Meet Elisabeth Parker from PARKERWORKS
I stumbled across Elisabeth’s work a few months ago and truly fell in love with her rough and sculptural surface work! Elisabeth has a very strong and unique design voice, I immediately wanted to know more about! Boldly, I asked her if she would be willing to do an interview with me and tell me more about herself and her work! Happily, she said yes! The answers she gave me was more than I could have wished for. Elisabeth is an amazingly talented designer and also has a gift of telling stories while talking about herself, explaining her designs and inspirations. Listening to her answers allowed me to feel an even deeper connection to her designs and appreciate her objects and the way they were created even more.
I so enjoyed her answers that I felt it needed at least two, maybe even three blog-post to do them justice. I will split this blog-post into two or three and will post them step by step… let’s start.
Hello Elisabeth, thank you for taking the time, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I live and work in Portland, Oregon. I grew up here, but moved away for 14 years (during which I moved to a variety of countries and cities) and just moved back in December of 2016 (most recently before that, I was in New York finishing my MFA in Interior Design at Parsons and then teaching product design and interior design there for a few years). Eventually, I was lucky to get set up with an apartment and a studio just three blocks from each other in a quiet neighborhood with lots of trees. So, on the days I get to go into the studio (basically if I’m not writing emails or picking up materials), I wake up, spend a fair amount of time drinking tea and looking out the windows of my apartment, and then walk over to the studio (via my local coffee shop) to start work. I share the building with several other furniture makers, so it’s a great community. Honestly, it all feels a little old fashioned (I come home for lunch and then return)! Perhaps because of the proximity and because my studio is very small and dusty, my apartment becomes a bit of an experimentation space with all sorts of prototypes; I own very little furniture I didn’t build.
I like routine a lot, so while there are many amazing places to go in Portland, I am a regular at the little coffee shop in my neighborhood and a nearby bakery. Every Friday I make a practice of eating pizza (this has now become a tradition I look forward to every week), and love to borrow my boyfriend’s dog and go up to Mt. Tabor Park and look out over the city. Honestly, though, if I’m left to my own devices I generally prefer to be building furniture, painting walls or working on a house project. I can’t stop unless someone else takes charge and we escape to the mountains or the ocean for a day or two.
What are sources of inspirations within your daily life?
Because I am always working on one thing or another, I’m not really sure where inspiration comes from. An idea will come into my head from nowhere really specific and, once it has become very “loud” in my brain (i.e. I can’t stop thinking about it), I will sit down and start drawing it out. One of the sketches will feel “right,” and then I will leave it alone. And then, one day, I’ll suddenly feel the urge to work on it again and will sculpt it in the studio. I never do dimension drawings, though, or digital models unless it’s a commission; at the end of the day if something isn’t physical I just can’t feel a real connection with it and know if it’s fully “cooked”; for now, I just trust that the thing I imagined will somehow appear eventually from the plaster. This process has developed over several years and I trust it now. Sometimes the things I make are really surprising, and I just assume that’s my future creative self-being a little awkward and inserting itself into my practice too early!
All of that said, I do see influences in my work from my travels; the Tallomet Coat Hooks are based on a series of stones I collected in Australia combined with the delicate display stands created by the Met Museum to exhibit a series of small carved stones I once saw. And my love affair with mottled, white irregular surfaces must come, at least in part, from a mask I bought in Nigeria and my time in Greece. I wrote my master’s thesis on imperfections on the surface of interiors and how powerful they are, and Japanese aesthetics were central to this study.
What made you want to start your own furniture design studio?
After graduate school, I moved to Upstate NY from the city to get back to the trees and started working for a furniture designer there. He had an amazing setup, living in the countryside but having the city nearby with people who wanted his work. Seeing how he got to be a little isolated and continue his work seemed like a great life. After a year or so working for him, I transitioned into making my own pieces and was lucky to sell a few pretty quickly. It was a slow start, though; I spent several years experimenting and trying to find my own voice (supported, at the time, from teaching at Parsons) before choosing to take my practice as a full-time job. But, essentially, I guess I got into it because I get to physically make the things I can imagine; there’s nothing more satisfying to me than working with my hands and seeing an idea become a physical form!
That said, it’s also become increasingly important to me to be a woman who has her own business making furniture. I’ve encountered stereotypes all along this path and am now pretty committed to what I do; in my own small way it feels like I’m making a point; that women can do this work.
How would you describe your style?
I don’t often think of myself as having a style, actually! But I guess I do.
There are things that have qualities which I find really compelling in the world (mainly qualities like irregularity, asymmetry, and simplicity), and hopefully, elements of those qualities reappear in my own work. I try to make things that have a quiet presence in a room. Mostly they have irregularities and are quiet and humble, with all of the efforts of making them hidden until you look quite closely. I really only work with black, white, and gold, and have come to realize that this comes from my love of the work of a painter who was a family friend. Some people call my work organic and that doesn’t feel right to me, but I am so pleased when it is called sculptural. At the end of the day, though, I used to be pretty loud and opinionated, and I try not to be anymore. So I try to make work that helps me (and other people) to feel serene, or calm, or take things slowly.
Your work seems to have a beautiful symbiosis between rough and elegant, hard and soft. What is the reasoning behind this beautiful and unique combination of materials and textures?
I’ve heard it said that in graphic design you should only ever use two fonts on a document. I find the composition and balance of pairs compelling; there aren’t enough elements in the object to get distracted from its essence (which, in my head, means that it can ideally maintain a quiet powerful presence in a room), but there are enough points of contrast between concrete and brass or irregular and smooth or rounded and square that you, as an observer, can enjoy the tension between them. Without roughness, there would be no elegance, and elegance defines roughness, essentially.