in the unruliness of their self-identity. We put too much pressure on ourselves to be one easily encapsulated thing.”

 

Who influences you and how?

My former and my future selves: Wanting to do right by both of them. Wanting to create softness and ease and purpose and meaning for all of us. 

And my friends——all those beautiful people who love the world enough to fight for love and art and beauty and connection. But I am also and maybe especially influenced by my friends who are like, under 10 years old. They’re the most present. The most in the moment. The most in awe of the world. The most accepting. The best at pretending. The best at being curious. The most stylistically adventurous. The closest, at any given moment, to laughter and tears.

My partner, too. He influences me to rest. To explore my visual language. To use my voice. To work on songs and music with him. To trust myself. 

 

You are a creative consultant + coach, writer/editor, artist, death care worker…Tell us how these different ideas intersect in your life.

I’ve always been drawn to people’s stories, and I love to ask big questions—and help people find the answers. Ultimately I am driven to help people understand (as best any of us can) why we’re here and what all of this (gestures wildly) is about.

“The foundation of the work I do is 20 years spent in journalism and content strategy. I love to spot the story, to frame the story, to find a new and maybe off-beat way of telling the story. To help others relate to the story, to help others see themselves in the story, to empower anyone who is called toward the experience to shape and share their own story. I think I just naturally thread all of that into whatever role I’m in.”

 

To read full article, click here.

 

We’re bringing together some of the most valuable contributors in the local fashion industry to discuss the importance of policy and sustainability in creating systemic change. The goal is to raise awareness about the biggest issues to date (ex: waste), what we each are doing to address them here in Washington, and empower our community to get involved. There will be time to network and build relationships, especially with current and recently graduate fashion students. The event will be hosted in collaboration with Prairie Underground and the Remake Seattle CommunitySpeakers include: Janelle Abbott – Local Designer, Megan Arnaud – Eileen Fisher, Camilla Eckersley – Prairie Underground, JeLisa Marshall – Remake & Seattle Made. Below are three interviews by Remake Seattle Ambassadors. 

Remake Seattle Ambassador Victoria

VICTORIA’S INTERVIEW

Name: Victoria Gonzalez
 
Pronouns: she/her/hers
 

What is your occupation? 

International Licensing Associate

When did you join Remake? 

2021

Why did you join Remake? 
To join an organization of like-minded individuals all working toward a collective goal of a sustainable fashion future.  

Who inspires you to do the work that you do? 

To be honest, a person doesn’t initially come to mind when I read this question. I feel very connected to our beautiful mother earth and that typically serves as enough inspiration for me to continue the work I am doing. But it also is meeting so many different types of people who share my perspectives/ideals about a positive climate future that inspire me.

What does a more equitable and sustainable fashion industry look like to you? 
Idealistically, illustrating a sustainable fashion industry is the antithesis of how our current society functions. It is an industry that does not rely on mass production cycles, exploitation of workers, and overuse of natural resources. 

It is an industry that exhibits symbiosis in every practice and does whatever it takes to get there. Where the end of life of a product is given more thought than the creation, the hands that create these products are cared for, and the earth is not stripped of its vital nutrients 

How do you choose to wear your values?
This is actually a difficult question for me because at the beginning of my sustainable fashion journey I became a fashion martyr. I was an extremist and did not buy anything new for years and rarely thrifted – this clearly – was unsustainable in the long run. This phase in my journey resulted in me loathing shopping, my choice of retailers I was surrounded by, and eventually, my own wardrobe. To be honest,  I am still trying to find the balance of what wearing “my” values look like, but I think I am getting closer to it everyday.

What do you think is the most important way for people to engage more sustainably with the fashion industry?
I think a simple act of thinking twice about what you’re buying – is it an impulse buy… or something you can see yourself wearing for the long run. That and I think word of mouth goes a long way, so simply sharing information about your sustainable purchase whether with friends or on social media is a good way to get others to talk and learn about it. 

