If I had to choose three words to describe Pamela Foeckler it would be delightful, talented and grounded. I left our conversation feeling as though we had been friends for years, even though we had only just met. As she sipped on Bellocq Tea (another tasty gem I learned about during our conversation), she openly and honestly talked with me about her experiences of going out on her own and following her creative desires. Her words left me inspired, and I found myself sharing them with friends over drinks more than once.
After living in San Francisco for over ten years, Pamela moved to Santa Monica when her husband took a new job in L.A. What she found was that life was much better. As she said to me, “A simple but profound thought I had after our move, and our lives and health improved so drastically, is that change is a positive choice if you NEED it. It has been consistently a bad choice in our lives when we’ve WANTED it.” It was her move to L.A. that sparked her Chapter Be – leaving the world of art conservation to explore her own creative endeavors. The creative energy that she had spent years giving to others or harboring inside her was finally unleashed to create two amazing jewelry lines – Totem Color Blocks and Natura Metallum. I learned about Pamela when speaking with Kena Paranjape of BRIKA and fell in love with her beautiful wearable pieces – it would only make sense that their maker would be as lovely.
Along with her jewelry, Pamela is branching into housewares for both her Totem Color Blocks and Natura Metallum lines, which include wall hangings and minimalist metal tableware pieces. This next step has allowed her to tap into her architecture and interior design background. Proving that our past experiences do play an important role in our Chapter Be endeavors. In addition to BRIKA and Etsy, her Natura Metallum line is going to be featured on the German site, MONOQI in mid-May. So, European readers – keep your eyes peeled!
I had the chance to read a little bit about your Chapter Be transition on both BRIKA and Etsy’s blog, but would love to hear more from you about your life in art conservation, after getting your degree in architectural history. What was your life like before you decided to become a jewelry maker?
Well, actually I’ve always made things. I just couldn’t focus on it while I was consumed with finding my way and then getting into art conservation and working really hard with that. I was just working on other people’s artwork instead of my own. I did do it on the side a little bit, for many, many years. I always had to do something. But it wasn’t until I moved to Santa Monica that I’ve been able to let it explode. Everything that I’ve had in my head for so long I was able to just, kind of purge it out, and for the first time since I was in school, I’ve had a little space to do it. We built a wood shop and a metal shop in the garage, and I have a little clean, conservation type area, in my home – which is like a tiny little bedroom. So, I have an outdoor space for the messy stuff, and then I have this tidy, very meticulously appointed area in the house for doing all of my color blocks work, and the painting stuff. So for the first time I have space, so that’s been a huge thing.
Also, when I first moved to LA, I got in a car accident. My car was totaled, and I spent time in the hospital because my jaw was dislocated. I was recovering from that for months, and I still am actually. I’m still seeing a physical therapist. It was a pretty rough welcome to LA, but now I’m part of the city, I guess, because everyone’s been in an accident here apparently. You’re really not part of the tribe until you have a car accident! But, I didn’t want to commute anywhere because I’m still a little scared of driving. When I first moved here, my boss in art conservation for ten years, said I should hook up with the Getty, look at all the museums, and see if they need any help. But after the accident I did not want to drive anywhere. I just wanted to hibernate and make the stuff that I wanted to do for years. I went to The Art Institute of Chicago for sculpture and architectural history, so I’ve always had the making skills, it’s just here they’ve been able to blossom.
So would you say that both your horrible accident, and then just having the space were the catalysts to get you to start focusing on jewelry making full-time?
Absolutely. Those two things were just huge factors for me. Of course I also wanted a fresh start. I actually worked so intimately with my boss, and it was always me as her assistant and apprentice. And I am a super sensitive person so I was always trying to please, and it was always just this “thing.” Then I got to Santa Monica, and I was like, “What do I want to do? How do I want to spend my days, and what do I want to listen to, and what do I want to eat for lunch?” I just wanted to create my own life. And I’ve never been happier. Ever. In all of my forty-one years.
It’s the idea of taking your life into your own hands, and the power that can hold. By just saying, “I have the power to dictate what my day looks like,” because so often, in our professional lives, we feel helpless in that way.
Oh, absolutely, especially if you’re the type of person, which I think the majority of women are, who aims to please. So we get dominated, and we kowtow. You have to be able to have the self-confidence, because it’s worrisome – “Can I do this? Am I going to succeed?” I think this is what you’re shooting for with Chapter Be, and I think that’s brilliant, because I think we need to get resources out there for the people who are trying to do this, so we feel like we’re not alone. And – we’re not being selfish, either. After all those years of doing nothing, it is taking ownership of what you really want to do. And – I don’t even have children. I can’t even imagine what a woman who has children and who has been in a professional career for so many years, how they must feel.
