Meredith Connor of Meremade Bags

Meredith Connors studio is located in a former store front in West Oakland, with the BART train rumbling away nearby. Her workshop is the stuff of dreams. A big work table runs down the middle, industrial sewing machines line one wall, with leather and rolls of fabric stashed everywhere.


Her first craft was ceramics. She studied Japanese and Ceramics in college, but after school found that working with clay wasn’t as accessible to her anymore. While volunteering at an art center for the homeless, another ceramicist taught her book binding and something clicked. She loved sewing and working with leather, and found the finished product so satisfying.

Meredith came to her craft as a bag maker by way of a traumatic brain injury that shifted the course of her life. Unable to work for some time, she rethought her path and decided to apply to the Masters of Social Work Program at San Francisco State University. She needed a backpack to go back to school, so she made one with the leather bookbinding scraps she had on hand. Embracing a learn-as-you-go approach, she continued to explore this new craft.

As a social worker, she took trunks of scraps to home visits with kids. “They don’t want to talk -- they’ve just been through something terrible and you’re a stranger in their house.” But they did want to make. “When we use our hands to make something, we can open up.” Making became a place to be that wasn’t stressful, a refuge, and a way to heal.

Having recently left her county job, after seeing how the system fails the most vulnerable people, Meredith is working to establish a private practice for her social work. In the meantime, the work she does with her hands helps her get by. We touched on the challenges facing artists in the Bay Area. Meredith cites sky-high rents as the number one obstacle, “ninety percent of what I make from this just goes to paying rent.”

Meredith makes almost exclusively custom work. She thrives on the problem solving and creative thinking involved in filling these types of orders. Meredith’s work includes a variety of leather and canvas bags and backpacks, hand sewn veg-tan leather slippers, wallets, and a variety of small accessories. She strives to create zero waste, and even uses her leather scraps in weaving projects.

In the workshops she teaches in her studio, people who might not otherwise cross paths get a chance to bond. “A group of six totally different people can find common ground. We all need this. It can take any form, gardening, cooking, beekeeping, anything that gives you a reason to get out of bed.”


Tina Fossella

We visited the home studio of Tina Fossella, tucked away under the redwoods in Mill Valley. Taking in the view from her studio, we talked about ceramics and using art as a way to heal.

Tina earned her Masters Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. She continued to study and practice in the Buddhist tradition, and lived as a monk for more than a decade. During that time she took drawing and painting classes, and took her first ceramics class at the Chelsea Ceramics Guild in New York City.

Tina first knew she was an artist when she began to work on healing. “My life as a child was very controlled and that had to be peeled away to figure out who I was. I started drawing and felt like my soul finally came out. Art was a way to heal. It’s therapy.” She found tremendous comfort in art, and in ceramics specifically. “Clay makes me feel good. It’s grounding and makes me feel in my body.”

After a scandal shook the Buddhist community she was apart of, she found herself turning to clay even more, and now as an extension of her spiritual practice. She began painting mantras on pots to connect her meditation practice to her ceramics.

Tina’s style is smooth and streamlined. Vases with graceful narrow necks, nicely balanced round bodied mugs and tumblers, pastel colored berry bowls, and vessels with carefully painted floral motifs are stacked in neat rows as she preps for a busy show season.

She brings the focus of meditation to the wheel. “I realized when making bottles, these vessels with narrow necks, they take a lot of focus. If you don’t pay attention, you ruin the whole thing. But being focused and present with it feels good.”

Ceramics is also the way she brings balance to her work life. Like many artists, Tina also has a “day job”. Several days a week, she travels into San Francisco to see clients at her therapy practice. “I love being a therapist, but it can be heavy. When I’m working with clay I’m energized and joyful.”

For Tina, ceramics is the center point that the rest of her life revolves around. “My spiritual practice, my therapy practice, it’s all centered on the wheel.” Making ceramics is meditation in action. A quote borrowed from Tina’s website sums it all up "Do whatever it is that makes you feel the most mindful and joyful!".

Cornelia Goldsmith

We recently had the opportunity to visit the studio of jeweler Cornelia Goldsmith, located in an industrial building in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco.

Cornelia started her jewelry making career 30 years ago. She went to art school in Houston, and later to Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Cornelia’s process runs deep and harkens back to ancient metalworking techniques. She makes her own gold alloy, and pours her own ingots to turn into gold wire. She even makes a lot of her own tools. “You see, you also have to be a toolmaker and that’s a whole job itself”.