What is one simple yet impactful thing they can do today?

I think educating yourself is the most accessible thing anyone can do virtually from anywhere and maybe applying some of those learned concepts the next time you decide to purchase a product. 

Remake Seattle Ambassador Aida

Aida’S INTERVIEW

Name: Aida Amirul

Pronouns: she/they

What is your occupation? 
Digital Communications Specialist at a statewide environmental non-profit

When did you join Remake? 
April 2023

Why did you join Remake? 
Remake’s mission to eliminate unfair labor conditions for garment workers who are on the frontlines of the climate crisis perfectly represents the intersection of my personal passions in environmental justice, labor justice, and fashion. 

Who inspires you to do the work that you do? 
My workers union. Every win we’ve achieved as a union has reminded me that intentional, organized action is how we can reclaim our power and have a say in the crucial decisions that impact our everyday lives –whether in demanding fairer labor practices or passing environmental justice policies. A just, sustainable reality is possible when we work together and demand it.
 
Do you have a most memorable moment in your journey as an ambassador? If so, please share.
Meeting other ambassadors, learning their stories, and getting inspired by all the impactful initiatives they are taking in their communities! 
What does a more equitable and sustainable fashion industry look like to you?
It looks like safe working conditions, livable wages, and equal support for every worker in the supply chain –at the bare minimum. Just like how social issues are interconnected with each other, providing workers with what they deserve and more will inevitably reflect positively on our environment and revolutionize the fashion industry. Prioritizing the people’s needs over profit eliminates exploitation and pollution. It puts the focus of fashion onto quality instead of quantity, which helps mitigate rapid fashion trend cycles and reduce waste.

 

How do you choose to wear your values?
I love expressing myself through fashion and personal style. In 2021, I committed to never buying new fast fashion clothing to honor my values in sustainability, feminism, and worker’s justice. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that consuming through only used, borrowed and handmade clothing has never felt restrictive, rather it further cultivated my creativity in developing my personal style and the freedom to express myself.
 
What is one simple yet impactful thing they can do today?
I think the most important way for people to engage more sustainably with the fashion industry is to give yourself full responsibility over the lifespan of your clothing. Sometimes, it is unrealistic to assume that you’ll own your clothes forever because people outgrow their clothes all the time – whether from your body changing, or your style evolving. When it’s time to move on from a piece of clothing, instead of mindlessly donating it (because most thrift store donations end up in the landfill), prioritize giving it a new life through repurposing or gifting to someone who you know will love and wear it for a long time. Another small but impactful way is to contact your lawmakers to do something about exploitative fast fashion practice!
Remake Seattle Amassador Zakiya

Zakiya’S INTERVIEW

Name: Zakiya Nicole Cita
 
Pronouns: she/her
 
What is your occupation?

Director

When did you join Remake?

In 2018

Why did you join Remake?

For a community of like-minded folks and resources!

Who inspires you to do the work that you do?

My passion and love for my community and the planet!

Do you have a most memorable moment in your journey as an ambassador? If so, please share.

Launching The Chayah Movement and hearing the feedback from our first cohort.

 
What does a more equitable and sustainable fashion industry look like to you?

More circularity, more access, less consumption and transparency as a minimum requirement.

How do you choose to wear your values?

I choose to rewear, take good care of what I have and focus on pre-owned before looking for something new.

What do you think is the most important way for people to engage more sustainably with the fashion industry?

To be curious about the brands you support and to also think about their why. What do you value and tap in.

What is one simple yet impactful thing they can do today?

You can care of what you have, rewear and recycle what you don’t use.

Silversmithing by hand

Designing, pounding, bending and soldering does not limit Shelli Markee to create beautiful jewelry and wire sculptures by hand. It shows the care, love and perfection she puts into her art.

Photo essay by ELISA

7/14/2023

 

How did you get into jewelry making?

