Marie-Maude Brunet launches her new collection, Irene, at galerie atelier b on Friday, November 8. I met with her at her Mile End studio, just a few blocks from our shop, to discuss her work. We’ve been selling her jewelry at our shop and crossing paths at all kinds of markets and events for nearly five years now, but we’ve never had an in-depth discussion with her about her jewelry-making practice, her background or her inspirations. I find the world of jewelry a bit abstract and mysterious. Clothing design has its own standards and traditions that are a complete other world. At the studio I discovered the fascinating, complex and highly technical work of a humble, down-to-earth artist.
All photos are by Marie-Claude Brault.
Artist, designer or craftswoman?
Marie-Maude crafts contemporary jewelry under her own name and also runs a jewelry line called marmod8. Contemporary jewelry—collections of one-of-a-kind pieces, often exhibited but rarely purchased—lets her push her creativity to its limits. Her marmod8 line, where she produces different series of jewelry, allows her to... make a living from her art! She tries to find a balance between the two, each facilitating the other.
For her work for marmod8, Marie-Maude tells me she doesn’t see herself as an artist. She considers artistic practice something that’s engaged and sacred that holds a certain complexity. In contrast, there’s an ease to the work for this line; her hands work almost by themselves, without the need to think. And she doesn’t see herself as a designer either—a job title she finds a bit unclear. It’s simply not a word that’s part of her vocabulary. When she makes contemporary jewelry, this is a bit closer to her vision of art in terms of process, but since the objects she makes are decorative, it’s not completely right either. Marie-Maude thinks of herself, instead, as an artisan. Her studies in visual arts and art history have definitely shaped her vision. Marie-Maude also often draws with live models. She does pottery and still takes every kind of manual technique class she can find. She can’t imagine not working with her hands every day.
Marie-Maude’s inspiration is intuitive, not thought-based, and this is reflected in the pieces she creates for marmod8. She brings her own unique visual world into her work, producing objects with a particularly flavour to them. Marmod8 is easy to spot: a little punk, sometimes a bit dark, often with a nod to jewelry’s rich past. Each item design is crafted by Marie-Maude in small batches for the simple reason that she gets bored when the work is too repetitive.
Possibilities and limitations
Marie-Maude dreams up her designs, then uses skills she’s honed in glass blowing and visual arts to lend them concrete form. Often she doesn’t draw out her ideas but simply gets to work with her hands. For example, for her newest collection she used wax thread to make maquettes, which is an atypical way of doing things. She gives herself the room to find new uses and reinvent traditional ways of doing things, likely inspired by the non-traditional path that led her to jewelry making. The materials used for these maquettes greatly changes the final results. Marie-Maude pulls open her tiny wooden drawers to show us the different tools and materials she uses, including a pencil that heats up. I ask if I can see her hands—does she cut and burn herself often? There are no apparent injuries, but it’s clear that her fingers and hands have been hard at work! Designing a new collection is a lengthy process, but once the moulds have been created, the pieces are still available, or able to be made to order at least. Unlike clothing, jewelry doesn’t really have seasons. Marie-Maude usually aims to complete one new collection a year, which feels like a good pace for her.
The technical details about the manufacturing process that crop up during our conversation make us realize how complex jewelry-making really is. We look at a rubber mould used to inject wax into. Our photographer Marie-Claude, who studies graphic design, immediately sees a parallel with typecast letters. Moulding a piece of jewelry or moulding a cast-iron letter is apparently similar! Marie-Maude tells us about the different subcontractors she works with for moulds and casting. I learn that numerous people in the Montreal jewelry industry have worked behind the scenes of the iconic Birks store on St. Catherine for decades. She describes the jewelry casting method used: plaster cylinders heated until the wax melts, then the metal that is heated and injected into the mould. The complex steps required to produce a single piece of jewelry is astounding. We might all work in related fields, but what we do each day remains a mystery to each other. I think such a fascinating process deserves to be documented!
An artisan community
Marie-Maude shares her studio with like minded artists and artisans: painters, a shoemaker, a costume designer and leatherworkers. They all work together in a room filled with natural light, overlooking the stadium, on the seventh floor of an industrial building in Mile End. She traded in the corner of her bedroom for this shared space. Far from distraction, she has noticed her productivity increase and she’s regained privacy at home. Working outside the house has also broken the isolation of her line of work. Exchanging with others, even if it isn’t to talk about something creative, gets her creativity pumping. The different practices all happening at once in the space gives her energy, almost an effervescence. Marie-Maude finds these moments shared with people who also make a living from their crafts to be truly precious.
Far from mainstream trends and fleeting fashions, Irene draws inspiration from Byzantine jewelry. The pieces are defined by their raw but delicate crafting, where traces of the artist’s hand remain, in all its intention and imperfection. Their simple organic shapes lend a unique authenticity. The collection takes its name from Irene of Athens, a little-known historical figure who was the first woman to reign alone, from 780 to 802, as empress of the Byzantine Empire. The pieces celebrate the strength, delicacy and beauty of irregular shapes.”
We are very excited to see the results of this adventure, which we now know to be a long and arduous process, but also one filled with so much possibility.