Studio Tour: Liz Esser, Haden Designs

Last week I visited Liz Esser of Haden Designs at her shared studio space in downtown Raleigh and took photos for you to see. She will be teaching a fiber wall hanging class at Gather in downtown Cary on Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am. You can register for it here.

In the class you will create a beautiful textured wall hanging from recycled fabrics, mementos and other found objects. Inspired by the collections of things we keep, these wall hangings evolved as an idea to make art out of reuse and materials you may have saved up but didn’t know what to do with them. Here, we make functional and sentimental wall art. Students are provided with all of the tools that they need including fiber, fabrics and jewelry tools though students are encouraged to bring their own collected ephemera that they might want to incorporate as well.

I can’t remember when I first met Liz, though it was probably through participating in one of my Rock & Shop Market’s where she was selling her beautiful jewelry. Regardless, I’ve known her for a long time and we both have kids the same age so about a decade ago, when we were new moms, we were both navigating that new world of motherhood and making, and trying to grapple with what that looks like. We were brainstorming studio spaces, trying to figure out how to keep expressing ourselves through our craft, and wanting to connect with others (and ourselves) in the process.

Like myself, Liz has a lot of creative energy (as does her husband and kids, but that’s another story) that spills over into everything she does. And also like myself, she is very grounded by her home and making that space special and comforting for her family and children. Unlike me, Liz is the mom that makes the most amazing handmade costumes every year and then throws the party too.

But that natural affinity for homemaking and creating nurturing nests for our families and putting their well-being first can also create a tension too, especially when you are an artist. How to pour yourself into it all? Is it okay to “just be a mom” or an artist occasionally, or even a big picture visionary but also just a regular person who doesn’t utilize all those skills in a public-facing way? I appreciate that she understands these things intuitively. All moms understand this juggle-of-self intuitively. But also, a lot of makers who are not moms do too.

She shares her studio space with Oami Powers at Artspace in Raleigh. Oami is another friend who we’d meet up with at that same time period ten years ago, and who shares similar values of being crazy-creative and skilled in a variety of media but also just wanting a balanced life. And a balanced life for the three of us means turning things upside down and being willing to lean into less for a more fulfilled life. We each have had to go through the process (and still are) of letting go of the conventional expectations of what “being a successful artist” looks like to instead lean towards “what does a happy life look like”. It is Oami’s beautiful drawings that are in the background of these pictures. And though we didn’t know it then, I’d say we are, each of us, on a more fulfilled, if unconventional path, though as with anything, it is a daily practice and a work in progress.

Over the past few years Liz has been experimenting with more fiber and installation work and incorporating new shapes and materials into her jewelry design. She has a keen sense of color which you can get a feel from in these pictures and she always weaves together texture and color in a way that is pleasing and beautiful. She made the earrings that she is wearing and they combine recycled, vegetable-dyed leather, custom cut brass shapes and a woven, patterned element to them as well.

So through seeing her jewelry evolution, I began marinating on having her teach a larger scale class, something that incorporated these layered elements but more as a wall-hanging. It took a bit of prodding and convincing to tease out this class but I think the results are stunning and much different and cooler than I imagined them to be. Ever the self-doubting perfectionist (sounds like me – maybe you too?), she created other pieces, second-guessed them, then tossed them all out in favor of these styles (of which she created 4-5 different ones as examples).

When I asked her about her process and inspiration for these pieces she said “I was thinking about having a wall hanging that had sentimental value. We all collect things and those things have meaning behind them. I thought that instead of putting them in a drawer, the next step would be to have them out and shown. That’s how I started thinking about putting different objects into the wall hangings – kind of like a scrapbook on your wall.”

Will we see you at the class on Sunday February 23rd at 10:30am at Gather in downtown Cary? It would mean a lot to both of us and give us a shot of confidence as we lean into other facets of ourselves. Also, we’ll probably retreat back to our cozy homes right after this offering and then evolve on toward something else – so get it while you can. šŸ˜‰ Space is limited. You can register here.

Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co

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