I’ve always made something. My parents always encouraged handmade gifts. They preferred it. So my sister and I would work really hard to come up with something new each birthday and holiday. That helped me explore new ideas and new mediums. We sewed and made beaded jewelry and hats, things out of wire…the list goes on. I’m very grateful to my parents for the encouragement, because it set in play a life of making.

About 25 years ago I started playing around with steel wire and about 20 years ago, I took a silversmithing class at Pratt in the ID. That started my obsession with wire and silver. I never tire of it. And I feel I have just scratched the surface.

The process

All my work is done by hand and exclusively by me. Every step takes time and there are a lot of steps before the product is finished. It is time consuming, but I loved every minute of it.

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by strong, confident women who follow their passion unabashedly. Women who follow their dreams regardless of the setbacks. They keep going forward.

Life goals

My long term goal is to show my work in galleries and museums. Whether it’s jewelry related, wire sculpture or a combination of both. My short term goal is to make steps in that direction daily. A daily practice. Exploring new ideas and collaborating with other creative artists is pure joy.

See Shelli’s wire sculptures here.

Into the shed

We had the great honor to photograph and interview local Pacific Northwest potter, Karra Wise, for our next feature of Womxn We Love. 

Photo essay by ELISA

4/18/2023

 

How did you get into pottery?

When I decided I no longer wanted to bake professionally I had to figure out what to replace that with. I went in search of something that reflected my aesthetic, sensibility, and joy of making. Something that I could potentially sell at my home venue, In The Shed, along with other artists. I’m a maker of a lot of things so it’s nice to focus on one medium. I’ve been working with clay for about 6 years now, it’s been a very slow process, which is nice but there’s SO much more I want to know! I’m happy with my career change and open to the evolution life brings. 

Who inspires you?

Anyone who is doing anything that pushes against the system that has told us what is “normal” is an inspiration to me! You can find and/or create those moments or interactions anywhere!

Dream job

I don’t know!! I’ve imagined myself doing a lot of different things and think I’m somewhat capable of a lot BUT really, I’d love to do my work and not have to worry about the money part. I dislike putting a price tag on everything I do to pay the bills. The value of art, the tech world and everything in between is so messed up. That said, I grew up wanting to be a truck driver because I wanted to travel, that’s how my brain works!

What’s next

Stepping out of my comfort zone is something I need to do more. Take more risks! But since I’ve been given the gift of aging, my health must come first!

Heather Kravas

womxn’s rites and solid objects

In March Of 2020, We Met With Heather Kravas And Victoria Haven In Georgetown To Discuss A Potential Collaboration Between Prairie Underground And Their Work Solid Objects 

Introduction by Davora 

11/30/2022

 

A work in progress showing of Solid Objects at Oxbow was one of the most compelling works I had viewed in recent years, it held the viewers attention in a way that reminded me of the internet. Through a constant shifting of passages that overlap, like the opening of a new browser tab, the relationship of the exhibition venue to the audience and performers was repeatedly expanded and revealed. It suggested that we were all implicated in the same formal investigation of the boundaries between viewer and participant, the construction of an artwork, and the bending of time. I felt involved with the piece long after the performance ended.
 
Shortly after our initial meeting in 2020, the pandemic reshaped our lives. Our collaboration was postponed and reconfigured as we navigated the uncertainty. When planning resumed in 2021 it was under the auspices of a new model for our collection, womxn’s rites. Camilla and I decided to evolve that imprint to invite artist collaborations into our design process, a shift that was inspired by our conversations about costuming Solid Objects as well as Everlasting Stranger by Will Rawls at the Henry Art Museum in 2021 
 
During the process of co-designing costumes for Solid Objects, which premiered at the Walker Art Center in May 2022, Heather made an offhand comment about choreographing a work for our recently carpeted gallery space. The carpeting was installed for another installation, but it was conceived as a semipermanent curatorial gesture to make the Gallery space more hospitable to post-pandemic sensibilities while rethinking the legacies of modernism and the affordances of art spaces.  The carpet dramatically expanded our small gallery by increasing the possibility of sitting or lying on the floor and it suggests a domestic intimacy that made guests more aware of the care they exercise when coming in from the outside. It suggests another way of being in an art space.
When Heather committed to creating a new work for the carpeted room, it extended the life of this curatorial platform.  After her work is completed, the carpet will be retained and relocated to future, undetermined spaces where it will serve the same function. I’m curious to explore a durational commitment to this carpet remnant as an artwork, an idea first suggested by Sean Lockwood a previous artist in our series. 
 