It’s so true – how do you create a life for yourself – a life that you want? I think so often — and whether it is, like you said, due to life pressures, like having children or what society makes us feel like we should do – it becomes very hard, and I think especially later in life, to take that step. I think it takes a level of bravery, and when you’re venturing into something on your own, especially when you’re creating something of your own, you can feel very isolated.
Isolated and completely exposed. This is so personal to me, and what I’m doing is something I really care about. You’re putting it out there, especially when you’re putting it out onto the Internet, for the entire world, and everybody can get a piece of it or criticize it, or steal it – which has also happened.
Oh, yeah! I had one color block line that was completely copied by a woman in Milan. I was successful in having her pieces taken off Etsy, but it took an enormous amount of work on my part. The woman basically copied the verbiage. The Totem Color Blocks stuff is more of a concept than it is anything else. It takes skill because I am cutting the pieces from reclaimed wood and I’m a really good painter. The concept of color theory and everything takes a lot of thought, but the technique, you can mimic it, right? So I’ve been mimicked many times now.
The Internet can be our best friend and our worst enemy for these very reasons. You put it out there and how people receive it or, to your point, how they then possibly copy it, is kind of out of your control. Which is a little scary.
Yeah, when you’re just starting so many things feel so out of your control, and you add that to the mix. But on the other hand I have had communications and have built relationships with people on the other side of the planet! They have a little piece of me in their home, and that is just beyond my wildest expectations. I never imagined something like that being possible. Someone in Bangkok now has three of my little sculptures, and that never would have happened without the Internet. People can find you, make a connection, and that’s pretty stellar.
You have two different lines, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about both of them? What inspires you in the creation of those different pieces?
Well, the Totem Color Blocks line is what I had to get out of my brain when I first moved to Santa Monica. It was after all my years of study and working with color, and being so obsessed with color with art conservation. We would have to meticulously match painted surfaces on objects as we repaired them, and you break down color to its most elemental form. You have to create a certain color to match it, and it can take hours. You can’t just say, “Oh, that’s cobalt blue.” Well, it might be a different cobalt blue. So that’s a fascination for me because I love science and art. That, and I just wanted to make something that you could wear. I’m starting to do big pieces, but starting small was what allowed me to get it out faster. I love the idea of someone being able to wear the color theory. I love wood, and I’d been collecting bits of wood for years. So, I had the material, and I just put the two things together. I’m a total minimalist. If you saw my house right now, you’d wonder how color blocks come out of there. I have to be surrounded by white and simplicity, because in my head there’s so much color. I get totally overwhelmed, so this is a way for me to quiet that.
That’s not a way I’ve ever thought about minimalism, but I find that really fascinating. It’s the idea that minimalism creates a quiet space for you so that you can really tap into the creativity in your brain.
It’s having a clean palette. That’s when I can think the most clearly about color, or about form, or about shapes, or about anything. I used to do a little bit of writing for exhibition stuff, and I had to have it cleaned up and a clean pad of paper, or I just couldn’t receive what I needed to. Anyways, that was wood and color, and now I’m using gold, silver and copper on pieces, because I did a lot of that in conservation. I just loved it, and it’s such a meditative, beautiful process, of leafing something. It really makes the colors pop, and they were used historically, so I’m adventuring into that, too.
And then with Natura Metallum, I actually was trained as a metalsmith in sculpture, and so also I’ve been collecting metal for some time. That is also just really natural. It’s the other side of where I aim to be the true minimalist – where it is nothing but the metal and the shape. I reduce it down to its most elemental form, and that was a meditation for me. It’s, “How do I make these metals sing, in the most simple manner?” So they are timeless, and just like little meditations on metal. And again, it’s a size thing. I like that intimacy of wearable art.
I really do love the simplicity of your pieces. It seems like nature really inspires you and is a big part of your work. I read that when you were little, that was something you did a lot of – You went into the forest, picked out pieces of nature, brought them back and made sculptures out of them. I’m fascinated by the way our youth informs what we do as adults. Someone once told me if you really want to figure out what you love to do, go back to when you were a child and think about what made you happy. This work was just something that naturally spoke to you. You loved to do this while you were little, and it seems like something you’ve come back to as an adult.
