Making a Life: A Conversation with Melanie Falick + Frances Palmer
We’re thrilled to be hosting author Melanie Falick at our Westport, CT location next month to celebrate her book, Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You’re Meant to Live, with a Q&A between her and a few of the makers she featured in the book. She’ll be chatting with artists Frances Palmer, Joelle Hoverson, and Nigel Holmes on their process, their craft, and what inspires them daily. In anticipation of the party on November 12th, we caught up with both Melanie and ceramicist Frances Palmer, to chat about what making a life means to them, how they use their art to connect with others, and what they’re making right now.
terrain: Hi Melanie! Thank you so much for joining us—both for this conversation and at Westport in November. And congratulations on your thoughtful, engaging, and inspiring book. What are the major thoughts and ideas you hope folks take away from Making a Life?
Melanie: I hope folks will celebrate and honor the fact that making by hand, and creative expression more broadly, are integral to what it means to be human. The fact that we can buy food at stores and at restaurants doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t grow, prepare, and share food at home. The fact that we have cars to drive doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t walk in the fresh air. And the fact that we can buy clothing, paintings, or other items doesn’t mean that the process of making these types of things ourselves isn’t important and enriching. The more actively creative we are, the more vibrant and whole we tend to feel. So, let’s make it a priority!
terrain: What projects do you currently have in the works?
Melanie: A few! I’m knitting a merino-cashmere cardigan in a beautiful aubergine color. I started it a few years ago but I really think I will finish it in time to wear this winter. I just started making an accordion book out of repurposed denim. And I’ve cut out the pieces for a cotton jersey dress I will hand-stitch. I will be working on these projects for a long time. The process is slow and quiet, which is part of what I love about it.
terrain: Hi Frances. Thanks for joining us! We love how your collections seem to pull from so many different places—art history, modern design, traditional sculpture. What are things (or who are the people) that are inspiring you right now?
Frances: Last week I went to a Roy DeCarava photography exhibit at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City called the sound i saw. It’s a show of black and white photographs depicting society in the 1950s. The tonality was really intriguing to me. Taking photographs of my work is a big part of my process and I found DeCarava’s photos so unique and inspiring.
terrain: Melanie, all the makers that you feature in the book come from different backgrounds and have pursued different passions and forms of expression. With that said, is there a connecting thread that runs through their stories?
Melanie: They all love what they do. They’ve come to making in many different ways. But they all see it as integral to their sense of self. They have challenged the status quo and built a life for themselves in which the impulse to work with their hands informs not only how they spend their time but also how they relate to the world around them and how they define success.
terrain: Melanie’s book is titled Making a Life: Working By Hand and Discovering the Life You’re Meant to Live. How does working by hand help you feel connected to your purpose? What is it about ceramics specifically that speaks to you?
Frances: It’s the functionality of it. I love making beautiful things that people can use and live with.
terrain: There are many people who have the desire to express themselves creatively but feel like they don’t have the time with so many daily obligations. Do you have any tips for making time for making things?
Melanie: Start a list of what you’d really like to make time for. Keep it realistic. Post it someplace where you will see it often. Then try to be aware of the small choices you make each day that pull you away from what you wrote on your list. Once I broke the habit of turning to a screen when I had free time, I was able to create a new habit. Now I’m much more likely to pick up one of my handwork projects or go out to the garden or read a book. I also like to schedule dates with my friends to do handwork together. Sometimes we meet at one another's houses and sometimes we go to public places. Once a date is on the calendar, I’ve made a commitment that I am likely to keep—to my friend and to myself.
terrain: On that note, how does “making a life” play into your idea of community building?
Melanie: In my experience, when people get together to share a passion for some type of handwork, they tend to open up in a much more intimate way than they do at cocktail parties and other common types of social gatherings. We bond over our shared passion and then we learn about one another—and sometimes about different ways of life and points of view. As "connected" as we might seem these days, we are a pretty lonely, divided bunch. Making by hand is an antidote to that.
terrain: A similar question for you too, Frances. From Melanie’s conversation with you in Making a Life it sounds like you’d always had an interest in taking up pottery. Do you have any advice or thoughts for folks who are looking for a creative outlet but don’t necessarily have a clear idea of what they’d like to do?
Frances: I’d suggest starting small. A group of friends and I have started getting together to mend clothing and darn socks. You don’t need any special equipment or skill—you just need your hands! It’s also a wonderful opportunity to connect with others and have a sense of community.
terrain: We’re heading into the winter, when many of us spend more time indoors. What are some of your favorite types of projects to work on during the cold months?
Melanie: The colder months are definitely high knitting season. Last winter some friends and I got together and did some natural dyeing. Seeing those beautiful colors emerge from the dye pots during the gray days of winter was so uplifting. I hope we’ll do it again this year!
terrain: In addition to your ceramic work, you’re an avid and talented gardener, and your blooms often show up in your photographs of your vases. What do you have planned for your fall/winter garden?
Frances: My fall garden motto is “the survival of the fittest,” so whatever can grow, grows! For winter, I’m looking forward to potting up some bulbs for forcing so I’ll have some color when it’s bleak outside. My new challenge for winter is getting involved with orchids—I’ve never tried growing them!
There’s still a few spots left to hear Melanie’s conversation with Frances, along with Joelle Hoverson and Nigel Holmes. Click here to reserve your spot today!