On December 10, 2022, while Heather is performing, we will also be sharing the garment that Camilla designed for Solid Objects in our boutique.  Lilia and I screen-printed a limited quantity of these shirts in our workshop in preparation for the exhibition at the Walker last Spring. They were intended to accompany Prairie’s Spring 2023 collection, but we are offering them a little earlier to coincide with Heather’s new performance
 

The print is a photograph of a sweater worn interchangeably by the dancers in the first iteration of Solid Objects at Oxbow.  As a costume for the third iteration, it both records and acknowledges the original by repeating it as a memory or trace onto the new costume.  It also refigures the body of the wearer to become another body, a result of the trompe l’oeil effect of the print of the sweater photographed on one of the dancers. The final body is the new troupe of dancers, eight in total, who will be disbursed into the world in these shirts, continuing to perform Solid Objects. 

-DAVORA

Performance by Heather Kravas during December Georgetown Art Attack, 2022
Performance by Heather Kravas during December Georgetown Art Attack, 2022
Photography of Michelle Dunn Marsh wearing Boilersuit in Denim

PRAIRIE X MINOR MATTERS

 

We Are Relaunching Our Series Women We Love. Michelle Dunn Marsh From Minor Matters And I Have Known Each Other For Several Years. Michelle Embodies The Values We Hold At Prairie Underground And We Love To Feature Our Clothing On The Individuals Who Wear Them. As Celebration Of Our Mutual Interest And Support, Michelle Suggested We Visit Some Of Our Neighbors, Red Soul And Housewright, In The Georgetown Neighborhood Of Seattle Where Our Warehouse And Flagship Boutique Is Located. Michelle’s Inclusion Of Other Neighborhood Proprietors Was A Reminder To Move Outside Of Our Established Routines And To Celebrate Community.

INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE DUNN MARSH / BY ELISA Clements

10/25/2023

 

How did Minor Matters start? Tell us more about your business? 

Minor Matters is a collaborative publishing platform I conceived, and in 2013 launched with my friend Steve McIntyre. We develop books with visual authors, and publish them with the engagement and agreement of an international audience. We look to and for projects that reflect concerns and interests of our time, realized by creative practitioners with demonstrated expertise in their craft, and distinctive, often lesser represented, viewpoints. Books that move forward through public pre-purchase of 500 copies are thoughtfully edited, designed, and printed, and often include original scholarship that adds insight to the visual work presented. Our books and authors have been featured by NPR, The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Boston Globe’s Love Letters podcast, Slate, and numerous other indie and mainstream press outlets. We do not sell our books on Amazon, choosing instead to work with independent retailers nationally and internationally.

We are a small entity. Steve built and refines the infrastructure of our online existence, does all the work on our site, manages lists, newsletters, marketing channels, responds to inquiries—what happens on screen is his domain. He studies our process and advances in online retail to keep us efficient and effective. When we’re weighing risks, he is often the person saying “YES! Go!” when I am leaning toward “no”. I acquire, develop, design, edit, and manage production on our books, write sales and marketing text, and manage distribution. We also have a cadre of incredible colleagues, from image separators to copyeditors to print reps and warehouse and fulfillment experts, many of whom have worked with us for over a decade.

 

 

If you wouldn’t mind telling us a bit about your background? Tell us a bit about your career?

I was born in Seattle and grew up in Puyallup, Washington. Since 2000 I have split my time between Seattle and Manhattan. I am of mixed ethnicities. My Indo-Burmese, Irish, small town, farming, car loving, food-informed, colonially-impacted heritage crops up in obvious and surprising ways in my life.

