Taylor Hadley interviews Victoria Tane and Amee K. Sweet McNamara about their artistic collaborations.
New Hampshire based artists Victoria Tane and Amee K. Sweet McNamara have been friends and neighbors since they met in 2003. Both women are jewelers with largely different styles, yet somehow their friendship has led to years of artistic collaboration.
Victoria, owner of the upcycled jewelry business, Victoria Tane Studios, and Amee, owner of the soutache embroidery business, Amee Runs with Scissors, have spent 11 years sharing design ideas, and recently the two artists have made it a point to get together for what they affectionately refer to as monthly “play dates”.
I had the opportunity to speak with Victoria and Amee about what this time means to both of them. My initial research about successful artist collaboration was difficult to find, and ultimately proved to be rare among artists. For that reason, I was amazed at the insight these women shared about their ability to communicate and collaborate.
Q: What is it that you derive from being in each other’s company?
Victoria: What I derive from being in Amee’s company is a sense of freedom, encouragement and acceptance. I tend to be tool phobic – and rather than laugh at me she reads the directions and shows me how to use it. I have been known to use the handle part of a cutter rather than the blade. I can be my most inept self around Amee and know that she accepts me and respects my process. She has been known to say about me, “You find the pony in the pile of poop.” She also inspires me to look at materials in a different way. Her vision is very textile oriented and mine is very found- object oriented.
Amee: Oh, gosh – so much; support, inspiration, validation. I suppose that – within the context of creative work – I feel that we provide each other an absolutely “safe” place within which to create. For me, Creativity is in and of itself a risky thing – there is always a low-grade, underlying fear of failure, of discovering that I’ve wasted significant, precious time producing dreck, I actually do most of my “experimenting” in private and only display the results when they turn out well. Working with Victoria is the exception to the rule – when she and I work together, I feel unselfconscious about noodling around with things, easily and quickly trying and discarding ideas and concepts without feeling judged or censored in any way.
Q: There are so many jewelers out there, and in a way you’re all in competition with each other. How do you forge a friendship and a collaborative spirit without feeling threatened or defensive about what you do?
Victoria: Amee and I have enormous respect for each other’s vision and process. Amee has an infinite eye and hand for detail, and the patience to execute these elaborate pieces of textile jewelry. I am in awe of her ability, but I am unlikely to take up a needle and thread any time soon in the creation of my jewelry and art. And if I do, the scale of it would be significantly larger than Amee’s, and the materials would differ so greatly that the only thing in common would be the technique. We both feel secure about what we bring to the table, and our relationship is predicated on trust – which eliminates any fear that one of us will infringe on the other’s business. In the immortal words of the children’s song by Raffi, “It’s mine but you can have some, with you I’d like to share it.”
Amee: True collaborative work is simply not for the faint-of-heart, selfish or insecure. Contributors must be confident in the strength, salability and quality of their own work. And both parties must be good communicators, comfortable voicing opinions and concerns in a productive and supportive manner. In a collaboration, there is simply no room for what I think of as “The Scarcity Mentality,” or the idea that there is not enough to go around, so you have to hold on.
Q: What motivates you?
Victoria: I am inspired and motivated to look at the random spectrum of human endeavors that I find at the flea market — anything from old sewing notions to metal vessels, electrical cords, old tools, furniture, vintage fabric, broken costume jewelry– the list goes on and on. My husband is also an artist and is in the process of creating steam punk art, which is a fusion of the Industrial Revolution and science fiction. So we look at the macro and the micro together.
Amee: Color, plain and simple. My work is almost 100% color-driven. Metals, wire and findings are very much secondary to my work. I will get a taste for a certain color-combination and work in it until I feel satiated. Then I move on.
Q: Two people can look at the same thing and see a whole other way of using it. When you look at say, a button, how would you use it?
Victoria: Amee would probably attach it to a piece of Ultrasuede, soutache around the button while incorporating smaller beads and elements within the soutache and finish the piece by edge beading around it. She might then use the finished component as one piece in a pair of earrings or integrate into a cuff or a more elaborate necklace.
Amee: Give Victoria an item and her brain immediately starts working out how to attach it, string it, hang it, or integrate it into a piece using dissimilar elements.
Q: Respect is obviously a huge part of sharing and collaborating. The exchange of ideas can be great for both artists, but how do you accept criticism as constructive rather than letting “This might work better” halt your process?
Victoria: Again, trust is key in collaboration. Not all people collaborate well. Basically when I’m with Amee, it’s more of a time to experiment. It’s “what if, we could, how about, let’s swap this out or try this.” We’re not looking to create finished products. And sometimes I might have a strong opinion and I’ll say, “Amee that’s way over the top”. And she’ll say, “I like it. Just let me finish it.” But there’s no anger just a gentle reminder as I tend to be the more judgmental one.
Amee: Excellent communications skills mixed with a genuine love of your collaborator results in constructive criticism that comes from a true desire to see your friend succeed. It takes compassion to give it gently and trust to receive it openly but – if you’re fortunate enough to have that dynamic with someone, any discomfort you feel in the process is minimal and easily dismissed.
Q: What are some memorable inspirations that each of you have come away with after one of your “play dates”?
Victoria: Amee taught me a new polymer clay technique which I used to make a button in a jewelry commission. She also introduced me to Soutache 101 from which I created a necklace out of a single earring. Amee is fearless about color as well, and has nudged me out of my default to neutral palettes. She is incredibly intuitive and understands my process like no one else.
Amee: I usually walk away with new ideas and fresh perspectives. The time I spend with Victoria is more like a creative palate-cleanser; the day-to-day stuff about marketing, pay-roll, travel-plans, and lesson-plans – this is all back-burnered and for the space of a day – I immerse myself in pure possibility which always fuels later creativity. At one point, Victoria showed me a necklace she had made of braided telephone wire with components hanging off of it. None of the materials were things I would incorporate into my own work but the proportions intrigued me. Not long after, I decided to learn how to make Kumihimo braid out of soutache and began suspending soutache components from that. I know that this was a natural outcome of the back-and-forth sharing in which Victoria and I regularly engage.
Q: What makes it so memorable? The materials, the process that led you there?
Victoria: For me what makes it so memorable is that, I, the mentor, have now become the mentored. Amee is fluent in so many different techniques and media — polymer clay, beading, textiles, glass bead making, graphic design and painting — that to be in her company there’s always an opportunity to learn something new, and to look at old elements with a fresh perspective.
Amee: A lot of it is just the relationship. While we’re working/creating, we’re also talking about all kinds of things. We tell stories, we laugh our asses off and sometimes we cry. We care deeply about one another, trust each other and feel safe in one another’s presence. The friendship is a living, growing thing. The jewelry/creative/artist connection is just the trellis that supports the vine.
Taylor Hadley is a Public Relations student at Loyola University Maryland, and has worked with Victoria Tane Studios since 2010.