Artist Interview: Maria Richmond of Lost Marbles

Koolkat is delighted to present the Trunk Show of Maria Richmond on Saturday, November 23rd from 10am to 5pm.  Her trunk show, full of amazing designs, is one not to be missed!

Kate McGrady, Koolkat’s owner, describes Maria in this way:  “Maria is calm and patient, meticulous and boundlessly creative. From intricate wire working to stunning glass, she always puts her best effort into every design. As a nationally known instructor, we are blessed to call her friend.” 

Maria is indeed one of the most creative, talented, hardworking, and generous-hearted people we know.  A self-taught master wire manipulator, Maria creates jewelry primarily in copper incorporating glass beads, vintage components, found objects, and industrial cast-offs (like zippers, buttons, pen quills, twinkle light bulbs…), as well as Czech glass. She continually amazes us with her ability to transform the common into the uncommon.  Her natural ability, her imagination, and impeccable craftsmanship combine to create truly one-of-a-kind pieces that function both as jewelry and works of art.  Her work is museum quality, yet still affordable.  She is one of Koolkat’s most sought-after artists, for both her creations and her classes.  Maria is a local metalwork instructor, as well as instructor with Bead&Button Show (the largest consumer bead show in the world) and Bead Fest, teaching her classes and selling her jewelry kits throughout the US.

Learn more about Maria in our artist interview below.  You will learn all sorts of fascinated things, like who her favorite artist is, what book she is reading now, and what a favorite movie is.  The answer to the last one will bring a smile to your face.

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Please introduce yourself.
Hi, I’m Maria Richmond. I’m a full time jewelry designer and instructor. Though it’s changed focus over the years, I’ve owned my own business since 1999. I love the freedom I have as a business owner and am completely spoiled by not having to work a conventional 9-5 job. I’m able to create when I’m most inspired and not controlled by a work week grind.

How did Lost Marbles come to be and how has it evolved?
I began making and selling wire and glass garden ornaments when I was the director of a horticulture therapy program in eastern Pennsylvania. I bought marbles 100 pounds at a time and had them delivered to my job site. Co-workers joked that I lost my marbles so frequently, I had to buy them in bulk. The name stuck.

I went from selling ornaments to friends and co-workers to selling them at Philadelphia Buyers Market of American Craft. The business became so successful that I quit my full-time job to keep up with the demands of my ornament business. My primary customers became galleries, gift shops and garden centers. For a couple of years, business was very good. Unfortunately, demand tapered-off when the large chain stores began offering cheap overseas knock-offs below my wholesale price. So, I began making and selling my own glass beads at bead shows around the country. It was a natural progression for me to make jewelry. I’ve been working with wire again for the past several years, so I guess I have come full circle.

Since then, I’ve worked to increase my skill level and the number and kind of jewelry pieces I offer. I’ve also tried to simplify my teaching methods to better reach my students. I love what I do and hope it shows in my classes and jewelry pieces.

Describe your studio/working space for us.
My studio is bursting at the seams, which is to say I have far more supplies in my 10×15 room than it really holds. Being a visual person, I have most of my beads, wire and tools hanging on the wall, so it’s easy to see what I have. I have a large counter-height work bench with a chair that I use for fabrication. I have comfortable armless upholstered chairs to use for wire-wrapping and stringing. The room is generally occupied by any number of pets who will take my work space as soon as I make a move to get a strand of beads. They make getting anything done interesting.

Is your area of Pittsburgh supportive of artists? If so, in what ways?
I moved to Pittsburgh from Tampa in late 2007. I’ve found that Pittsburgh is far more supportive of the arts than Tampa. The sense of community among artists is much stronger and the following that artists receive by the general community is much better. Getting involved in Koolkats when I did made all the difference in the world to me.  I recently moved to Aliquippa, and while I haven’t found an arts community here, I’m delighted to have my own home. I’ve been able to set up a truly dedicated studio space, which wasn’t really practical in the house I previously rented.

What is your process like when you’re designing/creating a new item/piece of art?
Depending on the design, I usually play with wire until I’m happy with a shape, then pull out multiple strands or bags of beads to find just the perfect bead. Then I change my mind half a dozen times. Sometimes, I land on the right thing early on, other times it’s more a process of trial and error. If it’s a project I intend to teach, I take notes while working through it a few times so the tutorial-writing process flows better. I tend to make revisions of both the project and the tutorial itself many times before I’m happy with them.