I started counting characters and printing photographs for layouts working on my junior high school yearbook, and have maintained a fascination with the integration of words and images ever since.I have worked for and with numerous publishers and cultural institutions on both coasts in the production of books, exhibitions, and other public programs. Along the way I have also maintained a professional existence as an educator, and held leadership positions in arts institutions. But when a stranger in an elevator asks me what I do, my instinctual answer is: “I’m a designer.” I see design as problem solving, and problem solving is a daily pursuit, regardless of what title I hold at any given moment. 

Who has influenced you the most? For example, fashion icons, artists, writers, musicians…those who have left a mark on you?

Oh, good question, and a long list of answers in no particular order. Clark Gable. Michael Jackson. Prince. Cyndi Lauper. Aung San Suu Kyi, Vishnu, Catholicism, James Joyce, Rumi, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Duran Duran, Freddie Mercury, CS Lewis, Audrey Hepburn, The Book of Kells, Minor White, Chinua Achebe, Carrie Mae Weems, Harley Davidsons, every Cameron Crowe and John Hughes movie, the Princess Bride, Sinead O’Connor, Salman Rushdie. All 

 

the photographers I’ve worked with have left some trace, along with my siblings, Alistaire Marsh and cousins on both sides of my family who have loved and accepted me and helped me gain an understanding of self.

It’s an incredible privilege to have worked with emerging, mid-career and master artists throughout the last thirty years. I’ve learned to honor craft, expertise, determination, and continuous study as a result. I’ve been a part of hundreds of books, yet I am also conscious that each one is unique. There is an element of starting anew every time we begin a publication, and then drawing upon knowledge that has been acquired through decades of making, and ongoing curiosity about the history of the book.

Who would you like to work with in the future? Alive or dead.

Shared confidence and shared respect are the hallmarks of our strongest collaborations.

We are currently developing titles with Selena Kearney here in the Northwest, and with Adrian Burrell, who is based in California, and have a few other discussions underway that are not yet in contract. I really hope Will Wilson will do a book one day. The world deserves a monograph of and by Derrick Adams, ditto Kambui Olujimi. Russell Johnson has been photographing the work of significant glass artists for decades and I hope we can showcase his subtle and important contributions to that medium. I would like there to be a book witnessing what my friend Yoko Ott contributed to the arts community in King County. I would like one or several small volumes articulating the iterative process of how Matt Adams from Red Soul creates. I would like a book about and by the Black Constellation. This list goes on and on.

 

 

Adjacent to the artists, though, is the public. What is truly distinct about Minor Matters is that we, and our authors, have also entered into collaboration with our audience, and we publish (or not) with the engagement of the reader, the collector, the librarian, the consumer. We do not want to be utilizing the resources necessary to produce a printed book if there is no community willing to receive the vessel we’ve created, willing to encounter the material within it.

At Prairie, we love doing collaborations with local people. Can you tell us about the locations you chose to be photographed in?

We are honored that Prairie Underground chose to highlight Minor Matters. There are so many great independents in the Georgetown neighborhood where Prairie is based that we wanted to foster connections to some of the businesses we love there, and share the opportunity!

Housewright, the incredible retail space that sprung forth from the talented mind of Tim Pfeiffer, has featured our books over the years, so it was great to highlight their elegant and visually enticing environs.

Red Soul started as one of those proverbial garage businesses in 2006. It flourished due to the vision and persistence of its owner Matt Adams. I’ve known Matt for many years. He has significant talent. And he’s a good friend. I feel really comfortable in his shop, and I think that shows in the photographs, Elisa, you made there.

I think attention to craft and materiality connects all these businesses—Prairie, Minor MattersHousewrightRed Soul—to each other, which reflects a Northwest sensibility that began with our First Nations and has persisted and permeated settler culture despite the current association of this region with tech.

