Talking with Mary Hettmansberger

Talking with Mary Hettmansberger

Episode #176

Today I talk with multi-fiber artist and author, Mary Hettmansberger.

We chatted about how she creates in the studio, and what’s she is up to next, plus you have to hear the story about the spelling of her last name.

I was laughing so hard my sides hurt!

Plus book and app reviews, and the latest news from the CRAFTCAST Studio.

xo Alison


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Interview transcript

Transcription of Interview with Mary Hettmansberger

Alison Lee:: Well, I’m already laughing talking to my next guest here and that’s because she’s going to say her last name again for me and very funny story, Mary H. We’re calling her Mary H. for right now but let me tell you something. She’s a fiber and jewelry artist. You know who she is, and she teaches around the world. She has four books, the first one ‘Mixed Metal Jewelry Workshop: Combining Sheet, Clay Mesh Wire and More’, ‘Wrap Stich Fold and Rived’, I love that one. ‘Fabulous woven Jewelry’, and then her new book which I totally, totally adore, not kidding at all, I love it. It’s called ‘Heat, Color, Set, and Fire: Surface Effects for Metal Jewelry’. It’s totally fabulous. Ok Mary, say your last name now.

Mary Hettmansberger:: Hettmansberger

Alison:: Yes, baby!!! Oh welcome, welcome, welcome.

Mary:: Thank you

Alison:: Well, tell everyone this story that you just told me because that’s just too cute for words. I was just going to say, I was going over how to say Mary’s name correctly and she said well wait a minute. Now tell everyone what you just told me because I love this.

Mary:: Well, I was actually married for probably a good I don’t know, for five weeks before my husband told us, ‘Oh by the way there is no B in our last name. It’s not Hettmansberger, its Hettmansperger. We didn’t know each other that well so that’s a whole other story.

Alison:: That’s a whole other story but the good news is you have been married for 30 some odd years so it worked out regardless of the B or the P or the S or anything like that.

Mary:: Right. And I couldn’t even tell you how I’ve been married either so there you go. Obviously, I’m not paying attention enough.

Alison:: There are some details that aren’t quite as important as we think.

Mary:: I guess. I guess.

Alison:: Totally how it is. I adore that. Don’t really know how to spell the name but whatever. I love you, honey, that’s what you say.

Mary:: There you go.

Alison:: Well, I have to tell you, and this is totally true. I love your new book. This is my sign when I know how I love someone’s new book, one of the crafty people, is that it comes into bed at night with me. No pun intended there at all. But I like to crawl in, I want to look through it because I’m like, I really want to study it. I don’t want to put it down. I’m going through every page. It is chock-full of friggin fun, interesting information. You did good.

Mary:: Well, thank you. I actually have had people tell me that. And I don’t even know how to take it because they say, oh you know what? Your book goes to bed with me at night and it puts me asleep at night. And I think oh it’s that exciting is it.

Alison:: It is a compliment. It is a compliment because you want to look through and what happens is you start; you are looking at a picture like I am right now, and you start reading and then you start to sort of daydreaming thinking how you want to use it and then hopefully you do fall asleep so it’s all [inaudible]. It is a good thing. I only mean it that way, 100%. Well, let me just ask you first because we are already talking about the book and then I’ll go backwards but I was loving some of these frigging textures. Do you sit around like a little chemist in your studio and just say, let me pour this on and heat it and see what happens?

Mary:: Sometimes. I think for me its really about play. It’s really about experimenting. Most of the stuff, I mean most of my work from the beginning as you can see from all four books, I just really do experiment. I had a student one time that I got a big kick out of it. After three days of being in a weeklong class with me, she came out and she goes, so basically you just make everything up. And I said well kind of. I mean I think I have a very different background and so I started from {inaudible} and from basket weaving.

Alison:: Ok, good. Let’s hear that.

Mary:: So, I think my approach has been different I’ve learned to either stitch things together rather than solder them. I’ve learned to use a lot of [inaudible] connections. I think that I’ve tried to keep everything very simple. I don’t teach any classes where we use a saw.

