November 2015 – Natalie Macellaio & Lesli Robertson

The Stats

Natalie & Lesli

Natalie & Lesli

Name(s): Natalie Macellaio and Lesli Robertson
Current Location(s): Plano, TX & Highland Village, TX (Dallas area)
Education(s): UNT MFA Jewelry & Metalsmithing, UNT MFA Fibers
Preferred Art Medium(s): textile, concrete, metal, indigo, & non-ferrous metals and mixed media
Children (age and gender): Twins boy & girl age 4  / boy age 6
Website Site(s): &

The Questions

What is your background (where are you from, education, important details, where are you now, etc.)?

Balloon Ring (Detail) by Natalie

Balloon Ring (Detail) by Natalie

Natalie: I grew up in the Chicago area and went to Eastern Illinois University for my BA and MA degrees. While earning my degrees I worked as a bench jeweler where I learn important skills in problem solving, time management, and collaborative working. In graduate school I was able to teach while finishing my degree.

Lesli: I was born in north Alabama, having spent my childhood exploring, dreaming, and developing a love for nature. As I began thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I kept looking toward nature, eventually deciding to pursue a degree in wildlife biology and environmental science. However, by the end of my bachelor’s degree my passion for art overcame my intrigue with science, and I graduated with a Liberal Arts degree. Despite years pursuing science, it was not a waste, but a fortunate path that led me to view the world around me in a different way. I began pursuing an MFA in Fibers from the University of North Texas (UNT) where my discovery of fibers became the window to the world that I always wanted to find. I was able to discover distinct cultures, societies and makers through researching textiles. Now, I am able to work as both an artist and Principal Lecturer at UNT.

Was there any part of your formal (or non-formal) training that prepared you for being a creative maker and a mother simultaneously?

Natalie: I didn’t have any formal or non-formal training, if fact I fell like a personal life was discouraged at any level. No one spoke about having any kind of work/life balance outside of grad school.

Held in Knots by Lesli

Held in Knots by Lesli

Lesli: For me, the short answer to this question is no. I don’t think anything that was in my formal training as an artist or professor allows for the discussion of life balance and how to pursue your work within a full life. There is an idea floating around that an artist is a solitary creative, whose pursuit in life is so wrapped into the creations they make that it leaves little room for anything else. Many artists I heard speak never referred to the intersection of personal life and art if it dealt with motherhood, there was just no conversation about it that I experienced. In my 20s, I struggled with whether to have a child, and decided that I needed to know more. When I found out an artist had a child, whether it was at a conference, gallery opening, you name it, I would ask questions about their life, work, and experience. I really wanted to know more from them, and understand how they held each element together in their lives.

Are there any women that you find to be an inspiration for you as an artist/mother?

Concrete tiles from The Motherload

Concrete tiles from The Motherload

Natalie: The best inspiration you can have is one you can observe and so Lisa Ehrich, Susan Mollet, and Ana Lopez are just a few of the women that I know on a personal and professional level who I respect as artists and mothers. As I meet more women through this project (The Mother Load) I am continuously inspired by their work ethic and life balance. It is wonderful to know these women but it is even better to see how it all ACTUALLY happens. Learning about the logistics of how women “find the time” makes a huge difference in understanding that it doesn’t all happen in a day and that people do actually sleep. Recently a colleague said that she tries to find 30 minutes (usually in the morning before ANYTHING else gets done) to work in the studio. Other women do other things but I found this little tip to be very helpful!

Lesli: I have a hard time with this answer, because after launching The Mother Load with Natalie, we continue to meet incredible women who inspire us in their pursuit of their work and their families (I would end up listing dozens and dozens of artists given the room). We have had the unique opportunity to connect to so many of these artists on a very personal level which has brought unexpected encouragement. I will highlight a few, which is only a small portion of those who have inspired. Israel artist Shira Richter, has been one of the most influential women for me in the past year. Her work and her life has caused me to challenge myself on why I make, who I make for, and the importance an artist holds in giving voice to issues that are surrounding our lives. As we got to know one another through Skype last year, Natalie and I saw how as an artist, she faced the war going on in Israel head on. It caused me to realize the power of the work we do as artists. Another very influential artist is Dornith Doherty, a Guggenheim winning photographer, who is a mother of two, need I say more. She was challenged twenty years ago as she decided to have children – several colleagues, women included, said she was going on “mommy duty.” Her thoughtful approaches to her photographs, her consistent approach to making powerful work that spans the globe shows me that the idea of being a mother does not have a limit. These are two women I know personally, while there continue to be more women I hear about who are mothers and hope to meet one day: Ann Hamilton, Phyllida Barlow, Wangechi Mutu, Janet Echelman, Michelle Grabner…

Can you talk about how you balance your role of artist; and the role of mother? Did you take time off after the birth of your children? How did that work? What about childcare?