 

Fashion can be very intertwined into our personal expression; how do you describe your relationship with your clothes?

I have long seen clothes as costume and performance. I was very shy for most of my childhood, and often felt uncomfortable that people noticed me. As an adolescent my method of “fighting back” against unwanted attention was to provoke it through outfits I constructed (a few of these appear in Seeing Being Seen: A Personal History of Photography). When I began traveling professionally as an adult, I found I was still somewhat shy. Distinctive shoes or a striking wardrobe choice could draw strangers to me, allowing me to engage in conversation I might have been reticent to initiate otherwise.

How does Prairie fit into your personal style?

Prairie’s clothing has flair and versatility, and it is easy to maintain. I am very “low maintenance” in how I present to the world. I don’t have a lot of time or patience when it comes to preparing clothing (or hair, or makeup). Prairie uses great, often natural fabrics that can be hand- or machine washed, and line dried. I have rolled up many pieces into a backpack or a carry-on suitcase and they are still immediately presentable on the body. That’s huge for me.

Prairie’s pieces are distinct, yet work well with the rest of my eclectic closet. I have leggings and hoodies from Prairie I have literally worn to disintegration, and signature pieces that make a statement when I choose to. As someone who has frequent public-facing occasions along with a quiet day-to-day existence, Prairie pieces span both, allowing me flexibility and comfort. I can dress pieces up or down depending on what is paired with them, or adjust a jacket or tunic that has been designed to be worn a few 

different ways with very different looks. That’s an incredible benefit, especially when traveling.

What is your relationship to Prairie?

I was introduced to Prairie by my friend Cynthea Bogel, who was then living in Seattle. She has a significant collection of Comme des Garçons, so I took seriously any comments she had about a local clothing line. At the first Prairie sample sale I attended I saw many colleagues who I learned were also Prairie fans. Then I got to know Davora, who was involved with several contemporary arts institutions in Seattle. She has great style, and once I connected her to Prairie I knew I had to pay attention to its output.

A turning point was in 2015 or so. I was serving as an executive director for a local non-profit organization, and was planning its gala. Three days before the event I called Davora in a panic, because I had no idea what I was going to wear, and asked if she would dress me. I didn’t even really know what that meant; I just knew I needed help. She pulled some items, including a dress I still regret I did not have the courage to buy, or wear. Spending just an hour or so with her that day was transformative, getting a sense of how she saw my essence, and my style, and Prairie’s clothes, and how they all melded.

I ended up wearing the piece Above/Below (I bought it in two colors, midnight and ivory) with a silk longyi. I think there was even a photograph of it in Seattle magazine? Anyway, at a stressful time, I felt me in what I was wearing. I felt comfortable, and it bonded me to Prairie.

Photography of Michelle Dunn Marsh wearing Boilersuit in Denim

PRAIRIE X MINOR MATTERS

 

We Are Relaunching Our Series Women We Love. Michelle Dunn Marsh From Minor Matters And I Have Known Each Other For Several Years. Michelle Embodies The Values We Hold At Prairie Underground And We Love To Feature Our Clothing On The Individuals Who Wear Them. As Celebration Of Our Mutual Interest And Support, Michelle Suggested We Visit Some Of Our Neighbors, Red Soul And Housewright, In The Georgetown Neighborhood Of Seattle Where Our Warehouse And Flagship Boutique Is Located. Michelle’s Inclusion Of Other Neighborhood Proprietors Was A Reminder To Move Outside Of Our Established Routines And To Celebrate Community.

INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE DUNN MARSH / BY ELISA CLEMENTS

10/25/2023

 
 

How did Minor Matters start? Tell us more about your business? 

