Monthly Archives: December 2011

Meet the Artist: An Interview with Mia Kanazawa

On Friday, December 16, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Museum Store will host the free event Meet the Artist: Mia Kanazawa. Mia’s products include puppets, ornaments, and sculptures made by felting, an ancient process of creating textiles.

Felt is one of the oldest textiles. It’s found far back in the early chapters of human history, wedged mysteriously between fashioning clothing from animal skins and primitive weaving. The textile is produced by matting, condensing, and pressing woolen fibers which can then be sculpted into countless shapes and forms.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business.
I construct, choreograph, and perform my own work. My primary medium is handmade felt, but depending on its end use, I have used paper, fabric, foam, rattan, and bamboo among others to create one-of-a-kind functional and sculptural objects. I make hand and finger puppets for retail stores such as the Portland Museum of Art’s Museum Store, as well as larger work for galleries and craft fairs. I have also made large puppets for theater, dance, and parades.

What is your favorite part of what you do?
I’ve found that I like to work in series, so I really enjoy the process of making one object, which leads to another idea, which leads to another…

What does handmade me to you?
The process of making handmade felt is a slow one. Fortunately, I enjoy the process of laying out wool fibers and manipulating them with my hands to transform these fibers into a three dimensional textile. So, for me, it is quite literally made by my hands. Me, fiber, water, and soap. Couldn’t be more direct!

What are some sources of inspiration for your work?
A friend recently described me as a “purist,” and I think what she meant is that I search for the simplest, most direct way to express an idea; whether it be in dance, or handmade felt. A recurring source of inspiration is my lifetime love of origami. It is as though the origami Masters are sitting on my shoulder asking, “Can you say it with less?”

The series that I am working on presently, and which I will bring to the Museum for my trunk show, was inspired by a pile of old stuffed animals. I began by deconstructing them–removing embellishments and features, altering their shape. I then re-felted a new skin. The resulting shape, stripped of bright colors, fake fur, and bright plastic eyes looked older, wiser, and timeless. The new shapes had an adult sense of comfort and resonance. I then continued to distill the shapes down to even more essential forms. I call this series “Old Souls.” Worn, stooped, and wrinkled, these small sculptures contain, within their skin, a lifetime of memories and affection.

For more information about Mia Kanazawa, visit

Meet the Artist: An Interview with Jennifer Nielsen

This year the Museum Store, spearheaded by manager Sally Struever, has been working hard to promote products by local artists and artisans. Not only is each product unique, but each artist who created that product has a fascinating story.

We started with trunk shows as a way for local vendors to showcase a variety of their works, not just those carried in the Museum Store. What we learned, after a few shows, was that behind the carefully crafted wares were exciting stories of inspiration. We want to share these stories with you and provide a closer look at some of Maine’s local artists in a new series called Meet the Artist.

On Friday, December 9, metalsmith Jennifer Nielsen will be at the Museum Store from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to showcase a variety of her gorgeous jewelry. We had a chance to dig a little deeper into Jennifer’s creative process and learn about her inspiration.

Tell us about yourself and your business.
True confession…I’m an art school drop out! But I knew when I left art school that I was hooked on metalsmithing and I was determined to keep educating myself about it. Through the years, I learned by apprenticing with local jewelers, attending workshops with artists whose work I admire, reading books, and practice, practice, practice! I’m glad to say that I’ve been in business for 14 years now designing custom jewelry, wedding rings, and my line of Beach Stone Jewelry.

What is your favorite part of what you do?
Well, my favorite part is that I get to call beach combing “work”! It’s definitely not the worst job I’ve ever had! Seriously though, I think what really draws me in is the making of things. The process and each step in that process that lead me to the finished piece. Being hyper focused and completely in the moment is comforting somehow and very satisfying.

What does handmade mean to you?

When I think of the word handmade, some things that come to mind are quality, connectedness, passion, and longevity.

What are some sources of inspiration for your work?
I’ve always been fascinated with geology. Here in the Portland area where I live, there is a lot going on geologically with the beautiful and varied rock formations along the coast. The Maine coast and the ocean side are huge inspirations for me.

Who is your favorite artist? (We are a museum, after all!)
Man, what kind of question is this? I’m supposed to narrow it down to ONE? Impossible! Off the top of my head, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Ansel Adams, Andrew Wyeth, Salvador Dali to name but a few.

Guilty pleasure?
Chips and dip…definitely chips and dip.

Visit to see more of Jennifer’s handcrafted jewelry.

Join us next week on Friday, December 16 for Meet the Artist with felter Mia Kanazawa. Mia will be in the Museum Store with her hand-felted puppets, ornaments, and accessories that have lots of character and make terrific gifts for kids and adults!

P.S. No admission is ever necessary to visit the Museum Store! Shop today!