Alison:: Oh, you don’t?

Mary:: No. So everything is done really, really easily. So, when I found something that might work that is interesting in a texture or [inaudible] then I kind of push it and see what else I can do with it. And of course, I do it outdoors where I have good license. I do actually kind of just play with things.

Alison:: Well, I can see that. But also, in there, because I can see you have a combination. For people who are not familiar with Mary’s work, she does eclectic putting together of everything. It’s a combo platter but done in a beautiful way so it has a beautiful design to it. Which is the next thing you have to add into it. But there are so many, it’s very freeform and very engaging.

Mary:: Thank you. I really feel like my favorite pieces are the ones that are very spontaneous, that I didn’t plan out. I also like it when a piece doesn’t go as I thought it would.

Alison:: You do? Ok. See most people don’t like that.

Mary:: I love it because all of a sudden, I have to think differently. And when I start thinking differently, then I really start exploring things, and then what happens is I discover something. Because I’m not thinking in the same mindset if I know it’s going to work out. So, the minute something goes wrong it’s like how I can fix this. And I’ve told students over the years that I really don’t ever throw anything away or toss it or call it crap. What I will do, I’ll try to take that new sort of road that I’m on now and try to fix it or try to go with that direction or I will actually just put it aside and then come back and visit it. And I’m just amazed what I’ve learned from pieces that don’t necessarily go exactly the way I thought they were going to go.

Alison:: That is so good information for people because a lot of people just immediately abandon something because they think it didn’t come out, quote-unquote perfect.

Mary:: And I love it, actually they end up realizing the value of that when it happens in class when somebody says, aww man I just ruined this. And I’ll go no, no wait. Let’s think of all the things we can do to fix it or to make it different or to change direction in it. And I think that’s what truly being a studio artist is all about. It’s taking time in that studio to kind of go in all those different directions that sort of your artwork leads you.

Alison:: Well, it is giving yourself the freedom to follow down a bath instead of abandoning before too early.

Mary:: Right.

Alison:: But now as a teacher because you see that’s just telling people play, be free and try something new. That’s difficult. I find for certain people you know is that but wait, show me exactly what I’m supposed to do. So how do you approach that when you are teaching people?

Mary:: Well, when we run a [inaudible] in a classroom situation or if a student is trying to work out their own design and asking me for help, what I usually try to do is give them sort of a laundry list of alternatives of what they could do and then say and sort of feed off what they are trying to do and say well you could do this, and I think that helps them look at the different alternatives or even do a combination of several things. I have a hard time not giving them ideas and sometimes I feel like, [makes sound] should I be, or should I not be because I don’t want to direct their creativity, but I do feel like that’s what a workshop is about is to at least to.

Alison:: Ignite.

Mary:: Yes. And I love that. I mean that’s when I’m the most engaged in a workshop when there are a thousand different things going on in the class and I’m able to just like oh, this looks [inaudible] and oh you could do this. And it keeps my mind going and everybody’s work is all different then.

Alison:: Yes. That’s your most passionate place when that’s going on?

Mary:: Oh totally, totally.

Alison:: Why do you think that is? What part is that that makes? Because I know what you are talking about. Can you put words when that’s happening what that is? It’s just the possibility of something new?

Mary:: Well, I think that and I think for me it’s just that budding and that sense of creativity that’s happening right before your eyes and there’s nothing to me more stimulating than that. I do that on my own in my studio but to get 20 people having that experience, I just think that it’s just priceless.

Alison:: It’s a high.

Mary:: It’s a high. It’s a priceless high. It really is.

Alison:: Yes. I agree with you. It is really fun. Well now let just back up a little bit here because I’m staring at your pictures. I looked at some of your work and I think it reminds me of little paintings. It’s interesting though, you said your background is fiber and baskets and all that type of work.

Mary:: Well, it is. I think it’s a lot of textural quality to my work. I think that’s what I’m drawn to. But I also think that a lot of the, like you said maybe the paintings, the small designs. I think it all sort of fits in that. Quilting and textiles and basketry. All of those sorts of, I don’t know the sort of I think sort of blend together for me.