Her process is meticulous, and requires immense focus. She uses an old Italian technique of engraving, and the granulation technique she uses hails from the Egyptians and Etruscans. It’s an intricate, exacting method that few master. The first step is to make the granules. Then these are carefully placed and adhered using an organic glue before being fused with a torch -- which she controls using her mouth for precision.

Her work itself is a sight to behold, and reflects her intensive process. The decorative motifs in her work make heavy use of commonly held uplifting symbols. A standout piece from her “Nature” collection, a cuff that comes in either gold or oxidized silver, features a gemstone sun in the center, and is adorned with tiny stars, birds, fish, and other icons of nature. Another piece from that collection is a tree pendant. “The trees come in different seasons, and it’s important that they look like they’re still growing. They represent the life force”. She showed us a fascinating traditional technique of temporarily mounting the piece in shellac so that texture can be applied to the surface. Using deft fingers and her arsenal of engraving tools, she is able to transform the smooth metal surface into any variety of minutely detailed patterns and textures--in this case, veins of bark coursing up the tree trunk.

Her most challenging project to date is a piece called the “Iceberg Ring”, which features a 36 carat custom-cut blue topaz as well as white and blue diamonds. The ring took two years to complete, and presented technical and material challenges each step of the way. No torch was hot enough to fuse the tiny slivers of platinum--meant to represent a fracturing iceberg--and they kept falling off. When she found a method hot enough to fuse the metals, she had to create special glasses that protected her eyes and allowed her to see what she was doing through the intense fire and heat. “Sometimes you need these very unusual projects to know why you make jewelry”. Cornelia’s persistence paid off, and for a time this ring even lived in a museum!

When asked if she had any advice for aspiring jewelry makers she said “The main things is you have to sit down yourself and make it. Unfortunately there is no fast road for making jewelry the old way. You can’t pick up these techniques fast, it takes years of making mistakes. But you learn through fixing those mistakes.”

Holding out a lovely, pristine pendant for us, she glanced up and apologized demurely for her hands. “When you make jewelry, you have dirty hands,” she said, smiling “If you look at the hands of a jeweler, and they look too perfect, they didn’t make it.” This dichotomy was in many ways the perfect distillation of our studio visit. Cornelia is a splendid jeweler and her work represents a master’s realization of their delicate, polished craft. To get there, she works in a studio filled with arcane tools, tall flames, and millenia old techniques. And she is very willing to get her hands dirty.

Eileen P. Goldenberg

Last Friday Eileen Goldenberg welcomed me into her home studio in San Francisco to talk about her own creative practice, running a business, and why she makes art.

Eileen first knew she was an artist at about 5 years old, when she found a can of plasticine clay in the back of a classroom, and found her calling as well. While ceramics was her first art form, it certainly isn't the only one. Eileen's studio is filled with her diverse and distinct bodies of work. Colorful, dreamy encaustic paintings hang on the walls, plastic containers house her handmade felt watercolor journals, and the angular pen and ink drawings that inform the surface design of her ceramics are neatly tucked away. She's also an active member of the urban sketching movement, a global community of artists that practice drawing on location in cities, towns and villages they live in or travel to. Eileen's work is inspired by the whole wide world around her – patterns in nature, Zulu shields, cave paintings, ancient ceramics, and the list goes on.

A typical day for Eileen usually starts at 4am. She wakes up and makes tea, then settles back into bed with her tray of drawing supplies, where she draws for a couple of hours. It's a powerful way to start the day, and a habit usually associated with art historical masters. When she's done drawing, she's goes to the gym, and then heads to the studio for the day. It's all about forming habits, and balancing them.

I asked Eileen if she had any advice for artists and crafts people new to their careers, and without hesitation she said, “take a business class”. Learn accounting, read every book about marketing that you can get your hands on, and learn how to apply to shows. Above everything, if you want to make a living as an artist, you have to learn how to run a business.

In addition to painting, drawing, and pottery, Eileen also makes watercolor journals. Made with felt covers, the paper is removable and easy to replace. They're lightweight and colorful, and the whole idea behind them is to encourage people to make art. In the vein of encouraging people to make art, she also teaches ceramics to kids. “They get it” she says, “They pick it up so fast.”

The moral of the story? We make art because we can. We love making art. We want to make it, because we want to have it!