Name: Maggy Rozycki Hiltner
Current Location: Red Lodge, MT
Education: BFA, Syracuse University
Preferred Art Medium(s): textiles: hand-stitched embroidery collage and quilts
Children (ages and genders): two daughters, 9 and 14
Website address(es): http://www.maggyrhiltner.com
What is your background (where are you from, education, important details, where are you now, etc.)?
I was born in 1975 and grew up in Pennsylvania. I come from a family of makers: my mother and grandmothers needle-pointed pillows, made quilts and stitched or knitted our clothes and toys; my father built odd things and cooked outrageous meals and painted murals in our home. I earned a BFA in Sculpture with a concentration in Fibers from Syracuse University and then was a Studio Assistant at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Was there any part of your formal or non-formal training that prepared you for being a creative maker and mother simultaneously?
I think having to hold multiple scrappy jobs at once in my youth to survive helped me learn to push it a bit to get it ALL done and how to jump from role to role.
Are there any women that you find to be an inspiration for you as an artist/mother? I’m impressed with any mom who can keep it all going. I think it is so important that we show our kids that we are more that “just” moms.
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? How did you navigate making artwork?
My medium balances pretty well with my care-giving. When they were really little, I did my designing and laying out at night or when they were having daddy-time. I carry a Ziploc bag of projects with me pretty much all the time so I can grab a little work-time in during naps and waiting times. (Like if they fell asleep in the car or if I’m waiting to pick them up from somewhere–I’m the lady in the parking lot stitching and listening to NPR.) Around their births, I didn’t take time off, but my production slowed down–I needed much more sleep.
When my 14-year-old was 2, I had a 13-year-old babysitter that I would pick up from school and she would hang out at our house playing with the baby until her parents got home at 6. So I babysat her so she could babysit my kid and I could have some studio time. Then I would stitch some more after putting the baby to bed. With my 2nd daughter (born when I had a 4-year-old, too) I paid a babysitter in the summer so I could work–again a young babysitter-in-training who played with the girls while I was in my home studio, so I was always available in an emergency, but discouraged interruptions.
My parenting style is learned a bit from the Waldorf preschool my oldest went to: the girls do their “work” (playing and art projects and cooking, etc) while I do my work (stitching) nearby. Its perhaps a little benign neglect–I’m present, but I want them to entertain themselves. I like for them to see me in my role of making my art, not just caring for them and our home. To get it ALL done-the art, the childcare, the housework, the gardening, the community service, friendships, and oh, yeah, romance–that’s the trick. I think it requires a basic mantra of get up early and stay up late. I rarely have idle hands… Now that they are both in school, much more independent, and can help with chores, I get more studio time (and more sleep!)
You often re-purpose stitched objects that you find. Can you talk a bit about what draws you to sewing and embroidery? What is are you looking for in the found object (quits, embroidered bits, etc) you seek out for your artwork? How does the object’s previous life inform your incarnation of the work?
I scour the antique shops, thrift stores and yard sales for embroidery–and now people send me things (everyone seems to have a drawer of family stuff that they don’t know what to do with). I collect mainly flowers and foliage but am especially drawn to the animals that are meant to be cute but instead come off with a sinister snarkiness. There’s a sadness to antique shops, and for me, especially in the embroidery – the many hours that were devoted to stitching these now discarded treasures. I like to think that in using these found bits and pieces in my work, I’m giving them a new life, a way to be precious once more. But you’ve got to know–if you send it to me I WILL cut it up.
Many of your pieces use children in the narrative imagery. Has motherhood changed your understanding of these our perceptions about childhood? How have your own experiences (as mother or as child) crept into your work?
My work features Dick and Jane-style kids, but its really not about kids. They are those archetypal all-American kids to stand in for us and act out our memories, good and bad.
‘Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?’—Lynda Barry
I try to create images that at first appear whimsical or vibrantly happy but on closer inspection are not quite so. Sometimes it’s a malicious undertone to the relationships, or a lack of self-control on the part of the characters, or maybe an otherworldlyness hidden in the everyday. Lots of innuendo, playing with the gaze and art history winks. If the subject matter gets too racy, I leave Dick and Jane out of it and sub in some anthropomorphic creature.
‘…we are traumatized and stupidly imprinted in early childhood and have to spend the rest of our lives trying to overcome these infantile mental fixations. And we never ever fully succeed in this endeavor.’ —R. Crumb
I think as a mom making art I try to be careful not to get schmaltzy or sentimental with my art. I use a little edge, a little humor so both parents and non-parents can get in it.
We often think of sewing as harmless and inoffensive. Toppling the viewer’s conception of “safe” is your strong suit. Can you talk about the power of stitching when it comes to subversion? How does the history of patterning and stitches help you sway what we see?
Fabric and stitching are familiar to most people: a comfortable and innocuous medium. The discarded household goods I use have a history of some other person’s place, actions and time. I often find these trivial decorations to be ominously full of double meanings. I use carefully planned neat stitches in contrast with kinetic playful scratchy ones to move the narrative and give voice to the characters. I like when the work feels like a Home Ec project gone awry. I want the work to feel cute or safe or pretty from a distance and then poke you in the eye when
What is next in your work? Anything we ought to be on the look out for in the near future?
Some of my work is touring around: Vantage Point is going to Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, then the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, and finally the Holter Museum in Helena. The show that is up at the Missoula Art Museum right now is going to tour–locations TBA. And I just found out I’m a finalist for the Raphael Founder’s Prize, so I have until next July to make something outstanding. Look out for that–I’m going all in.
Are there any projects, hobbies, or activities (ex. Running, knitting, tea connoisseur, arts organizations, volunteering, etc.) outside of your artistic practice that you feel passionately about? What are they? Do you find them feeding your practice? If so how?
My list of things I happily do when I’m not making art: gardening, cooking, seasonal decorating (I go all out at Halloween, Christmas, and Easter…and Thanksgiving and St. Pats and Valentines…making it magic!), throwing dinner parties (often for the Clay Center), and volunteering. (Sounds pretty Home Ec-ish…but I really WAS the President of the Home Ec Club in high school…I won pie-baking and chili cooking contests recently–I’m a total nerd for that stuff.) Up until this year, I helped run our Sheep Mountain 4H Club, Luther School PTA, and did many many volunteer hours for MSU Extension’s Master Gardener program (community gardens and lots and lots of WEEDING).
Mostly I’m into helping kids get healthy and happy getting their hands dirty. Now I’ve narrowed my service down to being on the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood of Montana. I also periodically organize the Red Lodge Art of Resistance, bringing art activism projects to our town and encouraging community participation and engagement with local, national and international issues. ..And I might start a Girl Scout troop…but it would be a pretty badass one. When people ask me what I do I say I’m an artist and an activist.
Finally just for fun. If you were to make a playlist today what would be your top 5 favorite songs?
Oh, way too hard–here are the 5 songs I would play to psych myself up RIGHT NOW!!!
Arcade Fire-Everything Now
Arcade Fire-Ready To Start
Queens of the Stone Age-The Way You Used To