Absolutely – and on my own terms. I always wanted to take my creativity and do something great with it. First, I was studying Russian, so I was going to go to Russia, be an architect, and help rebuild the country. I always wanted to do something grand, but now I want to take my creativity and just do something that is not necessarily “grand.” I was doing it for other people. I wasn’t doing it for myself. I didn’t want to go to Russia and be an architect and rebuild the country. I was doing that because you had to be something, be awesome at it, and be great. Now I want to be great on my own terms and not give a damn about any of that. And, it’s the most successful I’ve been yet! It’s like I simultaneously let go of that and it happened. Because before I was trying too hard.
It is breaking down those “shoulds” and saying, “What do I really want, and what would make me most happy?” I think that can be a hard transition – especially if, like you were saying earlier, you’re sensitive and a pleaser. To go to thinking, “What am I going to do just for the pure sake of doing for me, because it makes me happy?” For me, that hasn’t been the easiest transition.
It’s not. Especially if you’re not making a living at it, because then there’s the added pressure of – well, sure, if we’re all princesses, and we’re all independently wealthy, or we’re trust fund babies, well we could indulge in doing what we want. If you’re none of those things, which I’m not, you have to have some thought as to how you are going to make it work. So, then there’s the added pressure of that. But I really think just the pure joy that you’re finding on a daily basis and what you’re doing with that energy, can help you make it. You can figure out a way to make a living out of it, somehow. You have to work your ass off, though!
What were some of the biggest struggles with turning your creativity into a business?
Having the self-confidence to do it, and learning all of the technology bits and pieces. Not only did I not have any interest in the technology parts – I’m an analogue girl, I always have been and accept that I always will be – but, with Etsy especially, just learning how to to do that kind of stuff was difficult. How to take your photos, how to do all this techno stuff, how to set up your shop, how to learn search engine optimization…I mean, please! With SEO, it took me like six months to figure out what that meant! I’m still learning. Every day I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s not right, that’s not going to work.” Technology was a real hurdle, and it continues to be.
How do you make sure that that type of stuff doesn’t take away from the creative stuff that you love?
It’s a daily struggle, it really is. I’ve been saying for some time, “I wish I had a photographer and a techno-geek in my closet, who would just come out, the last three hours of the day, and I’d leave them to their work. I’ve done my bit for the last eight hours – it’s all you now!” But, you know, it’s hard, it’s hard because you have to keep up with communications, you have to be there with a computer and change out your photos, and re-take new photos if they suck, and you look back and you’re like, “That looks horrible! How did I even post that?” It’s the biggest struggle right now.
Is there a goal to eventually get to the point where maybe you can hire someone to do those things, or do you feel like you think it’s best if you’re the person that’s spearheading all of that?
That’s another good question, because I really enjoy my solitude. My goal in this work was to be in a meditative quiet alone space – especially after ten years of pleasing and being in an intimate situation with people every single day in a small room. I thrive on my alone thinking and running this thing by myself. But, then, yeah then you’re coupled with having to do all the crappy stuff yourself. Where I’m at right now, I feel like as long as I can keep up, doing it all myself, I’m in a good place. But as soon as I can’t keep up, then you’re going to have to check back with me.
So, what advice would you give to someone who is currently in the space that you were in a couple years ago – they are overworking for someone else, they want to be their own boss, and they have creative energies that they want to tap into. What do you know now that you wish you had known then?
I would say that you will destroy the life that you were given if you continue on the path of being miserable doing what you’re doing. Not even miserable, but not fulfilled. If you’re not satisfied, if you’re kind of melting away, you need to just stop right there – I don’t care what or how difficult it is. Because you are not only doing yourself no good, you’re doing everyone you love and care about around you zero good. Because that’s going to come through in your energy, and how you speak, and what you speak about, and the tone of what you say and how you interact with people. It comes through in everything, so you just have to — you just have to take the time necessary, and that’s what can be so hard.
I have a friend, who suffered in her job for so many years but she needed health insurance, because she has a lot of health problems. She’s an amazing artist, and all she wanted to do was her art, but she couldn’t. It’s easy to say do whatever you have to do in order to get yourself out of a bad situation, but it’s another thing to be able to pay your bills and be healthy while you do it. I think if you take the steps, the energy just changes. And good things just start to happen. If you’re miserable, or unhappy, or unfulfilled, I think that negativity just compounds itself into every aspect of your life. Things don’t progress. It’s like you just stay in the same quicksand mud for years. As soon as you get yourself out as fast as you can, and get on a different path, even if you are not quite sure of it, I think that you’ll start getting somewhere.
I’ve talked to so many people, both personally and professionally, who have said, “If I didn’t have to worry about healthcare or if I didn’t have to worry about my student loans, then I’d be doing _______.” That to me is such a frustration – to see all this amazing creative energy that’s squashed because of the way some of our policies are set up.
