Inspired by architecture, ancient mosaics and historical jewelry, Maggie Meister’s museum quality beadwork includes structural components and gemstone accents that look impossible to recreate. But Maggie’s unique approach to building her pieces breaks the complexity down into stitches many beaders already know, then combines the components into robust reflections of the pieces of history that prompt them.
What is your earliest memory of beads? Was that the beginning of your slippery slope into making your own beaded creations?
My earliest memory of beads is playing with Mardi Gras beads sent to me from my aunt in New Orleans. At that time, all the beads were glass and made in Czechoslovakia. I loved wearing them and wish I had saved them.
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Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity is a skill that people can learn without a judgmental attitude that is often learned when we are young such as: I can’t draw, I can’t paint, etc.
What inspires your work? What is the most unusual thing that has inspired one of your pieces? Does your work tell stories?
History, architecture, ancient mosaics and frescoes along with historical jewelry pieces inspire me. My work is a memory for me of something I have seen or learned through history.
Do you have a favorite beadweaving stitch? Or is that like asking which child is your favorite?
I have two favorite stitches – Brick Stitch and Cubic Right Angle Weave.
For someone trying beadweaving for the first time, what stitch do you recommend to begin?
This may sound crazy but I think Right Angle Weave should be a first stitch before you have any preconceived notions of thread paths and bead placement. After that the other stitches come naturally.
Tell us about your time living in Naples. Was it what you expected? Why that part of Italy, and how did the location influence your work? How have other parts of the world inspired you?
Living in Naples, Italy, changed my life and I would still be there if I could. My husband was transferred there for work. It was not what I expected – I expected something like a city in Tuscany. That is not Naples – it is crowded and dirty but it is the most beautiful setting in all of Italy. I learned to love the city, but looking at the city bit by bit and you see the architecture and ancient history everywhere. The people are the best – fun loving, great friends for life and they can cook! It also has more ancient sites in its region than any other country in the world.
It changed the way I looked at beading. If you look at a mosaic, they are like tiny beads and that was my first point of inspiration. Also, the ancient gold granulated jewelry looks very much like tiny seed beads.
When I travel now, I look at things differently and always look at the art, textiles, architecture and the culture of that country’s population
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I really have no idea if or what makes my work stand out if it even does.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I get an idea and unfortunately cannot sketch. Sometimes I will plan it out in Illustrator, but it always changes. Then I build the components and designs as if I was working with Legos. Stitches are my pencil.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your pieces? How does a new work come about?
I have recently completed a piece called La Cupola. It was inspired by the dome cupolas found in many of the churches in Italy. I really try to think what stitch will give me the structure of the first component and then just play. Often I have cubic zirconias or crystals that I want to incorporate into the piece. I am now into tassels, so I used the technique for this necklace – or it can be made as a tassel for home décor.
What is the greatest takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, Classical Elegance?
I just hope they enjoy making the projects and become inspired to create their own designs using a variety of stitches.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process? How do you store your supplies and teeny tiny beads?
Unfortunately I am not the most organized person in the world, but I am constantly trying. Recently I changed my studio design by hanging tubes of beads on the wall separated by different sizes and color ways. I feel like I finally can see my inventory. I also use clear acrylic sweater drawers and shoe drawers to store beads, fabrics, tools.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Beading thread and a variety of beading needle sizes with a nice variety of cylinder beads, size 11 rounds & size 15 rounds. I also need to have a variety of crystals, stones and objects from travel that I can use in design. And I like to use a good pair of small scissors and good lighting.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
No, however I plan on using this covid lockdown time to studying how to draw. I do take many photos while traveling (and most do not have people in them) and refer to them along with internet research.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I love crime dramas and mysteries, so when I create components that are constant repeats, I watch my favorite British and Scandinavian shows. If I am designing or working on instructions, I listen to music.
When you travel, do you create while on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
No, I hate flying so I usually spend my time worrying. However, I have learned to crochet and find that it relaxes me on flights.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I basically teach workshops at bead shops all over the US and Europe. However, with the pandemic, I now do just a few zoom virtual classes.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website has some patterns for sale, and I post new workshops. I hope to be adding to patterns in the future, particularly earrings and some new cuffs. I just hope that people are inspired to find their own source of inspiration by strolling through my site and seeing what inspires me.
If we were to visit your studio today, what would we find you working on?
A redo of a past pattern that will become a kit and a new necklace design inspired by inlaid marble floors. I also hope to start to do boxes along with working on mosaics – particularly micro mosaics.
Interview posted January 2020
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