Interview by Mo Ganey
Julie Mann, a native of the Philadelphia area, returned to the arts after what seemed several lifetimes in other fields, including law and engineering. Mo Ganey recently had the pleasure to interview Julie and learn about the many tools she employs to create art and how she got involved in MamaCITA.
Mo: Tell us about your art trajectory.
Julie: I’ve enjoyed making art in one form or another for as long as I can remember, but the art itself is ever-changing. As a young child, I loved whatever art projects I could get my hands on. As a teen, I spent time drawing, painting, and sculpting in an after-school art class, got my first SLR camera, and was director of set design for the school show. In college, I managed to squeeze in classes in drawing and set design and work on more theater sets. During law school, or shortly after, I took a woodworking class at PCA (now UArts) and started working in stained glass. Even when there was no time for any other art, there was my camera. When my son, now 16, was young, I took lots of photos, but produced no other art. One day, I found myself buying yarn, and a few dozen scarves later decided the time had come to reclaim my artist self. Kiln-formed glass led to precious metal clay led to metalsmithing…, and here I am.
M: When did you join MamaCITA? Has it impacted your art? What is the best part of being part of MamaCITA?
They say it’s all in the timing. MamaCITA was founded right in the midst of my transition back to making art, and I jumped right in. It was freeing to be part of a community of fellow travelers who were able to share and provide encouragement in a newly-meaningful way. Also, I had never exhibited or participated in any shows before, and I think this was true for several of the original MamaCITA members; it was somehow comforting to be doing it together.
A few years ago, I had the incredible fortune to work closely with four amazing fellow MamaCITA artists – Karen Hunter McLaughlin, Brenda Howell, Kimberly Mehler, and Janice Hayes-Cha – on One Year, a powerful art installation created to increase public awareness of the problem of senseless urban violence. One Year was conceived in 2011, and its 321 steel wire vessels (one for each 2012 Philadelphia homicide) created throughout 2012. Sadly, the January 2013 premiere followed close on the heels of the tragic shootings in Sandy Hook, just a few weeks earlier. We maintain a close connection with our One Year collaborators Mothers In Charge to this day, running monthly art workshops for the members of their grief support group.
M: Where do you do your art? What is your ideal working environment?
J: Where I work depends a lot on what I’m working on. I have a small home studio, but when I’m not doing work that is too messy or that requires access to particular tools, I prefer working in the living room, overlooking the lush green of our yard. It’s sufficiently removed from the daily hubbub, but still easily accessible. I wish the picture window opened.
M: Do you work in small pockets of time or do you need a large chunk of time? How do you structure that time?
I typically work in larger blocks of time. Once I’m on a roll, I tend to just keep going (I’ve seen daybreak more times than I care to admit). I’m frequently working on several projects at once, focusing on one project for several days or weeks, then setting it aside to mull over while working on something else entirely, later returning to the original piece, often with a fresh perspective.
M: What is your artistic medium of choice? Why that medium?
I’m not sure I’ve found it yet! But, so far metal seems to be the closest thing. Perhaps because there are so many different things one can do with it. I crave variety in my work – I take on a challenge, work through it, and then am drawn to move on. I’ve knitted one amazing alpaca sweater, sewn one men’s dress shirt from scratch without a pattern, made a couple of dresses, a pair of boots, a mosaic…. I have a longstanding relationship with glass and photography, and a growing one with metal, but even within those media I can’t stand working on the same type of project over and over. It has been suggested that successful sales requires a “brand,” and I believe I would probably do better in that regard if I had one or more series of works, but once I complete something to my satisfaction (which can take some time, as I’m somewhat of a perfectionist), I feel a pull to move on to the next thing. I’m working on that.
M: Whose work do you most relate to? In what way?
J: I especially love and am drawn to Picasso, Rodin, and Henry Moore. In particular, their exquisite use of line to evoke emotion and convey beauty and grace.
M: What is your favorite place to see art?
J: Over the years, I’ve seen some wonderful art in my travels. I love Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Chagall museum in Nice, and all the wonderful sculpture on the Champs-Elysees. I haven’t yet made it to Italy. When I was 16 or so, I was fortunate enough to visit a museum in Athens where visitors progress through the museum chronologically, starting in prehistoric times and moving forward; I found that fascinating. But I also love looking at art at festivals and craft shows, where you can handle the pieces and talk with the artists.
M: Is there something that you haven’t done yet that you would like to do creatively?
J: There are many things. I’d like to get my hands into some clay, for instance, which is something I did a bit of and very much enjoyed in high school. Printmaking, textiles – name it, I want to try it! I also think something looser and less detail-oriented would be a welcome and refreshing change.
In addition, I’d like to finish up some older projects that got abandoned along the way. I recently found, buried deep in the basement, the center piece of a three-piece coffee table I had designed about 35 years ago. One of the other two pieces had broken just before the table was completed, and the third piece has since been lost. I think it’s about time to finish that project!