Studio Visit
Fredericks and Mae, Artists

For a studio that crafts objects evocative of summer-camp bliss, Fredericks & Mae have an awfully dark creation story. For the last eight months, Gabriel Fredericks Cohen and Jolie Mae Signorile have been hard at work fletching, painting, and spinning bright polyester thread around their custom-made arrows, which sell for $95 apiece at boutiques like Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Partners & Spade. But when they met senior year at Oberlin, says Signorile, “Gabe was really into the apocalypse and I was obsessed with nostalgia. When we got into it, we realized they were kind of about the same thing: a fear of the future.”

The two collaborated on a senior show called “The End,” the showpiece of which was a life-sized cast of Signorile’s body coated in salt. Its eyes were attached by thread to 100 screws nailed into the wall in the exact location of the stars as viewed from Mexico City on December 21, 2012 — the night the Mayan calendar predicts the world will end. “I had just come back from a semester living in East London,” says Signorile. “The nu-rave thing was happening, and I was like, ‘Whoa. The ‘90s weren’t that long ago. What does it mean that even something like Last Night’s Party is more interesting to us than the future? I think it has to do with our inability to imagine what the world is going to be like even tomorrow.”

When they moved to New York, their work got smaller and their outlook sunnier. “The Fredericks & Mae thing started because Gabe found one object we thought was really beautiful, and it began a whole collection of materials,” says Signorile. “I was walking around in the West Village and I found this lovely store called Hable Construction that has since closed,” says Cohen. “Its buyer had gone to Paris and found these vintage milliner’s wings. I brought one home, and Jolie and I were like, ‘This is gorgeous. We can do better.’”

The two began by making wings, then moved on to arrows and bows, though the bows are only produced now and then, and aren’t usually for sale. To do so, they began amassing feathers. “If you go online and you look for naturally molted feathers, what you find first aren’t from turkeys or chickens,” says Signorile. “You find, like, parrot owners who are selling their parrots’ feathers.” But they soon found steady suppliers, and they’re constantly on the lookout for new sources. “The beauty of the feathers has carried us a really long way,” says Signorile. “It’s amazing. How does such an intensity of color just happen in nature? People try so hard to make things that are this beautiful.” The pair recently took time out to show us around one of their two studios, and to introduce us to their other objects of inspiration.

flags

Fredericks & Mae split their time between her house in Bedford-Stuyvesant and his studio in far-out Bushwick, which consists of a tiny bedroom/workspace and a massive rooftop on the fourth floor of a former fire station, which is now zoned for artists’ residences. Of the faded pentagram on the roof, Cohen says: “Right before I moved in, one of my housemate's friends was filming a Norwegian death-metal documentary.” The flags are raw material that will soon be cut up, re-assembled into different patterns, and silk-screened.

cables

On the ground floor is a metalworking shop used by the building’s manager, Clem, who creates massive coiled-metal sculptures. Other inhabitants include a German artist couple, a video editor, and Cohen’s roommate Benjamin, a sculptor and craftsman.

teddy

A weather-beaten teddy bear of mysterious origins has lived on the roof since long before Cohen arrived. “He just hangs out in the corner,” Cohen says.

first feather

The milliner's wing that first inspired many of Fredericks & Mae's activities.

bestfeathers

Since they began making arrows eight months ago, Cohen and Signorile have made more than 200. Signorile feathers and paints, while Cohen does the threadwork.

feathers

“We kind of know everyone we get feathers from at this point,” says Cohen. “We get a lot of feathers from the Maspeth Bird Sanctuary. Then there’s Susan Rose, who runs a peacock farm in Oregon. And a friend of a friend runs an exotic chicken-breeding farm in northern Michigan. Every once in a while we’ll get a huge crate." Adds Signorile: "Sometimes we’ll bid on eBay for feathers, and I’m constantly competing with people who are practicing peyote rituals. They make fans out of them."

fletching

“One of the things we love about our projects are the communities we rub up against — we found out about fletching jigs from Ren-Faire people, for instance,” says Cohen. “In the beginning I was holding it straight with my hands until the glue dried 20 minutes later,” says Signorile. “Finally we took a trip to this archery supply store in Flushing, Queens. You adjust the jig based on the size dowel you’re using, and you can rotate it a perfect third of the way around each time.”

