Fort Makers

Nana Spears, Naomi Clark, Noah Spencer, and Elizabeth Whitcomb are the creatives at the core of this artist collective, whose work encompasses everything from woodworking to block printing to hand-painting and beyond.

What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
American Design is going through what we feel is a really exciting change and movement. Makers are popping up all over the place, a movement we feel is a reaction to people’s somewhat new distrust of mass production. When products are made very far away, and we don’t know who’s making the products, and we hear awful stories about exploited labor, and toxic materials and pollution, we return to our roots. We do it ourselves, and we make it ourselves. The American market is demanding design that tells a personal story, and in reaction to this demand, more and more small, independent design firms are being created.

What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
This year, we’re focused on growing and expanding our online shop. We want the shop to act as a Bauhaus-inspired gallery, and we plan to add new one-of-a-kind pieces to it every month. For example, we’ll soon sell papier-mâché masks by artist Jacey Hanson. The masks have a cartoonish, George Condo–meets–Primitive Art quality. We’ll also be selling textiles by Christian Joy, one of the most avant-garde costume designers working today, who collaborates with Karen O, Marcel Dzama, and Alabama Shakes. We’ll also sell in our shop vintage and modern club chairs that have been reupholstered in hand-painted canvas by FM member Naomi Clark. Keith Simpson, the ceramicist who made our Primary Resist Vase series, will make a limited edition run of ceramic plates that will debut in November.

Outside of the shop, we’ll contribute to a Planned Parenthood fundraising project called Craftswoman (date TBD) curated by Jocelyn Miller, which will convene artists and objects inspired by the female body and experience. (We’ve noticed all these boobs and vaginas showing up in American Design lately, and we can’t wait to add our own version to the trend!) And Naomi and Noah will continue to work on commissioned pieces for high-profile clients’ homes. Naomi recently created a wallpaper mural in Anthony Sperduti of Partners and Spade’s new dining room, and Noah has plans to make a large outdoor sculpture that will also function as a light for a client’s Coloradan home.

What inspires your work in general?
Our work is definitely inspired by other artists, past and present. Whenever we make something, we like to understand how our work will be placed in history. We like to connect what we’re doing to what’s been done in the past. The Bauhaus has always been an inspiration to us, and in many ways we model our collective after it. We, too, make useable, multi-disciplinary art. We also push forward the discussion about what art and design is, and how these two categories differ. Walter Gropius wrote in his Bauhaus manifesto: “Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist! Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.”

We find this quote to be inspiring because what he spoke about — a new structure “which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity” — is happening. Everything is getting more fluid between art and design. You can find art now in many more places, and it’s becoming ever more pervasive. We think this is a great thing! This quote is also highly relevant now because it encourages multi-disciplinary collaboration. With global and complex problems occurring, like climate change and cancer, we need interdisciplinary dialogues to occur, and real collaboration to happen, in order to better the world.