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"Somewhere new, yet familiar": an interview with The Wondermakers Collective

For the Collaborative Voices folio, we needed collaborative art. Enter: The Wondermakers Collective, also known as Mindy Sue Wittock and Jenna Freimuth. Both solo artists, they combine their talents in fabric art and illustration into densely embroidered pieces, full of color, texture, and -- yes -- wonder. They recently spoke with us about how their collaboration formed and how they approach their work:

Wondermakers No. 27

Can you describe the first time you collaborated? How has your process changed since then?

M+J: We were two people who had big ideas. We attended the same college at different times and were told we should know each other by our peers and professors. So, we became friends on social media and admired each other’s work and wondered what we could make together. Initially, given our personal approach to art making, we wanted to combine Mindy’s fiber art and Jenna’s illustration. This started with Jenna drawing custom fabric and Mindy stitching characters from that fabric; both efforts representing shared childhood stories about imagination. But since we lived so far apart, we needed a common ground we could both work on and easily mail back and forth. We landed on embroidery; a perfect blend of fiber art and illustration. We still rely on imagination to determine what these abstract embroideries look like and we have discovered the art of responding intuitively to each other’s mark making. Being able to work on the same surface has allowed our collaboration to be narrative about who we are as individuals and also who we are as a collective.

Wondermakers No. 43

What does collaborating with each other allow you to do through your art that you might not otherwise do?

M+J: Since working together, we have been able to approach a broader audience and working as a team has pushed us individually into uncharted territories. We have two different art backgrounds; Mindy provides an academic understanding of galleries and workshops and Jenna provides experience in freelancing and the business side of art. What we have learned from each other has made our collaboration stronger.

M: For me, I have learned a lot about the administrative side of art by collaborating with Jenna. She has also taught me so much about the importance of branding my work and how to do daunting computer tasks I was always scared to do. Her personal work is crafted so beautifully, she sets a bar. The collaboration has pushed me to be better not only in the work we do together but in my own work too.

J: I know that I wouldn’t be working with embroidery right now if it wasn’t for my collaboration with Mindy. Working with thread as a tool for mark-making has expanded my visual language and Mindy’s contribution of contrasting colors and textures has pushed how I view color in my own work. When Mindy suggests a new direction, I get to see where it takes our work, and I benefit from working with an amazing, imaginative partner who isn’t afraid to take aesthetic risks.

Wondermakers No. 53

How does distance affect your artistic collaboration?

M+J: Starting our collaboration long distance set the stage for relying on the use of technology and the postal system. We FaceTime weekly to catch up, cover administrative work, check-off tasks, and generate goals. We schedule mailing dates to send in-progress work to one another. It is important for us to be organized and accountable to each other for this collaboration to be successful from afar. Although we don’t get the opportunity to work together side by side very often, communicating frequently has enriched our friendship and our art process, making the distance feel like a small inconvenience.

Jenna Freimuth: Cat Lady Fran

Your solo projects -- from Mother Objects and Domestic Tools to Cat Ladies in Glasses and -- delve into traditionally feminine. Can you talk about your interest in exploring these ideas through art and how that manifests in your collaborations?

M+J: Working in fibers is inherently and historically feminine, however our approach to embroidery was a factor of practicality rather than symbolically relating to women’s work. We do acknowledge the parallels to femininity in the actual process as well as the adornment and aesthetic of what we do.

M: My work directly relates to traditional feminine practices including sewing, hand stitching, and topics of motherhood, childhood and domestic work. As a visual artist, I am investigating how my own childhood memories affect the way I mother my daughter. I am interested in everyday domestic details and how those actions influence other parts of our lives. As a mother and an artist I am curious about how these identities blend together.

J: I started drawing Cat Ladies in Glasses as a way to explore pattern and costumes and grand, fantastical characters, but what developed was curious, layered, and regal portraits of powerful ladies. The feline choice reflects my adoration for cats, their ability to become beloved family members, and their vast range of personalities. The feminine aspect arrived in tandem with a variety of decorated, strong-willed, and adorned clothing, wigs, and expressions. I like to imagine my Cat Ladies as portraits of strong women and matriarchs hanging in a noble gallery hall.

Mindy Sue Wittock: Domestic Tool, Meat Tenderizer

I love how you compared building your art with the journey of Alice in Wonderland. How do you view the intersection of art and literature? How else are you inspired by other artistic forms (books, music, television?)

M+J: We both had overly imaginative childhoods and bonded over the possibility to escape reality through various art forms. With our current work, we both respond intuitively to each other’s stitches, with no roadmap of where the art is headed. Much like in Alice in Wonderland, we have to trust our gut and make decisions that lead us to somewhere new, yet familiar.

M: I have always been inspired by books since I was a kid. I loved getting lost in a story. My childhood library had this carpeted claw foot bathtub in the children’s section and I loved reading Ramona Quimby books snuggled up in there. I think reading has had a huge influence on my imagination and how I approach art making. Even now I listen and re-listen to the Harry Potter books in my studio. The escapism literature allows for is priceless. I feel the same way when I’m in my studio making art. It’s like I’m in another world and I get to make these objects that allow other people to mentally go somewhere else.

I also love music and am a big Guns n Roses fan. Anything 80’s really, but I have an undying love for Axl Rose and GNR.

J: I think there is a wonderful translation that happens when visual art is created from a story or literature and vice versa. When a story is made into a film or show, with a compelling musical score, we are given a first class ticket to escape and watch a tale, familiar or otherwise, unfold before our eyes. Symbolism in the details set design choices and musical notes deliver a tone and theme. When I get to watch some of my favorite fantastical films (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter), I am inspired to create and deliver something fantastical and layered and curious. Although my illustrations aren’t always built from a story, my approach is to hint at one that could be possible. I listen to film scores to add drama to my process and I draw costumes and portraits to build narratives anchored only by the choice of the viewer. Art and literature can work both ways; decisions made to translate stories into visual art and visual art created to inspire a story.

***

All images appear courtesy of The Wondermakers Collective. Visit their website to learn more.


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