What is your favorite part of your arts process?
I love to see a piece nearing completion. When I’ve applied the patina and begin to polish the piece to bring out the highlights, sometimes discover I like it even more than I expected.

Do you have a favorite tool?
I’m such a tool junkie. I have multiple favorites. For wireworking, my set of Wubbers pliers is irreplaceable. For polishing, I use a Dremel with a brass wheel. I also have a pair of antique channel locking pliers that I couldn’t live without…they allow me to change those polishing wheels without having to track down the wrench that I lost.

Do you ever suffer from artist block? How do you get through it?
When I suffer from artist’s block, I usually spend some time doing something unrelated to wire. I might work with seed beads or read, or spend time online looking at other forms of art. Sometimes, it just helps to take a break and relax.

What was the first thing you ever sold?
I sold earrings and bracelets in high school for extra spending money. I’m sure they were quite rudimentary, but my friends liked them, and I found that inspiring.

Who is your favorite artist living or deceased? What is it about their work that resonates with you?
If I have to narrow it down to just one, I think Philadelphia mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar would have to be my favorite. I love that he uses such variety of materials, particularly glass in every form imaginable to completely transform urban spaces. He involves community members in this transformation as well, which gives an accessibility that many other installation artists don’t have.

Sometimes handcrafted objects cost more than their mass-produced counterparts. Why is the difference worth the price?
Creating art is a need for most artists. When an artist creates an object, he or she incorporates a part of themselves into piece. I think the imagination, the drive, and the energy each artist uses to create an object gives that object a soul you’ll never find in a mass-produced item. Unfortunately for most of us, that need to create is coupled with the need to make a living. When you support artists, you nurture that need as well as help to provide them with a paycheck. When you purchase something mass-produced, you’re just feeding the machine of some big corporation that may or may not pay its workers fairly.

Tell us about the handmade object that you cherish the most.
I have a stained glass panel my dad made for me years ago that is currently hanging on my back porch. It is because he made it that I cherish it so much.

How did you first become involved with Koolkat Designs?
I met beaded jewelry artist Olga Mihaylova at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in 2008. She liked the beads that I made and encouraged me to bring some of my work in to Koolkat Designs for Kate to see. Kate must have liked it because she invited me to bring work in to sell. I also helped in the shop on a weekly basis. Though I only fill in when I can now, I’m still lurking about…they just can’t seem to shake me. In all seriousness, I taught a number of classes at Koolkats as well, which really helped me to get started on the path I’m currently on. I doubt that would have happened if I hadn’t gotten involved. I’d probably be stuck in a cubicle somewhere…

What is your favorite thing about Koolkat Designs?
While the sales opportunity provided by Koolkats is wonderful, I think the relationships I’ve formed with my fellow Koolkat artists are my favorite thing. It’s such a diverse group, yet the encouragement, interaction and feedback we share are truly priceless. It’s like being part of a family without all the baggage that some families have, lol!

You travel for Bead & Button and other bead shows. What is Bead & Button? How has it affected your path?
Bead and Button is the world’s largest indoor bead show, held annually at the beginning of June, in Milwaukee, WI. I was terrified to apply, but with some encouragement from Koolkats folks as well as friends and family I did. Being accepted to teach there last year as well as at the Bead Fest  shows around the country gave me the opportunity to teach to larger audiences. I’ve taught in Santa Fe, Milwaukee, Arlington, TX as well as Philadelphia. I’ve developed the self-confidence I need to help other people improve their jewelry-making skills.

As someone who also teaches, what is your favorite part about teaching your art?
I think my favorite part about teaching is the sense of accomplishment I see in my students when they’ve finished a piece and put it on. They may come into class skeptical of their own abilities and they leave with a finished piece, having added to their skill set as well as their level of self-confidence. As an instructor, I can’t ask for more. [Maria currently teaches locally at Bidelia’s Bead Boutique and Allegory Gallery.]

What advice would you have for someone hoping to take their work from hobby to business?
Competition is stiff among jewelry makers. To stand out, I would recommend to a potential business person that they develop their own unique style and pay close attention to the quality of their work. Also, it would be a great idea to learn some basic business skills to make the bookkeeping end of the business easier.

Favorite book? movie?
I enjoy reading, so I guess my favorite book is the one I’m reading right now, which is 11/22/63 by Stephen King, and my favorite movie is Monsters, Inc.