Minor Matters is a collaborative publishing platform I conceived, and in 2013 launched with my friend Steve McIntyre. We develop books with visual authors, and publish them with the engagement and agreement of an international audience. We look to and for projects that reflect concerns and interests of our time, realized by creative practitioners with demonstrated expertise in their craft, and distinctive, often lesser represented, viewpoints. Books that move forward through public pre-purchase of 500 copies are thoughtfully edited, designed, and printed, and often include original scholarship that adds insight to the visual work presented. Our books and authors have been featured by NPR, The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Boston Globe’s Love Letters podcast, Slate, and numerous other indie and mainstream press outlets. We do not sell our books on Amazon, choosing instead to work with independent retailers nationally and internationally.

We are a small entity. Steve built and refines the infrastructure of our online existence, does all the work on our site, manages lists, newsletters, marketing channels, responds to inquiries—what happens on screen is his domain. He studies our process and advances in online retail to keep us efficient and effective. When we’re weighing risks, he is often the person saying “YES! Go!” when I am leaning toward “no”. I acquire, develop, design, edit, and manage production on our books, write sales and marketing text, and manage distribution. We also have a cadre of incredible colleagues, from image separators to copyeditors to print reps and warehouse and fulfillment experts, many of whom have worked with us for over a decade.

If you wouldn’t mind telling us a bit about your background? Tell us a bit about your career?

I was born in Seattle and grew up in Puyallup, Washington. Since 2000 I have split my time between Seattle and Manhattan. I am of mixed ethnicities. My Indo-Burmese, Irish, small town, farming, car loving, food-informed, colonially-impacted heritage crops up in obvious and surprising ways in my life.

I started counting characters and printing photographs for layouts working on my junior high school yearbook, and have maintained a fascination with the integration of words and images ever since.

I have worked for and with numerous publishers and cultural institutions on both coasts in the production of books, exhibitions, and other public programs. Along the way I have also maintained a professional existence as an educator, and held leadership positions in arts institutions. But when a stranger in an elevator asks me what I do, my instinctual answer is: “I’m a designer.” I see design as problem solving, and problem solving is a daily pursuit, regardless of what title I hold at any given moment. 

Who has influenced you the most? For example, fashion icons, artists, writers, musicians…those who have left a mark on you?

Oh, good question, and a long list of answers in no particular order. Clark Gable. Michael Jackson. Prince. Cyndi Lauper. Aung San Suu Kyi, Vishnu, Catholicism, James Joyce, Rumi, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Duran Duran, Freddie Mercury, CS Lewis, Audrey Hepburn, The Book of Kells, Minor White, Chinua Achebe, Carrie Mae Weems, Harley Davidsons, every Cameron Crowe and John Hughes movie, the Princess Bride, Sinead O’Connor, Salman Rushdie. All the photographers I’ve worked with have left some trace, along with my siblings, Alistaire Marsh and cousins on both sides of my family who have loved and accepted me and helped me gain an understanding of self.

It’s an incredible privilege to have worked with emerging, mid-career and master artists throughout the last thirty years. I’ve learned to honor craft, expertise, determination, and continuous study as a result. I’ve been a part of hundreds of books, yet I am also conscious that each one is unique. There is an element of starting anew every time we begin a publication, and then drawing upon knowledge that has been acquired through decades of making, and ongoing curiosity about the history of the book.

Who would you like to work with in the future? Alive or dead.

Shared confidence and shared respect are the hallmarks of our strongest collaborations.

We are currently developing titles with Selena Kearney here in the Northwest, and with Adrian Burrell, who is based in California, and have a few other discussions underway that are not yet in contract. I really hope Will Wilson will do a book one day. The world deserves a monograph of and by Derrick Adams, ditto Kambui Olujimi. Russell Johnson has been photographing the work of significant glass artists for decades and I hope we can showcase his subtle and important contributions to that medium. I would like there to be a book witnessing what my friend Yoko Ott contributed to the arts community in King County. I would like one or several small volumes articulating the iterative process of how Matt Adams from Red Soul creates. I would like a book about and by the Black Constellation. This list goes on and on.

