Artist Terri Frohman talks about her past, process, and new studio space at the Gowanus Print Lab
Interview with Victoria Wallace
VW: To start, how would you describe what the brand name “Meraki” represents for you to viewers that don’t know your work?
TF: “Meraki” is a Greek word that means to do something with passion, with creativity; to soulfully put yourself into whatever you’re doing. It could be cooking, making art, etc., but it’s a lifestyle. I was digging around trying to find one word that would represent all of the words that I wanted to be, and “Meraki” kind of envelopes all of those ideas. It describes my work in terms of the content and philosophy, but it doesn’t really describe the materials I work with. You really have to see the work.
VW: And in that instance too your work kind goes back and forth between both two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces–what’s your process? At what point do you decide on materials?
TF: I kind of fell into working with leather on accident. I was an art teacher for eleven years and someone in a forum on Facebook said that they were giving away hundreds of pieces of leather. So I drove out to Long Island, met this woman I had never seen before, and I picked up hundreds of pieces of leather that have been stored in my car ever since. I’ve since been able to experiment with that process and transform these flat pieces of leather by putting prints on them, painting on them, and transforming them into these three-dimensional pouches and purses. That’s the sculpture aspect to my work–building these pieces up into something that’s tangible.
VW: Is it important to you for your work to be accessible to viewers rather than in a gallery setting? Your three-dimensional works are hand-held objects that, as a viewer, I could literally keep my coins in and use it at the grocery store…it’s a different realm than other forms of art.
TF: I want all of my artwork to be accessible, not only to be able to touch it, feel it, and be close to it, but I want people to be able to afford it. I find that art can be intimidating for a lot of people, especially when you walk into a gallery that’s stark white–you can’t touch anything, step near anything, it’s very sterile. There’s this great distance between the viewer and the work and I feel like sometimes that distance can intimidate people. Maybe the work is perceived to be more arrogant or confident than you are, when really the whole point is to share, to touch, and to be connected with whatever the piece is.
VW: I think Meraki emulates that belief as well and your passion to create accessible work. What ultimately brought you to Gowanus Print Lab?
TF: I knew that I wanted to take an art class and I am a huge Grouponer, I am a discount girl. I was shopping around and I chose the Basic Screen printing class. I had previously known how to print but I was kind of wary about going to someone else’s studio and pretty much two days later I signed up for a monthly pass…
VW: And you knew right away that this was where you wanted to work?
TF: That was it.
VW: How did you stumble into having your own studio at the Gowanus Print Lab?
TF: It was vacant, I knew what I could afford, I also knew I had bigger plans for my work. I started to not be able to store things properly, I needed a bit more space, and I needed some privacy. This is my full-time job and now this is my office.
VW: Do you have any exciting upcoming projects that have stemmed (or are stemming) from having this studio space?
TF: Yeah, a lot of collaborations are happening and I’m able to use this space as a photography studio, to have conversations like this, collaborative discussions, choosing leather colors with clients, looking at all of my samples, and buying things straight from this space. So I think that it’s really opened up every single door and has added an openness to my work now where I can invite people to look at things on a much more intimate level.
I’ve really reached out to other vendors–I’ve been selling at flea markets. Even Etsy is maybe ten percent of any of my networking and I’m trying to boost it anyway that I can. I’m a very in person gal, so I’ve signed up for four holiday flea markets. Two of them are in Park Slope: one is at Brooklyn Friends’ School and the other is which is an “Eat Pie and Shop” event at PS 321. I just did one on Albany and I’m hoping to do another one at King’s Trading Company in Greenpoint. I’m doing a lot with local vendors and learning a lot from each other. There’s a small community of people who are coming up, there’s a community of people who are already up there, and so all of us are wrangling our ideas together. That’s what I hope to bring together when I eventually start “Handmade in Brooklyn,” which will be a meet-up once a month for female creatives to gather with some boss ladies and talk about our experiences, best practices, share our work with each other, share where and how we sell, all that kind of stuff.
VW: I think that again totally circles back to your love for accessibility for your viewers and even further connecting artists in the future rather than entertain a competitive environment. It’s absolutely about owning you the cards that you have or the ones you’ve been dealt, and sharing them.
TF: Yeah, I have yet to even be at a competitive flea market thus far. The best experience I’ve had with women sharing with women was at King’s Trading Company.They were by far the most inclusive group of small business owners and sellers that I have ever been a part of and that’s really when I solidified the idea to start “Handmade in Brooklyn” because I want to be closer to other women who are following the same dream. I hope to have that launch after the holidays so that we can give each other more feedback. Meraki NYC will be one year old and I’m hoping to showcase the tangible leather products and goods, prints that I created before the leather series, and large patches of leather with prints on them but not in a three-dimensional form.
VW: Almost like paintings and a culmination of your work this far…?
VW: You branched this business pretty recently and quickly at that, do you have advice for people that are looking to take that same professional jump?
TF: My professional jump came out of near necessity. I left the classroom but am still passionate about arts education. I received a lot of encouragement from my family to go into this sort of business. Things have been moving very fast for me. I think the advice I would give is to have some sort of organization to the madness, for sure. I think that having a studio space helps me to organize, whether it’s through Instagram, people reaching out via email, conversations that develop on the street, whatever it might be. But having some kind of grounded space is really important.