interview NANCY GORDON


“Be genuine. One of my favorite professors that I worked with would
start every class telling this to his students. It’s advice I’ve always
understood and followed. And if I feel I’m not experiencing play I know I’m
getting away from being genuine.”
—Keanne Petrie, sculptor + ceramist 


You grew up in Mechanic Falls, Maine. Who or what were your creative influences?

Well, it sounds unoriginal to say that nature is a huge creative influence, but it’s absolutely true. Walks in the woods and exploring the beach were heavy influences, and I reference the ocean a lot.

But also, when I was 15 I was lucky enough to be a student ambassador for the State of Maine and travel to Spain, France and Italy. This is the reason I decided to go to art school. I loved the El Greco and Bruegel paintings I saw in Spain. But my favorite by far was seeing Michelangelo’s slave sculptures in Florence. I hadn’t actually ever made sculptures at the time, but it says a lot looking back that I chose those over the Sistine Chapel, which I also saw. I was so moved by them.

Tell us about watching “Saturday Night Live” tapes with your dad and the effect it had on your sense of humor.

So, I think I’m always looking for the comedy in life because of this ritual with my father. He would record “SNL” for me since it came on too late for me to stay up, and we would watch it the next day. I just remember that nothing felt too heavy if I could laugh about it, and this is still something that’s important to me today.

Then art school in Massachusetts, which gave you the opportunity to try many different crafts. Is this where you learned mold making?

I went to school for illustration for my first semester and then switched to sculpture. Drawing and painting were the only art forms I had access to prior to college. The only relationship I had had with sculpture was making candy with my grandmother. I liked playing with the hard candy we would make as it hardened and had all these different stages and it was very hands-on and fun. We would cast it into candy molds as well, and that was all my first kind of experience of play with material. So when I realized my college had a glass department I somehow linked it to the fun I had with candy and glassblowing was the first elective I took. It was also the first mold making I had ever done in art school. I fell in love with the process and the play.

Any advice that has stayed with you?

Be genuine. One of my favorite professors that I worked with would start every class telling this to his students. It’s advice I’ve always understood and followed. And if I feel I’m not experiencing play I know I’m getting away from being genuine.

You’ve built a commercial career around mold making and resin castings, which sends you to New York to work with some very high-profile companies. Pick one or two projects and tell us about the experience.

It’s been very interesting to be a part of this history of window displays that started people’s careers like Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí. My favorite company to create for is Hermes, because they are the last people to still consider their displays as fine art and actually include artists in the design. The first year I got to create their holiday windows was one of my most fun and memorable projects. I made a snow angel, a ghost hand and a mountain. Another fun one was making a large resin topographical map for Nike, because it was my first big project for them.

The mold making has an engineering aspect. Your personal art is more freeing, taking the form of glass blowing, ceramics, jewelry and combinations of all with some interesting and often amusing twists and turns.

I think what my art and mold making have in common is process. They all take time, thought and planning. I suppose they both have aspects of play as well. Even the action of mixing silicone or plaster brings me back to playing in the bathtub as a kid and mixing shampoos together and using food dye in shaving cream and painting with it. My father would say that I was “making a concoction.” I guess I just never stopped making concoctions.

How do you use movement to “express emotion, gravity and weight?”

I think I see my sculptures as emotions—and, for me, I think of emotions as interconnected with my body. Using kilns and heat to slump and change the material is a way of referencing how I feel emotions in my body. So I’m talking about weight or weightlessness as I experience and understand it. Everyone seems to intuitively understand these even if they can’t put words to it. Ha! I’m not sure I’m doing a good job with the words myself.

Growing up, you sifted through jewelry boxes. … What did this give you?

My jewelry box sifting goes back to my love of objects and what they can tell you. You can learn a lot about people by what they keep, especially what they keep hidden away in intimate boxes that probably only they ever see. My grandmother said I was a snoop, but I was just so fascinated at what I learned about her by intimately looking through her objects. It gave me her history.

What is the story behind your fishing lure jewelry? Do any of the other pieces have stories?

I once found a box of fishing lures that my great-grandfather had made and I thought they were so beautiful. I wanted to wear them like earrings and I didn’t understand why making lures was a masculine pastime when it seemed to relate so much to jewelry to me, which was always somehow feminine. So I guess I was trying to combine the masculine and feminine together in my lure earrings... and I just think they’re pretty. I want to make more.

And the relationship between the matching coffee cup pieces and fishnet stockings …

Yes, I at one time made a coffee cup that matched my fishnets. I think it was about an appreciation of a bygone era when people use to match their accessories. I also made earrings out of the cup handles I currently sell. I also have an obsession with ’50s and ’60s dinnerware, too, again from looking through my grandmother’s things.

You mentioned that, “Interconnectedness provides strength,” when talking about your netted ceramic bowls. How did you achieve their soft curves and metallic finishes?

Yes, I started making these netted bowls as a way to explore how the connections between strands provide stability and structure, and I was thinking of how that’s true of people and communities. One of these strands of porcelain alone is incredibly fragile, but once I start piecing them together they can become unbelievably strong. I do this by hand in a way that feels very meditative and personal to me. The metallic glaze that I dip them in acts almost like a glue and also provides strength.

You have acquired so many skills. Do you enjoy the learning process?

I love the learning process. It’s a form of play for me. I get to learn the limits, weaknesses and strengths of each material and it’s such a joy. Sometimes they feel like an old friend once you understand them.

Do you have favorite pieces in the different mediums: glass, ceramics and jewelry?

Yes, I do have favorites ... The ones where something unexpected happened. The one I call Propel was an early piece where I started slumping porcelain. The piece collapsed while I was making it and it had an interesting movement because of it. I thought once I fired it the energy it had would be lost, but I fired it anyway and to my surprise it still had a wonderful vitality. And the whole process of slumping the porcelain invites change, so sometimes when I open the kiln there are a few that really speak to me.

With jewelry it’s much more about the design, but the lures are definitely my favorite because of the connection to my great-grandfather.

Who is your favorite sculptor?

Tom Friedman for his aesthetic, process, wit, and humor that he manages to morph together effortlessly.

What do you hope to give people with your art?

I hope that people feel understood through my art. I’m reaching out and asking them questions and can only hope that they understand in that unspoken way that only art can convey.

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