Adjacent to the artists, though, is the public. What is truly distinct about Minor Matters is that we, and our authors, have also entered into collaboration with our audience, and we publish (or not) with the engagement of the reader, the collector, the librarian, the consumer. We do not want to be utilizing the resources necessary to produce a printed book if there is no community willing to receive the vessel we’ve created, willing to encounter the material within it.

 

At Prairie, we love doing collaborations with local people. Can you tell us about the locations you chose to be photographed in?

We are honored that Prairie Underground chose to highlight Minor Matters. There are so many great independents in the Georgetown neighborhood where Prairie is based that we wanted to foster connections to some of the businesses we love there, and share the opportunity!

Housewright, the incredible retail space that sprung forth from the talented mind of Tim Pfeiffer, has featured our books over the years, so it was great to highlight their elegant and visually enticing environs.

Red Soul started as one of those proverbial garage businesses in 2006. It flourished due to the vision and persistence of its owner Matt Adams. I’ve known Matt for many years. He has significant talent. And he’s a good friend. I feel really comfortable in his shop, and I think that shows in the photographs, Elisa, you made there.

I think attention to craft and materiality connects all these businesses—Prairie, Minor MattersHousewrightRed Soul—to each other, which reflects a Northwest sensibility that began with our First Nations and has persisted and permeated settler culture despite the current association of this region with tech.

Fashion can be very intertwined into our personal expression; how do you describe your relationship with your clothes?

I have long seen clothes as costume and performance. I was very shy for most of my childhood, and often felt uncomfortable that people noticed me. As an adolescent my method of “fighting back” against unwanted attention was to provoke it through outfits I constructed (a few of these appear in Seeing Being Seen: A Personal History of Photography). When I began traveling professionally as an adult, I found I was still somewhat shy. Distinctive shoes or a striking wardrobe choice could draw strangers to me, allowing me to engage in conversation I might have been reticent to initiate otherwise.

How does Prairie fit into your personal style?

Prairie’s clothing has flair and versatility, and it is easy to maintain. I am very “low maintenance” in how I present to the world. I don’t have a lot of time or patience when it comes to preparing clothing (or hair, or makeup). Prairie uses great, often natural fabrics that can be hand- or machine washed, and line dried. I have rolled up many pieces into a backpack or a carry-on suitcase and they are still immediately presentable on the body. That’s huge for me.

Prairie’s pieces are distinct, yet work well with the rest of my eclectic closet. I have leggings and hoodies from Prairie I have literally worn to disintegration, and signature pieces that make a statement when I choose to. As someone who has frequent public-facing occasions along with a quiet day-to-day existence, Prairie pieces span both, allowing me flexibility and comfort. I can dress pieces up or down depending on what is paired with them, or adjust a jacket or tunic that has been designed to be worn a few different ways with very different looks. That’s an incredible benefit, especially when traveling.

What is your relationship to Prairie?

I was introduced to Prairie by my friend Cynthea Bogel, who was then living in Seattle. She has a significant collection of Comme des Garçons, so I took seriously any comments she had about a local clothing line. At the first Prairie sample sale I attended I saw many colleagues who I learned were also Prairie fans. Then I got to know Davora, who was involved with several contemporary arts institutions in Seattle. She has great style, and once I connected her to Prairie I knew I had to pay attention to its output.

A turning point was in 2015 or so. I was serving as an executive director for a local non-profit organization, and was planning its gala. Three days before the event I called Davora in a panic, because I had no idea what I was going to wear, and asked if she would dress me. I didn’t even really know what that meant; I just knew I needed help. She pulled some items, including a dress I still regret I did not have the courage to buy, or wear. Spending just an hour or so with her that day was transformative, getting a sense of how she saw my essence, and my style, and Prairie’s clothes, and how they all melded.

I ended up wearing the piece Above/Below (I bought it in two colors, midnight and ivory) with a silk longyi. I think there was even a photograph of it in Seattle magazine? Anyway, at a stressful time, I felt me in what I was wearing. I felt comfortable, and it bonded me to Prairie.

Past Interviews

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