Funny because last night I was watching Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS, and he was in Norway. In speaking with one of the locals, he said, “You know, a lot of Americans are really suspicious of your socialist society, and the fact that your taxes are so high, and that your healthcare is paid for. How would you respond to that? Does it squash creativity and competition?” And the guy responds, “I would say we live a much more fulfilled life because instead of working so hard, we are able to fulfill our dreams and live a healthier life because we’re not so concerned with being able to stay healthy.” And I was like, “Yeah! Really!”
On Brika, you mentioned a little bit about the importance of experimenting, so I was interested in you talking about how experimenting has played a part in your own personal process.
Well, I think it’s just the art process, in general. You have to fail in order to get to where you need to be, and it’s so painful and it takes up so much time. My first thing I was making for the totems, I was using other materials and it just wasn’t coming together. But, it’s just a creative process. You have to keep working through it. I was lucky that I had this thought in my head for so long that I almost worked out a lot of it in my brain before I even came to Santa Monica and was able to have space to play with it. You just need to give it the space and the time that it needs, and it will just evolve. I think this is true for anyone who makes anything. It’s like when you cook and you have this great idea or recipe, and it turns out not so good. Well, you know what, you’re going to try it again, because it has all the ingredients in it that you love – like pomegranate and mint, and walnuts, but okay it was too acidic. So this time you’re just going to add some agave syrup. You just need to be respectful of the process. It’s like in school, when classmates would get so angry because something didn’t work out. They would just lose their shit – “That’s it. I can never do this again.” It’s like, no – this is a great idea, just try coming at it from a different angle, and try it again. You just have to be patient.
Notes of Reflection:
- A location change just might be exactly what you need in order to shift your energies and explore your Chapter Be. It might not need to be as big as moving to a different city – it could be just shifting your daily routine in order to see things a bit differently. Alter your habits, routine and/or location and your perspective can’t help but change. What is it that you need to change or mix-up in order to make more space for your Chapter Be to be a reality? Or – what do you need to make a priority in order for things to open up for you? Once Pamela had the physical space to create, it opened up the possibilities and her creativity was able to flow in a more open and real way. Does moving to a city where there is more space allow you the room to explore your Chapter Be in a way that you might not be able to where you are now? Where can you best blossom?
- You are not going to be able to be know everything when you start a business – just ain’t gonna happen. Pamela was so open about the fact that there were pieces of the work (i.e. administrative duties and technology responsibilities) that she didn’t know how to do or even like to do. We cannot kid ourselves that a Chapter Be will be void of things that are painful, annoying or just not fun. They will be there. The difference is that these things are tools to help you be able to do what you love, versus them being everything you are doing. They are a means to an end, and, therefore, more tolerable. But – be prepared. They will be there.
- So much of your Chapter Be will be the process of learning how to let go. How to let go of expectations – both from yourself and others – and embrace a more natural flow. This means being patient and understanding that there is some trial-and-error involved. In the same way that you cannot expect that there won’t be tasks that you hate, you can’t expect perfection from the get-go. Embrace the artist’s process, allow time to fail and BE PATIENT.
- Creating the terms for your own life can be a freeing process. So…take back your life back and dictate how you want to see it transpire. It’s worth it.
- My Brother’s Face by Dhan Gopal Mukerji – This is a book that I keep with me all the time, and I return to again and again because it centers me. It’s so physically beautiful because it’s old – it’s out of print, and even the editions you can get on eBay don’t have dustcovers. It was written in 1924, and it’s about the author’s journey back to India. The Hindus believe that if you’re away from your homeland for more than twelve years you need to return at that point, no matter what, in order to reinvigorate your core, your beliefs, and your family. He was in the United States and traveled all around the world for twelve years, and he had to go back. And this book is his memoir. It is such a beautiful journey, and his descriptions of going back to India in the twenties – can you imagine? I’ve read it probably five times now. I keep it next to my bed, because whenever I feel fuzzy headed, upset, or just overwhelmed, it’s a great way to open it anywhere in the book and just go somewhere – travel. It’s full of beautiful language and beautiful visuals. And at the core, it’s him getting back to his family and his Hindu meditation. It’s beautiful.
- A Dictionary Of Color Combinations by Sanzo Wada – It’s a dictionary of color combinations, and is written by a Japanese man who designed kimonos and costumes for theater work. This little gem of a book was what inspired color theory. I believe it was people at the Bauhaus they found it and we now understand color theory based on what this Japanese man put together.