Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham

Becoming Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham

We started the Becoming interview series after reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming in our book club a few years ago. We wanted to hear from women in different walks of life and how they were approaching creativity, mothering, career goals, and more. It’s been amazing to conduct these interviews and get a “behind the scenes” look at so many inspirational women!

This week’s interviewee is the amazing and talented folk art illustrator, Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham, whose work I came across a few weeks ago and I’m absolutely enchanted by. Her exquisite illustrations are intricate, dreamy, and inspiring. It was such a privilege to interview her and we’re thrilled for you to get to know her more!

Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham

Meet Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham

A folk artist by trade, I try to make everything I touch. I’m inspired by the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement, and have a penchant for medieval iconography. Ever weaving these illustrative ideas into my practice, I paint textile patterns, make murals, and recently picked up carpentry — everything that can, should be made by hand.

I live in a little village, Carmel-by-the-Sea, where our homes have names, not numbers. The commute from our cottage to my studio is a matter of blocks downtown.

My small children are often underfoot, while my own grandmother (a lifelong working artist) serves as a motivating example. I employ traditional hand-painting techniques — bauernmalerei, and rosemaling — built on a central belief: old is beautiful.

What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person, educator, etc.?

Folk artist, amateur carpenter, textile enthusiast
Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what you do now?

Built by my uncle, we were raised in a home surrounded by music predominately from 19th century Italy: Puccini, Rossini, Bellini on repeat, and rarely in key! (My mother was a voice teacher.) Home was in a quaint Cali valley town, called Davis.

Independent skills and artistry were admired by my mother, but veins of basic practicality wove underneath. Although on that note, I was raised without doctors or medicine of any kind — which was quirky, to say the least. Perhaps it instilled in me a peculiar pain tolerance? It certainly became customary, as a child, to be seen as curious.

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?

I recall being that beguiled-by-books kiddo in the library guzzling down Greek myth, (the d’Aulaires’ edition — to die for!) If I couldn’t be *in* the myths I wanted to at least be unearthing them. Archaeologist? Cave painter? I’d have taken either eagerly.

Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path?

Out of college I was able to guest curate an exhibition from the Crocker Art Museum (in Sacramento, CA) in large part due to the great faith put in me by their Chief Curator Scott Shields. He has, I believe, continued to single-handedly maintain museum-level interest in the California Arts and Crafts movement, so near to my heart.

Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham

What sparked your interest in art?

My interest in art certainly predates my abilities. As a child, my grandmother’s ceramics were woven throughout our home and garden, my great-grandfather’s block prints on every wall, and my mother’s music a constant companion. The defining moment for me, arguably, was getting over the comparative mindset — I was always creating, but it took time for me to place confidence in my work as part of any public sphere. To this day, I see myself more as a weaver, bringing motifs or ideas from different slices of taste and time together with my style.

You’ve been doing an artist-in-residence at Hofsas House. It’s such a cohesive project from the beds to the murals. Can you tell us more about how it came to be and how it’s going? It’s so beautiful!

Thank you! I truly believe all things ought to be cohesive, be it in a room or an entire hotel — “matching” is often lazy, cohesion takes cræft. I’m deeply grateful to Hofsas House for sharing their historic space with me. Without it, there’s no way I would be splintering wood left and right — the residency has allowed me to cheerfully experiment in a serene, iconic environment. It was another pandemic innovation, I needed a space to saw and Hofsas House had seen my work on other murals in town, and the residency was born!

You use a lot of medieval references in your work. Why is that?

Solely from an aesthetic perspective, I’d proffer the medieval era showcased idiosyncrasies unrivaled by the Renaissance. The rise of art guilds and ‘schools of thought’ shifted art toward accuracy and idealism, whereas I’m more drawn to the chaotic style of earlier eras. They are also, simply put, more fun to make, (name a kid who doesn’t like dragons.)

What inspired you to become an artist?

It’s the closest thing we have to a family trade 🙂 My great x3 grandfather is rumored to have been a rather good carriage painter.

Marie-Clare Treseder GorhamWhat is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

I’m quite fond of the new deck I just finished, ‘The Philosopher’s Tarot,’ eighty hand-painted cards inspired by mystic imagery but depicting philosophical paradoxes and fallacies. I researched the Carmel region’s specific art history for six months before embarking on the illustrations.

Where do you find inspiration for new creations?

Inspiration feels endless. My interests lie with skill-building, and as there are endless skills out there, I’m certain I’ll never learn enough to be satisfied. Whenever I exhaust a particular direction of iconography or painting technique I simply switch mediums — time to break out the jigsaw, or try the same idea, but on a windy wall.