IMG_0983

Spools of Gütermann thread. "I've been working with thread for about five years now. I started stretching it across spaces in sorts of bursts, and i have been amassing it ever since," says Cohen.

tools

Tools of the trade, from left to right: an iron to brand arrows with the Fredericks & Mae logo, a tool for straightening wooden dowels, and a soldering iron.

neon tape

More supplies: spray paint, adhesives, gold and silver leaf, small glass beads, extra-special feathers in test tubes, neon tape, toothpick arrows from Kiosk, a doll arm, knives and tweezers, a perfect-circle cutter...

scissors

… and scissors picked up in New York’s Chinatown.

feathers2

Dowels waiting to be fletched. Of the holster they’re in, Cohen says: “My mom went to Paris and asked me what I’d like. I said, ‘I’d like a 17th-century quiver, please.’ And she brought me back a Burmese yoga tote.”

arrow2

“People who make arrows will usually fletch a dozen in the same pattern and that’s their pattern, almost like a shield or a crest,” says Signorile. Fredericks & Mae's — made with exotic feathers and hand-spun with thread — are all unique.

arrows

The pair understand that their arrows are more likely to be collected by hipster decorators than by actual archers. “Sometimes I like to market them as kitchen implements for the extreme local-foods enthusiast,” Cohen jokes.

fuschiadoll

The two have recently begun work on a series of idols, mostly made from dismembered doll heads decorated with leftover materials and body feathers that couldn’t be used to fletch the arrows. “Most of our ideas come from something else we’ve seen,” says Signorile. “We’ll say, ‘Ok, that’s a pretty cool baby doll head, but what would happen if we used our own materials?’” This idol is in its initial stages. “We don’t know yet what she’s going to be,” says Cohen.

bluefeatherdoll

An idol dressed in peacock body feathers, with rock-salt guts.

blackbeetledoll

This idol’s face is covered in exotic chicken feathers, and its breastplate is made from scarab beetle shells.

belljardoll

An idol with its face covered in feathers from a peacock’s neck.

tableau

“There are three idols in this picture,” says Cohen. “The yellow one covered in sea shells is done. The white one is covered in rock salt, but it needs a little more work, and the winged one in the back was one of the first. The checkerboard my grandmother brought with her from Berlin as a child, and the little wooden fish in the corner of the board my dad made when he was a Boy Scout.”

shelldoll

The seashell idol in all her glory.

creepyhead

Cohen uses this head as a place to cast off bits of thread when he’s wrapping arrows. “It started as a convenient place to put loose ends while I was working, but then it started to look like great hair,” he says.

baby shoes

Discarded doll shoes have become places to store Q-tips, tape measures, crystals, peacock corona feathers, and a beetle.

books

“The third book down, An Exhaltation of Larks, is a book which lists the names for groups of things — i.e., a parliament of owls or a murmuring of storks. It has been incredibly influential for me,” says Cohen.

masks

At Bread and Butter, the silk-screening studio the two run at Flux Factory in Long Island City, they made their latest product — masks inspired by celebrity’s faces found on the internet. As to which celebrities, Fredericks & Mae are mum. “Masks are intended to conceal identity,” Signorile quips.

pickled

Fredericks & Mae take much of their inspiration from natural phenomena, from the intense color of peacock feathers to the fractal-like patterns in Romenesco cauliflower, which sat pickling under old firehouse beams when we visited. Besides, says Signorile, “I’m very into the whole philosophy of fermented foods. I make gingerberry kombucha and pickles. My girlfriend’s a chef, so she aids me in my desires. I’ll be like, ‘I want a sourdough that starts with blueberries.’”

yes

The two are also working on a series of kites, which will be made from dowels, silk-screened paper, and cloth tape. “All of our projects start with materials,” says Signorile. “None of the projects we have lined up require much in the way of acquisition.” Says Cohen: “We surround ourselves with nice things and they find their way to each other.”

portrait1

Signorile and Cohen on the roof.