Maker's Mark

Originally published in 

San Francisco philanthropist Ann Hatch has long dedicated herself to the making of artful objects.

Philanthropist and Workshop Residence founder Ann Hatch

In the 1980s she founded the Capp Street Project, an arts residency in a Mission district home; in 1997 she cofounded the Oxbow School, an arts program for high school students, in Napa, California. But her most recent project may be her most inclusive. For the Workshop Residence, launched in August 2011, Hatch invites a single designer, artisan, or maker to reside for one to two months in an apartment in an 1860s Victorian building in the industrial Dogpatch neighborhood. During that time, the resident is expected to create and produce limited editions of useful, affordable design objects, which Hatch sells downstairs in the Workshop’s studio-store. Each resident is provided with a production budget and honorarium to make what they like, and program director Braden Weeks Earp corrals Bay Area fabricators to manufacture their work. “Designers and artisans get the chance to try something new,” Hatch says, while local manufacturers get the opportunity to make unusual, artful objects.

Interior of Workshop Residence in San Francisco

This past spring, Hatch invited California College of the Arts graphic design professor Jennifer Morla to create textiles.

What inspired you to start the Workshop Residence?

I thought I’d bring the making spirit back to manufacturers in San Francisco. My focus has always been to bring artists to a home base­—a residency from which they can operate and engage with a community. At the Workshop, residents will perhaps find ways to revive industries that are lying fallow in this area and discover new ways of using their tools.

How do you work with designers and artisans?

I choose residents, but they decide what to do. They make loose proposals so we know generally what they will create but not how they will do it. With designer Jennifer Morla, we knew it would be carpets. With J. D. Beltran and Scott Minneman, we knew they would do something with snow globes, and we knew Ann Hamilton would make felt coats. That’s all. There is absolutely no limit to the subject matter. I want there to be an “I-didn’t-expect-that-from-this-artist” element.

Fall 2010 turquoise cups and saucers by Dirk van Saene

During his residency last August, Belgian fashion designer Dirk van Saene made Flintstones-esque Wilma cups and saucers, priced from $60.

Silk crepe dresses by Aurore Thibout

In fall 2011, Paris fashion designer and artist Aurore Thibout developed a series of silk crepe dresses, which retail for $950 to $1,450.

What’s your motivation in making affordable things?

The sales need to support the program. I intend to make a viable retail experience that is sustainable for makers and buyers alike, one where artists share in the profits 50-50. Right now I support the residency and the cost of production, but down the road artists will have an equal responsibility in being profitable. It brings us back to community. We are in this together. During their residencies, we ask all our artists to host one or two $25 to $100 daylong workshops for the public.

How do you define “good design”?

I’d say good design is anything that is surprising, whether it is simple or outrageous. It needs no backstory. You don’t need to decode it. Good design is also viscerally interesting. It makes you want to meet the maker and ask, “What else do you do?”

I Feel Perfectly Terrible hand-built vessel by Dirk van Saene

While a resident, Van Saene created animistic bisque pottery inspired by African masks, including a one-off hand-built vessel titled I Feel Perfectly Terrible. Upcoming artists include Johanna Grawunder, a former partner at architect Ettore Sottsass’s studio in Milan, who will, starting in February, create lamps from found objects.

What are some of your successes?

Our first resident, Dirk van Saene, is now showing the editioned cups he made in San Francisco back in Antwerp, where he lives and works, because it is different from the clothing he is known for. Paris-based Aurore Thibout cast antique dresses in plaster, and I did not think they would sell, but they did. They are expensive, at about $10,000 each. We also sell small cups by Aurore ($50) and embroidered bags by Bay Area artist Lauren DiCioccio that look like Chinese take-out bags ($35).

How will the Workshop grow?

We want to see if any of the things we make will have an afterlife, a larger life. People might do a book with Jennifer Morla, or I hope Design Within Reach might carry her rugs and wall dividers. I would love to do a fragrance with former Esprit art director–turned–perfumer DelRae Roth. And I would love to have the Hells Angels, who have a clubhouse near us, make a proposal to do something together!

Artisan Spotlight: Jennifer Morla

Portrait of graphic designer Jennifer Morla

Artist Jennifer Morla

After six weeks of experimentation at the Workshop Residence this past spring, award-winning graphic designer Jennifer Morla, former creative director of Design Within Reach, developed a collection of rugs, cutwork wall hangings, and table coverings, all made of gray industrial wool felt.

How did you discover your interest in type and graphic art?

My aunt was an editor at Condé Nast during the 1960s, and my sister and I got to visit the art department: white Formica everywhere, stylish professional women, Breuer chairs, Irving Penn photos on a lightbox, and hundreds of Magic Markers. Heaven!

Gray industrial wool felt table covering by Jennifer Morla

Jennifer Morla's cutwork wall hangings are made from industrial wool felt.

What personal experiences did you draw on at the Workshop?

When I designed Levi’s flagship shop at Macy’s Herald Square in New York, I created a carpet with white handwriting on a black background, made by Bentley Prince Street Carpets. At DWR, I saw beautiful floor coverings by Spanish designer Nani Marquina and loved her Little Field of Flowers rug.

What was the inspiration for your project?

I first thought that my rugs would be woven using Zapotec looms. I had been to Oaxaca, and I was thinking about stepped pyramid forms. When I decided to use natural gray felt, I thought of using font shapes to form raised patterns. I wanted to work in a low-relief layer, as if the felt were a raised letterpress plate used in printing.

What elements of typography are most evident here?

The Japanese have an expression for the space in between. It is called ma, and it is as important as the space occupied by letterforms. In my wall panels, the blank spaces and cutouts help to define their purpose—to divide a large space without making it seem smaller.

What was the advantage of being a Workshop artist?

The Workshop allowed me to play with materials I would not normally work with, like hemp and various types of Irish Moygashel linen by Ulster Weavers. Until then I had never worked in wool felt. The bas-relief took me to another level—literally—of appreciation for the fonts I use as a graphic designer.

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