Natalie: When my kids were first born there was no balance. I had my twins on October 5th and was able to take the rest of the semester off (by using all of my vacation, sick leave and extenuating circumstance time). The first 6 to 12 months was dedicated to finding sleep and making it through a workday. Having the support of Lesli Robertson to push me back into the studio really made a big difference in staying motivated to create again and see that it was ok to take some time for myself. I started teaching again in January (a little too soon) and my mom had moved in with us to help us get settled with the babies. In June my mom moved back home and we hired a nanny to watch the kids.

Lesli and her son

Lesli and her son

Lesli: One of the reasons Natalie and I started The Mother Load was to figure this out. What I have discovered is that one of the best ways to balance this life is to have a great support system of women and men who are willing to encourage and support you as you pursue your work, essentially forming a strong community around you. When I had my son, I went back to teaching when he was 8 weeks old, while at the same time, finishing and installing my first big community based exhibition. I have some blurry memories and if I could do it over again, I would have taken more time off. For daycare, I was lucky to find a center I loved and trusted. It was hard to take him but I knew he was in good hands.

What is your current studio practice like?

Natalie: Being a full-time professor at a community college leaves me Fridays for a studio day. I also try to sneak into my home studio a few times a week either early in the morning or after the kids go to bed. After having the kids my studio practice really had to change, since I did not have long stretches of time to work, to these short bursts of time.

Lesli: I am still a work in progress when I try to balance this with teaching and family. It helps that I have my studio in my home and one at my university, so if I have a moment, even if it is to run in a sit and think, I can. Also, our work with The Mother Load has created a wonderful commitment to studio. Every Friday for the past 3 years, Natalie and I work together in the studio.

Tell us about the Trestle Designs? What was it like to collaborate with each other? How is it significant to you now?

Natalie: Trestle Designs started when my kids where 6 months old and Lesli son was 2. Lesli was interested in having her students think about how to create a product that can be sold in a retail setting. We thought about how to use concepts in our own studio practice and apply them to a jewelry line. The pieces had to be made quickly, with interesting design and we wanted to make a profit. Lesli and I were both working with architectural forms at the time and started designing the pieces to fit this concept. Working collaboratively on this project opened the door to many other opportunities and possibilities of what my studio practice could be. It has made me rethink about the many different avenues the creative process can take you.
Lesli: I will let Natalie’s answer suffice for us both

What are you currently working on in the studio?

Purple Scribble by Natalie

Purple Scribble by Natalie

Natalie: I have, and usually always have, several projects going in the studio. I have started working on smaller pieces (studio jewelry) that are based on the drawings or my interactions with Milo and Fina (my kids). Collaborating with Lesli Robertson on the Mother Load project takes up about 80% of my studio practice currently. We will be traveling The Mother Load to Dundee, Scotland in February, 2016 and so a lot of work is going into getting everything ready for that.

Lesli: I pursue solo projects as well as collaborative works. Currently, we are working to open an exhibition of The Mother Load at the Hannah Maclure Centre in Dundee, Scotland in February 2016. We are thrilled to work with an amazing curator and three talented artists to develop this community based exhibition.
In addition to this work, I am in the middle of a Fulbright Specialist project in Kuwait with the Al Sadu House ( I am

Lesli Robertson

Lesli Robertson

working with Bedouin weavers and scholars to create a community based exhibition around the sadu woven cloth. Here is a link to my blog on this project –

When I have time, I am continuing to develop a series of works that look at the value of cloth and the handmade. This body of work includes textile based objects, concrete, indigo, metal, paper. I actually took a class from Natalie over the summer and learned about metal, turning my handwoven pieces into pewter and bronze. More of this work is here –

Are there any projects, hobbies, or activities outside (ex. running, knitting, tea connoisseur, arts organizations, etc) of your artistic practice that you feel passionately about? What are they? Do you find them feeding your practice and if so how?

Natalie: I run several days a week (on the road and trails). It helps keep my patience and allows me to keep up with the kids! While running some of my problem solving happens and sometimes I just think about nothing and it is a wonderful feeling!

Lesli: I really try to make sure our family has time set aside for ourselves. My husband has a very demanding job as well so we decided last year to get an old sailboat to escape to over the weekends. It has been the best things we have done. All of our work disappears when we are at the lake, and we are able to give our son the experiences we had as children, running around like a wild child in nature and away from suburbia. This has allowed me space and time to think, relax, and not feel that I have to produce or manage anything.

Anything else we should know?
Lesli: Mother/Artists rock!

Finally just for fun. If you were to make a playlist today what would be your top 5 favorite songs?

Natalie: Things in listen to in the studio: Radio Lab, This American Life, WTF, The Wood Brothers, Pokey LaFarge, Freakonomics, KXT 9.17 (DFW public radio)

Otis Redding, These Arms of Mine
Alabama, Song of the South
The Cure, Just Like Heaven
Pokey LaFarge, La La Blues
Anything David Bowie