Alison:: Yes. Well, it’s the textures and the colors [inaudible] fabulous.

Mary:: Well, thank you. I think the colors actually stretch for me. This book was a bit more of a stretch as far as you know adding color and actually embracing it and trying to go with it. I’m really happy with this book. I’m really happy with the results of it, I really am.

Alison:: Oh, good. Because you should be. It looks good.

Mary:: Well, thank you.

Alison:: Now, do you mostly work in, like do you? Like your metals, you don’t consider yourself, or are you also a trained, traditionally trained metalsmith?

Mary:: No. Totally not. In fact [inaudible], if you are expecting me to be a brilliant metalsmith you are so in the wrong class. Because I’m not and I used to feel really bad about that. I used to feel like somehow if I’m going to teach a class that’s metalwork, you know I should have that background. And I’ve actually taken a few courses myself and I went to a local college and got some metalsmithing classes but I keep going back to what I’ve discovered and what [inaudible] and what is more my work. And even though ok now I know how to solder, and I know how to use a saw and I know how to do all those things, I still don’t teach that because that’s really not me. [Inaudible] who has made their signature work and their signature teaching from those techniques are far more and [inaudible] more developed and far more capable of teaching other people to do that. I’m really good at just simple stitching and textures and fun things and spontaneous work. And I just feel like I’m better at that.

Alison:: But you see that’s so good for people to hear because you just instead of feeling guilty or bad about yourself because you didn’t know the exact metalsmith, you just said no. What I know is this and you feature that. That’s the ultimate finding and branding yourself.

Mary:: Well and I also think that’s my comfort zone. I mean when I get into techniques that I’m not comfortable with it’s hard for me to say Ok, this is how you do it. Oh, I just made a mistake. Because I’m not that skilled at some of the hardcore metal techniques. I’m just not that skilled.

Alison:: I’m laughing because I’m remembering. I saw you giving a demo with Chris Darway then the two of you. And then of course Chris is the exact opposite of that. And Chris was doing one thing, measuring to a hair’s bush of an ant and then you would be like, I don’t know I just cut it.

Mary:: Yes. He’s so brilliant.

Alison:: Oh, it was a great combo the two of you.

Mary:: Oh, I have such an appreciation for him, and you know Tim [Inaudible. I teach with a man named Tom McCarthy and he is just brilliant. We’ve taught a couple of classes together he’s just brilliant. And we had so much fun because it will be just like that. I mean the whole class is him showing something so precise and you know there are so many students that need that precision and need that [inaudible]. And then mind’s totally the opposite. And I really like actually how you can learn from both. You can definitely learn from it, I think.

Alison:: I agree. I mean you did something, what was it. Chris was showing and measuring with [inaudible] and you came over and just plopped down I think a wrapper for a chocolate Kiss and just went for it. And it was the perfect contrast of one way to do things and another way to do things and it was great. And they are both correct, you know. It’s just picking what’s speaks to you. But your design eye comes through and that’s also something that’s very important. Do you believe having talked to many people you can train a design eye, but you have gotten, where did you get your sense of design do you think? Your appreciation of that?

Mary:: Well, I think it’s kind of been always in me. My father was an incredibly talented artist. And he did bird carving, and he had a real sense of color and depth and he’s just very [inaudible]. We have several artists in our family. I think from a very young age, I was always doing artwork. So, if I was in a restaurant and there was a paper, place mate. I was writing on it. And that’s just the way I was. I always have been that way. I always have, in fact, I’ve often said that if I was stranded on a desert island and I was given the option of a full metalworking studio or fiber studio or sewing or whatever or basketry supplies, whatever the options were or a pencil and paper, I’d have to have a pencil and paper. Because I definitely have to be drawing and documenting and I love drawing, I love writing my thoughts down. I think my thoughts I don’t know, maybe all of that plays into my designing. I’m constantly thinking about shapes and colors and you know just the whole. I love architecture, all that kind of stuff. I find that it really, it plays into it daily for me.

