“My work hovers somewhere at the intersection of art, craft and design,”
says Julie Morringello, the Stonington artist behind Modernmaine and her series of handmade contemporary lighting fixtures.
Exploring “modern” in a Maine setting means redefining what
“modern” is, she says. “I’m inspired by the idea of technology meeting
the natural environment. The lighting I’m making right now has
its origin in natural, beautiful materials, but it’s made of an engineered material that is digitally cut and then assembled by hand, so it’s
a bit of everything at once.”
Clockwise, from top left:
California Dreamin’, 2017, 22 x 22 x 38 inches, hand-painted wood veneer
Photo: Julie Morringello
"Dreaming about California during a long Maine winter."
Light Drops, 2019, sizes: 11 x 15 inches, 14 x 18 inches, 19 x 28 inches, digitally printed wood veneer, acrylic globe, raw brass hardware
"A collection of lights inspired by the luminous blue of the early afternoon sky, representing hope and optimism."
Bottoms Up, Sizes: 8.5 x 7 inches, 8.5 x 11 inches, 8.5 x 15 inches, wood veneer
Photo: Julie Morringello
"A collection of individual pendant lights with a simple but unique hanging assembly that allows the wood shades to be reoriented to hang right side up or upside down, without any need for rehanging or rewiring."
Drifter, 20, each 40 x 14 inches, digitally printed wood veneer, raw brass hardware
"A collection of lights inspired by the sunset skies, representing languor, contentment, sensuality."
Morringello, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, began making sculpture and furniture, but in recent years has moved into the creation of lighting. She uses maple veneer that can be scored and folded and bent into her fixtures, which bear names such as Gravitron, Pattypan and Briolette that express the shapes or concepts they represent.
Regarding her evolution as an artist, Morringello says, “I really wanted to shake up my studio practice. I had been making sculpture and furniture but I felt like I wanted to work with a wider array of materials.” Her furniture included limited-edition pieces, with a fair amount of cabinets and chairs, but lighting was also part of that work.
Several aspects drew her to lighting, she says, including the scale: “It was smaller, but still a mix of the sculptural and the functional. In some ways, it wasn’t a big departure. I love sculpture as much as a lamp over someone’s table. They both satisfy me.”
Her initial lighting work used Tyvek and plastic and acrylic—materials she says she’d like to revisit. But currently most of her lighting involves domestically sourced maple veneer. “I’m obsessed with materials. I make tons of models to see what materials can do. I try to come up with ways that light can enhance and highlight a particular material,” she says.
The artistic process involves model making—creating pieces on a small scale—and sketching before heading to the computer to “nail down the particulars.” Then it’s back to model making at regular scale, sometimes using poster board, “which is a great stand-in for veneer.”
Ask many Maine artists where they get their inspiration, and they point to the world outside their window. But that’s not the case for Morringello, who is aware she’s an anomaly.
“Usually it’s things in the human-made world. I try to get out in nature—it improves the quality of my life—but it’s not my inspiration. That’s architecture and things that are made. It’s more a sense of how things are put together or how they are built. It’s more fundamental—engineering is in there, but also expression.”
Morringello’s work has been shown at the Maine College of Art and was celebrated by the Society of Arts + Crafts with a show in Boston when she was selected as one of their artists of the year in 2017. She is now contemplating her next area of exploration.
“In the back of my mind I’m already thinking about the next material I’d like to check out. I won’t stop working in wood, but I look forward to exploring something new. I enjoy creating dimensional structures out of flat materials, which makes me think about sheet glass, which I can have digitally cut at a local fabricator. “