Monday, July 20, 2020

Interview: Elise Matthesen

Congratulations to Elise Matthesen, for her Hugo nomination for best Fan Artist!

Matthesen's artwork leans primarily towards jewelry and wrapped wire work.  With inspirations that include everything from Art Nouveau,  dragons, SFF fandom,  the natural world, and the Fibonacci sequence,  her artwork is whimsical and complex, often incorporation natural materials and unexpected accents.  Regardless of the specific inspirations, you can't help but want to tell a story when looking at her artwork, especially her wrapped wire pendants. Her "Wandering Wire" style pendants and artwork has become so popular that she recently funded a Kickstarter to make a series of videos about hand wrapped wire artwork.

Matthesen has been part of fandom and the SFF community for decades, speaking  and presenting at a number of events on topics such as fandom, self-esteem, bisexuality, polyamory, and body acceptance.  In 2009 she received a World Fantasy nominee for the Special Award - Non Professional for a decade of serving as an inspiration for SFF fiction and poetry.

She sells her artwork primarily through her Etsy site, and for those of you who are on Twitter, Matthesen posted an excellent "2019 Retrospective" thread.  Fair warning on that Retrospective thread - you will want to buy everything!

Matthesen and I had an extensive email conversation on everything from her favorite pieces of 2019, to her Kickstarter, to her favorite metals and stones to work with, and more.

Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: What media do you typically work in? How did you first get started working with these materials?

Elise Matthesen: I work with sterling silver wire and gold filled wire, which I hand-form into sculptural wearable art and sometimes small sculptures, which is why my business is called "Lioness: art for people and places." I was once commissioned to make a necklace for a lamp. That was fun. Usually my work involves beads as well as wire, and the materials of those beads ranges from meteorites to vintage plastic Mardi Gras beads to dinosaur bone to opals to coprolites to Czech pressed glass. If it's got a hole in it I probably want to make wire art with it. Sometimes even if it doesn't have a hole in it, I will make art with it; I love doing pendants and sculptures using tektites, particularly indochinite.

I got started making things with beads when I was a little kid. I didn't start doing wirework until I was an adult and went to a Upper Midwest Bead Society weekend retreat with my friend who is also my mother-in-law. Someone at our table taught me how to start with wrapped wire loops, and I dove in and never stopped.

NOAF: How would you describe your art style?

EM: Asymmetrical wirework heavily influenced by botanical illustration, fibonacci series, the curves that happen when work-hardening wire in certain ways, Art Nouveau, the Arts and Crafts movement (I have a pile of old copies of The Studio magazine, and find great inspiration in the advertising typefaces as well as the articles and accompanying illustrations), and weird spooky assemblages. I made a necklace once that Jo Walton couldn't sleep in the same room with (she was visiting, and the spare bed was in my workshop) until we put a cover over it. Mostly what I have called it is "wandering wire," since that gets at the asymmetrical aspects. It's wirework that has moods, and that often points at the beads and says, "This! See? See what this rock is doing?" It's fierce stuff, and often fiercely whimsical. It's easier to show it than describe it.
"What We Hold Dear"

NOAF: What led you to create art that speaks to science fiction and fantasy fans?

EM: I am one, so part of it was talking to my friends, including the friends I hadn't met yet, and part of it was talking to myself. Much of my life is inside the genre, and I'm in my head there a lot of the time too, so it makes sense that what comes out will speak to some of the fans I hang around.

When some unakite showed up with some oddly placed inclusions that were strongly reminiscent of a certain artist's style, a piece resulted called "Conversations with a Thomas Canty Angel." I've done pieces inspired by books, as well as pieces that have helped inspire books, because books are among my true homes, books in the genre especially. So is convention fandom.The tradition of fierce punning on panels at local conventions meant that pieces like "Caddis and Harmony" and "Clotho, Lachesis, and Octopus" found a good reception. Getting cackling laughs is one of the great joys of making and sharing that kind of joke.

There's a necklace I made for Lois McMaster Bujold when she asked me to put all of her award nominee pins into some kind of wearable art. Every now and then Lois shows up with the necklace and a handful of new award nominee pins for me to add. I keep joking that if she gets any more Hugo nominations, we're going to have to start adding them as fringe.

Necklace made for Lois McMaster Bujold

NOAF: Do you have a piece or grouping of pieces in your Hugo voter packet that is especially meaningful to you? Can you tell us the story behind it?

EM: There are two that are good examples of how influences braid together in what I do. The first one is the pair of earrings called "Live from the Room of the Lilies" made with Swarovski crystal, vintage lampwork glass, and sterling silver. In the info sheet that accompanies the images in the voter packet, I wrote about being inspired by the way the lines made by molten glass in the lampwork beads resembled the wall fresco in Room Delta 2 at Akrotiri, Thera, in Greece, specifically the stamens of the lilies and the birds in flight. Reading science fiction involves the delight of recognizing references and new bits of data, juxtaposing and considering them, and enjoying the expansion of comprehension. It's a rush. The best stories have the kind of worldbuilding where a small detail opens up a sudden new understanding of how these pieces fit together to make a living place, a living culture, that we see a little bit of in the course of a paragraph. That's how those lines on the vintage lampwork glass beads were, bringing me a sudden clear memory of marveling at the wall frescos in a book about the excavations. (I'd love to see them in person someday, but that's probably not in the cards.)
"Live from the Room of the Lilies"

