A Portrait in Objects: Mary Jane Mucklestone
Hello dear knitters,
There is something especially intimate about getting to know someone through the familiar things they choose to see and use in their daily life. Today, for the latest in MDK’s series of designer profiles, we’ve asked Mary Jane Mucklestone, whose colorful designs for Icelandic wool are featured in Field Guide No. 17: Lopi, to share a bit about herself through objects from her home, studio, and life in Maine.
What are the touchstones of your everyday? What would you include in your own portrait in objects?
—Kay and Ann
I’m counting my mug collection as a single object. It’s too hard to choose just one. My favorites are continually shifting, and of course, occasionally break. It’s important to me to use the things I love despite the risk breakable items pose for an easily distracted person. I choose my morning mug based on my mood and to make sure everyone gets used. I don’t want to neglect anyone and cause hurt feelings.
I’m currently fond of the Vintage 60’s allover florals from England; they remind me of Liberty Tana lawn cotton fabric. Springy! I’ve got a 1930’s OXO cup, that’s rather special. It was made as advertising for the bouillon cube broth, but it will always mean a Fair Isle stitch pattern to me!
Maps are irresistible. Maps are essential. I think planning adventures, imaginary or otherwise, are best done with good old paper maps. Spreading out the pages allows you to better understand distances, noting the topographical features. I got this map at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory and decided to hang it like it was in the South Lighthouse B&B. I feel like I can roll it up like a pirate’s treasure map and stride off in search of riches. The riches being wondrous natural beauty and wildlife. It’s a very detailed map, locating every croft and every nook and cranny of the coastline.
My little bud vases from KriKri are welcome home companions; I have several. Sublime, simple, and colorful; I select the color based on the tenor of the day and what’s blooming in the outdoors–or not, sticks are pretty too! One winter, I made the mistake of picking some very pretty dusty white berries amongst my bittersweet. Thinking they were bayberry, I wondered why they didn’t have a lovely scent and concluded I must be getting a cold. I never knew the second part of the rhyme “leaves of 3, let them be,” which is “berries white, run in fright”! That’s right, I had a lovely small bouquet of poison ivy.
Seattle artist Kristin Nelson is one of my oldest and dearest friends and provides unending inspiration. Besides being a full-time artist, she’s an intrepid traveler and athlete. She and her husband make epic kayaking journeys to Labrador, Indonesia, crossing the Baltic; they make the seemingly impossible possible! Being a hometown girl at heart, I’m hoping to get one of Kristin’s Space Needle lamps next.
They call them jugs in the UK which seems especially cheerful and somehow like nursery rhymes to me. In before-times, I traveled to Shetland every year, hosting small groups of knitters along with my friend and fellow designer Gudrun Johnston, our Grand Shetland Adventures! I coveted this pitcher over an entire summer. Made by ceramic artist Bill Brown, it was living in the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, Mainland, Shetland. Every time we stopped at the picturesque art gallery and café; I’d be frozen in my tracks by this uncomplicated streamlined depiction of a puffin. Smitten.
It was becoming an old friend, and I sadly reasoned that I’d just have to leave it on the island; having spent all my souvenir money on yarn, my budget was tight. And lo! At the end of our summer sojourn, as our thoughts were turning homeward, Gudrun presented me with it! True friend! Now, rattling around my apartment, just catching a glimpse of my jolly jug makes it impossible to maintain a bad mood.
Horrors! Just the thought of a member of this insect group sends shudders through the body of a knitter. However, I feel this exquisite embroidery acts as a talisman against the dreaded yarn predator, whose name I shall not mention again. This specimen does not eat wool, and so all is good and fine. It is stitched by my friend Martha Nishida, a multi-disciplinary artist in New York City. We met in art school as printmaking majors, and whenever we meet, it’s like no time has passed at all. I usually see her yearly when making the jaunt down to NCY for Vogue Knitting Live. She always has an adventure planned for us.
One year we visited all the gates in Central Park, such curious gates there are! Artisans Artists, Boys, Children’s, Engineers, Farmers, Girls, The Gate of All Saints, Hunters, Mariners, Merchants, Miners, Pioneers, Scholars, Strangers, Warriors, Scholars, Women’s, and Woodmen’s; we saw them all! Another year we found all the arches and bridges in the park. There are so many we had to keep searching until after dark! It’s such a fun way to explore–architecture adventures! I wonder where we will venture next time.
There is almost nothing as satisfying as a yarn color-card. The imagination takes flight and soars with endless possibilities. My friend Jani Estelle uses the fleece from a very special flock of sheep and turns it into yarn in her small mill. This particular wild flock has been living on Nash Island in downeast Maine for more than a hundred years.
Although having sheep on islands in Maine was once common, these days, it’s rare. The particular factors of island living and micro-climate contribute to the loft and lustrous sheen of the fiber. Jani gives me little knit swatches of the yarn colors to see how the colors knit up. Hours of enjoyment pass, shuffling them around, combining this color and that. This ring of color is a representation of dreams.
That’s right. I collect rocks. I think I actually worship rocks. Life is just better when you have a small stone in your pocket: smooth stones, rough stones, stones covered in yellow lichen. Pink granite, grey granite, and the two smashed together. If I were to do it all again, I think I’d like to be a geologist. I have two rocks from the opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean that are the same granite. One from Muckle Roe in Shetland and the other from Baker Island in Maine. I think perhaps they were once connected! I have a rock that floats! Lava, found on the beach at Muckle Bousta in Shetland, do you think it floated down from Iceland? Here we have stones circled with lines: wishing rocks. Light a candle, make a wish, stare at the flame, and all is right with the world.
These two feature as a single object because I have two kids. On the left is Space Potato knit when Sophie was around 8 at school. They were supposed to be knitting Nat the Cat, but she had other ideas. Space Potato has made it through many exciting times, including a house fire. Space Potato prevails. Space Potato invigorates! Space Potato has an enviable hairdo. Then we have Mask Man crafted by Nick in high school. Mask Man is surprised, outraged, and takes no nonsense. He’s good to have on your side. Once he trusts you, he’s your steadfast friend for life. All hail Mask Man.