Alison:: Right. So, when you take a nice quiet walk in the woods, your brain is really saying, look at those colors, oh look at that texture. Oh, what is happening over there?

Mary:: Yes. And I am picking up stuff. And my pockets are getting fuller.

Alison:: Oh, I want to take a walk with you. I love that kind of thing. It’s great. I mean see you are constantly being inspired. You don’t have to think, or do you have to say all of a sudden, you know I need some inspiration, I’m going to go do whatever?

Mary:: Occasionally I do. I think for me my inspiration is really going into my studio and a lot of times if I’m having like a, and I don’t usually have a lack of direction. What I have is maybe a stagnant place where I feel like I’m making sort of the same thing over and over again. Even though they’re all a little bit different, I feel like the designs are somewhat the same. So, for me, it’s just about taking parts and pieces and bits in my studio and just start to play with them and stack them up and look at them, and then all of a sudden you know I’ve got 15 ideas. It just amazes me how quickly they do come for me.

Alison:: Yes, but it’s getting through that, I think. Don’t you think the initial energy block just like you said? OK. I want to do a new direction so start playing.

Mary:: Yes. And that’s the biggest thing is to start playing. I mean I think people can really overthink it and I also feel that when it comes to materials, they sort of have a direction or mind of their own and they’re also pretty unpredictable. Even though you know you can say something to get this exact shape. The way that I handle my materials, I really let them have a lot of the say in the piece. So, I will allow my materials to sort of, I’ll attach [no sound] with that. I let it happen. I don’t fight it or try to make it perfect. And what I found is that I like my work better that way. When I overthink it, I just get nervous about it, and then I really don’t enjoy it as much.

Alison:: Do you like put it away? Like if you start overthinking do you say I’m putting this aside till another day?

Mary:: I do. I do. It was interesting. I was invited to be in a book that had 30 artists and we were all given the same materials and then we had a wild card or wild card material. And when we got the list of who was going to be in this book it totally intimidated me. And I actually had a conversation with Robert [Inaudible] and he said he felt exactly the same way and he was, we both [inaudible] a sense of oh my gosh, what are we doing in this book? And then what I did was I literally had to just take the list, forget about it, put it aside and I kept trying. It was almost like I kept trying to be or to do something that I usually don’t do. Because I was trying to be.

Alison:: Something you’re not.

Mary:: Yes. [Inaudible] really impress everybody and do something [inaudible]. Well, what I ended up doing it was me and then, in the end, it was a sign piece. It worked out just fine. But I kind of psyched myself out. I mean initially, I was really intimidated. So, I think that it was a really good lesson for me to just not, just do what you know and keep doing what you are doing, and you’ll enjoy it.

Alison:: And that’s a really good story to have shared because that happens to everyone. I mean it’s that mind game that says [makes sounds], you don’t know what you are doing.

Mary:: Well, I also think it’s looking at other people’s work and saying, oh I love that work. Well, that’s fine but that’s their work. So, I try, I really try sincerely to keep blinders on when it comes to my designs to try to keep my designs, my designs. And I think all influence, that’s just the way it is. We’re always going to be influenced by different things that are going on or by designs and trends or whatever. But I really try to be true to my own designs and my own work and I mean it’s tough. Everybody knows that’s probably one of the toughest things in this industry. I really, really strive for that.

Alison:: And it shows. You know you must see it through when people take your workshop, I know. Even perusing your books, I was trained as a metalsmith in a classic way so for me to look at taking a totally different direction. It was like, wait a minute here and then start following, doing similar pieces until you have your own arsenal of ideas and tools and ways to work.

What people are saying

  • Your classes are just amazing and I have learned sooo much from Cindy Pope’s classes on the Silhouette machines. She breaks it down so any beginner can learn. I didn’t take my Curio out of the box for a year until I watched her class. Now I’m addicted

    Beth B
  • Thank you for the informational class last night, and for the notes, it looks like a great product to work with. Best Wishes,

  • You are a truly generous soul to share so much with the community. I am constantly impressed by the extra effort you put into everything you do. A true inspiration. 

    Bridget D.