The second is "The Doctor in Arcadia (after Poussin)", which is a stone and sterling silver pendant I made from a very large bead made of dendritic agate. It seemed to have a landscape on it, which is not unusual for dendritic agates and jaspers. This one, though, looked so familiar. I realized that it looked like the setting of a painting that's been referenced in various... hmm, rollicking conspiracy novelizations of reassembled history, I guess one could say. Before Dan Whatshisname and the Da Vinci Code, there were Baigent and Leigh with their Holy Blood, Holy Grail book, where they lined up as many mysterious correspondences and arcane possibilities as they could, and then sent it spinning like a ride at Disneyland. Poussin's painting of the shepherds of Arcadia had been reproduced in Baigent and Leigh's work, and here was a piece of rock that strongly resembled the wild setting and the ancient stone tomb, minus the shepherds of the painting. Looking at the stone, I suddenly realized that the whole thing made a lot more sense if you added the Doctor to the whole thing. So yeah, Doctor Who crossing over with any grand conspiracy yarn always makes it better, in my opinion.
"The Doctor in Arcadia"

NOAF: Convention running, editing, writing, filking, fantasy inspired jewelry (and jewelry inspired fantasy!), if it is a thing done by lovers of science fiction and fantasy, you've done it! And you've done it for a long time. How has the science fiction and fantasy community changed over the years, in your opinion? What types of events and activities are happening now that wouldn't have been possible years ago, and is there anything you miss from earlier in your career, that for whatever reason isn't possible now?

EM: How has it changed? It's a lot bigger, for one thing. A person used to be able to read most of the new books that came out in a year, and see all the movies even tentatively connected to science fiction and fantasy. And there were only a few things on TV that counted. Now there are so many worlds to discover. The material is fractal. There's endless stuff to discover no matter where you go. And it's too big for any one person to navigate. I think the role of fan friendships in our lives is bigger than ever now, because we point each other to places we might love.

This year at WisCon, which was held virtually, I got to do something I hadn't ever been able to make time for before. Since I had no dealers' room work and no Haiku Earring Party to host this year, I finally got to check out the Vid Party. It was SO GOOD. I'm going to make a point of seeking out more vids, because there are some seriously talented and passionate people making them. I'm late to the party, but delighted to finally get there!

One thing that's still true for fandom, or fandoms, or whichever way feels right for you to describe it: There's still the same joyful feeling of "Yay, here are some people who will know what I'm talking about and who will have knowledge and new thoughts to share with me!" when joining a group of fans, whether that's at a convention or in a discussion group online or on Twitter or tumblr or wherever. (Personally, I love all the text-based stuff on line because I'm hard of hearing, and it makes so much accessible to me. The internet gave me back group conversations, which are very difficult in person for me. So the fact that we live in the future, in a scientifictional future with a lot of text-based options for communication, has made my life better than I could have imagined. With the current situation, those connections are more important than ever, too. In face-to-face situations I lip-read, and masks are moving me from hard of hearing to functionally deaf... so I'm appreciating FaceTime and Jitsii and all the other options when my friends and I want to see each other's faces in a way that still protects us. I'm very high risk for COVID-19 so I'm not having much in-person contact with anyone outside my household for the foreseeable future.)

What I miss most at the moment is singing with people and laughing with people at conventions, the things that aren't safe right now. We'll see how things go. Meantime, I should probably be writing some filk, or laying down some Garage Band tracks to trade with people or something.

What else I miss is some people who aren't here any more, but that's the price of knowing wonderful people; someday you'll probably be missing some of them. There are a lot of new wonderful people around, which is a consolation. A consolation and a triumph, really, because there are so many people doing interesting work, and the field is broader and deeper than it has ever been.

"When We Rise"

NOAF: Congratulations on your funded Wandering Wire jewelry videos Kickstarter! What's this all about, and what do you hope people will get out of the videos?

EM: I love teaching people wirework and encouraging them as they discover their own style, and recently I got some strong incentive to put my lessons on video as soon as I can. (Hand and arm troubles and vision losses.) Kickstarter was the best way to get this carpe diem project going and we funded and then went on to add more. We're doing video lessons plus a mini-documentary of all the stories that don't fit in the lessons.

The intent is for the video lessons to eventually be free to anyone who wants to learn. Kickstarter backers at any level get a year of early access to each video as it is finished, and a year later it will be made available to all. I love that we can do this, and that one dollar backers and one thousand dollar backers all get the early access.

My videographer Neville also did a just-in-case Hugo awards speech-of-gratitude which the CoNZealand folks requested from all of us nominees. Eeeee! I'm looking forward to taping the lessons, because I was a little nervous for the speech but I'm never nervous when teaching, because the beads and the metal are fascinating to work with and it's not about me, so there's nothing to be nervous about. Anyhow, because of the current situation we adapted the original plan of taping a series of classes in August in Minneapolis, and now we're rearranging everything to be videos in my workshop. My Kickstarter backers overwhelmingly requested that I show my workshop in all of its fertile chaotic glory rather than unnaturally tidy (well, unnatural for me, anyhow), so the lessons will also offer cameraderie and support to other artists whose work grows in chaos, as well as a window into our world for artists who do it differently. (Let a thousand methods bloom, yah?)

NOAF: Thank you so much Elise!

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.