Artist Profile: Harriet McNamara of Surplus

Harriet in her new MOSCOT frames!  So cute!

Harriet in the late eighties/early nineties on a photo shoot, and her now (blurred in the background).

Dustin checking out a more current portrait.

Harriet has traveled the world (her father was a diplomat) and has a passion for anything ground-breaking, alive, turned-on-it’s-head, raw, woven, textured, African, and vintage (to name just a few).   She has lived in Chicago, Santa Fe, Paris and now Seattle.  She has a B.S. in Design (with a photo journalism minor) from University of Iowa.  She went back to university in the late eighties and achieved a B.F.A in Metal Design from the University of Washington.  Harriet has been working on her two passions: photography and metal design/jewelry/art for 30 years and 25 years, respectively.  She is responsible for the beautiful sunset that we have blown up and mounted on the back wall of the store at the moment.  She is such a creative inspiration to both Dustin and myself.  As far as her jewelry line, Surplus, she specializes in steel that has been found, altered and tumbled (for up to two years on some pieces) from her favorite Seattle forge.  She is also the master at incorporating found objects, usually exotic and from far flung locales, into her work.

We asked the fabulous Harriet McNamara to answer some questions for us about her jewelry and what inspires her amazing and eclectic line. We so appreciate her jewelry here at Hitchcock Madrona, and are grateful for how honest and open she was about her design process when responding to our questionnaire. Thank you so much Harriet!

How would you describe your line’s aesthetic?
I love references to history, imperfection, which is the mark of the human hand. (The less manufactured, the better.) Somewhat edgy/ethnic. If it doesn’t make a statement, I don’t bother. An overused icon is forgettable. And, it MUST be sophisticated.

When you design your jewelry, is there any particular woman whom you design for?
I design for all the women I’ve loved in past and present. Audrey Hepburn, Kate Moss, Veruschka, Julie Christie, Isak Dinesen. These women have/had not only beauty, but [also] class.  Now, class is something you can’t buy. But, if you have it, you can wear anything! (And that includes our own Erica Nelson-Sheehan!)

I’m soooo sophisticated!

What is your favorite way to style your pieces?
I love to work with shapes that are similar. They can be of any material but if the shapes fight, I know I won’t win the battle in trying get a stunning result. I try not limit myself, re: size. Anything too slick relegates the piece to Louis Vuitton. And, it would be so fun to wear a bit of glitz with a t-shirt—can’t do that with “slick.” In fact, I quite dislike “slick” in general. In shoes, in clothing, in everything. [I] have a similar dislike for safe and “matchy-matchy”. What I like is surprise, humor, wit, and mystery. If a woman has those qualities we love her. The way she characterizes herself tells a lot about who she is. I never wear fleece or puffy coats!

Where do you find inspiration for your collections?
All around me. Especially in my studio, glancing around at all my random stock from all over the world. I was lucky as a young person to travel. I hardly know where my mind will take me. What will remind me of the time I had an eight course French meal?!! What the women were wearing at that time was amazing. I remember, I was a post-teen and it was the mid ‘70’s. Someone sitting near me told me that to preserve “scent” you must put it on your jewels!! I’ll never forget her scent or her jewels. My best friend from college always wore a piece of jewelry with her clothing. She was near six feet tall, with chopped blonde hair. Nobody looked like her.  She was absolutely unforgettable and still is. The shop girls in Paris with white t-shirts and amazing faux jewels were the trendsetters. Karl Lagerfeld gets his best ideas from them (rumor has it).

A collage of Harriet throughout her life.

What do you particularly love about designing jewelry?
I was never much interested in working with the one dimensionality of painting. I enjoy taking something like a flat piece of metal and making it a three-dimensional item. And it doesn’t have to be as exact or have an intellectual aspect, like architecture.

What would you say are three key pieces of jewelry that every woman should own?
One fabulous, huge ring (not your engagement ring). A simple but intriguingly shaped necklace (I like my tic-tac-toe necklace) that can be worn with anything. A lot of fascinating bracelets that can all be worn together.

Statement ring by Surplus.

What aspect of the design process do you find most challenging?
Deciding if the piece that I love will be loved by anyone except a runway model. I get pretty far out there with my ideas. Taking things apart has to be [a] part of my process.  I hate it. I am currently working on a piece that looks like part of a robot. I adore it, but have already started taking parts off it. Tres tragic.

What clothing or jewelry designers do you admire?
I love all the unnamed jewelry designers who are street vendors in NYC. I love the flea markets in Paris and London. If I can still find Schiaparelli, Chanel or Adele Simpson in any of the vintage places, that’s my favorite! I have an old Christian Lacroix piece that I keep at my workbench.  FABULOUS! Ethiopian jewelry is the best! Comme des Garcons’ designer Rei Kawakubo made imperfection into an art form. She IS the 21st century. But, she is old now. Very far ahead of her time. There was and never will be another like her. I think Rick Owens is the best for VERY modern. I admire his work. It is so clean, yet terribly sophisticated. Hard to achieve.

What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of being a jewelry designer?
When I finally say, “this will work!” So much goes into being inventive without being offensive or too “over the top.” I was told to send my “over the tops” to Paris. I could, but I really want to challenge the June Cleavers of the world to just get out there and BE!!  Take that apron off and have some fun.

As you can imagine, we LOVE Harriet!  If you own a piece of Surplus jewelry consider yourself ahead of the curve.  Every item that leaves Harriet’s studio is full of HER.  Her energy, spirit, creativity and wisdom.  She is truly an original and we are so lucky to work with her.

XOXO

Erica & Dustin


One Comment on “Artist Profile: Harriet McNamara of Surplus”

  1. Nancy Adams says:

    Harriet was my favorite Kentridge High School teacher, class of 1974, and I would love to have a cup of coffee with her, nearly 40 years later! My name then was Nancy Grugel, and I was editor of our yearbook, among other things I did in her department.

    Could you provide a hookup for me with her if she’s interested?

    Thanks if you can do something…

    Nancy Adams


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