How has social media influenced your work?

For any public-facing artwork, I sign without my last name(s) and with no instagram handle. I appreciate how useful social media can be as a tool for artists, and have an instagram myself, but prefer the discovery stage to be a bit mysterious–it creates more of a bond between parties–which I hope shows in the commissions I (gratefully) get from it.

What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?

I’m most moved by work I can see irl. The local murals of Maxine Albro, Big Sur’s Emile Norman and his secluded, handmade home, Marc Armitano Domingo does breathtaking, meaningful ceramics, local oil painter Joaquin Turner paints by moonlight! I should add the original costume illustrations for the Ballets Russes are endlessly interesting, and Nathalie Lete is a wonder.

What books, movies, shows, or music are making you excited these days?

For my birthday, my dude found a rare edition of “Women Artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement” and it is my favorite thing. I’ll not deny it, I also just fell hard for abook on Wedgewood Jasper Ware, but I truly prefer project-based prompts to anything fiction.

That ends with movies, visual storytelling for me, the worse the better! I will watch Underworld endlessly for slo-mo’s of Bosworth’s platform boots. I find films of that ilk charming, although A24 has been releasing so many beautiful, thoughtful films of late I may have to admit defeat.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents is a wonderful series, as is The Furious Gods:Making Prometheus (hello, ‘shape language!’) Anything revealing methods behind the mystery is worth the time to me.

Tunes-wise, I’ve been listening to a lot of Allie Crow Buckley‘s nocturnal epic “Moonlit and Devious,” with a healthy helping of Buffy Sainte-Marie, and her haunting mouth harp. I’d be remiss to not mention how Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, (a real riot!) inspire. My preschool drop off mix, heretofore only known to my husband, sounds a little like Lord of the Rings, (and a lot like Alice in Chains.)Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a personal motto?

What I lack in motto, I make up for in crests! Although “cui bono” is something I’ve been known to mutter, and Occam’s razor is emblazoned in my mind.

How do your surroundings influence your work?

Increasingly working with wood is a natural side-effect of our evergreen surroundings. Carmel-by the-Sea’s primeval forest is as much a character in our local landscape as any person could be.

What is a typical day like for you?

Early risings! Our babes keep me busy with basics, (diapers are still a thing in my life). I get to the studio a few days a week, unless I’m knee-deep in a commission. I sketch through their naps, and I paint into the night, after we’ve put them to bed. Every available moment is a moment used!

Marie-Clare Treseder GorhamWhat advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?

Lefties are nature’s self-teachers, in my book. We must mentally mirror all hand-instruction, unless we are lucky enough to learn from a fellow lefty (I never have!) At first glance, this makes things more difficult, in tandem, however, it toughens the maker; teaching them more about the creative process.
At a certain point with all pieces, one will have to leave the pamphlet behind. When I’m entering new terrain, I find it immensely useful to document my process in stages, (including inspiration!) keep hand-written lists, and avoid virtual editing.

Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?

I’m about to embark on my first dollhouse, all my new blades just arrived! I will be painting miniature murals inside, and hope to build the furniture myself, (they may just end up terra cotta :P) I don’t know if someone has done this before, but I hope to be the first miniature muralist haha.

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?

It’s true, there’s such invisibility in terms of contemporary “outsider” art valuation. Artists, in my opinion, are more akin to carpenters than academics. My materials and tools are often expensive (not to mention my time.) Steer clear from vague value arrangements. You can reverse-engineer a realistic rate by looking at other trades in your area, and their hourly rates.
Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham

Is there anything more you would like to “become?”

“Ladies finery” (as Kant calls it) is fascinating to me. I would love to become adept at making every shred of it. Also custom sunglasses! I’m trying my hands at designing more velvet luggage this season, which should be both fuzzy and edifying.

What is your long-term goal? or What do you hope to accomplish within the next 10 years?

I would love to be working with a publisher with similar values. The projects one can do as part of a team allow for the time and research I’d love to put into my work, instead of typically being unable to give a project more than a few days/weeks. I’d similarly love to continue to restore some of the historic murals and architecture in our region. California houses can be fascinating, with our earthquakes and energy laws – I would love to find a way to preserve the character of our old spaces, without losing the importance of filling them with people and pragmatism.

More Inspiration

Follow along with Marie-Clare on her instagram, @marie_clare, to see more of her beautiful work.

If you’re interested in seeing more of our Becoming interviews, check them out here! If you loved Marie-Clare’s work, you’ll probably love these artists, too: Hallie Bateman, Arounna Khounnoraj, Louise Pretzel, Rachel Kiser Smith, and Lynne Millar.

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