Interview: Margie Criner

Tell us about your background in art. It is evident that you have a strong foundation in woodworking. Where did that come from?  

I first started working with wood when I was about 6 years old. The projects I would build were crude, mostly objects I could use as toys, that looked like mechanical objects, like a mock walkie-talkie or a tiny non-functioning slot machine. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I started building work from wood. I took a Bauhaus furniture building class, which was all hand-tooling. Then later, I was shown how to use larger tools like a table saw, lathe, bandsaw, planer, etc. The rest I taught myself, through experimenting.    

How long have you been making your sculptures? What first inspired you to create this type of work? 

In 2011, I started a business making small functional art. It was mini narrative sculpture that functioned as magnets or jewelry.  At the same time, I was making functional items out of wood and wool - belt buckles, belts, wallets, and handbags.  After a couple years of success selling this type of work, I was becoming more like a manufacturer, and less like an artist.  That frustration was the catalyst for building larger sculpture. It also pushed me to the ‘AHA’ moment of realizing I needed to combine my woodwork with my narrative work.

Your works seem incredibly labor intensive between creating a miniature interior scene with LED lighting and then encapsulating it in a well-crafted wooden exterior. How long does each piece take? Do you work on multiple pieces at a time? 

Depending on my exhibition deadlines, one sculpture can take me a week to a month to complete. I do however, work well under pressure and have been known to finish a couple of sculptures per week, working on multiple pieces at a time.

Tell me about the variety of materials that you utilize. Does the type of wood or where it was sourced from have any connection to the interior narrative? How do the exteriors and interiors relate and does it vary from piece to piece?

I use a variety of hardwoods in the exteriors. I share a studio with two hard-working luthiers. One builds acoustic guitars, the other builds electric basses. We all are drawn to the same hardwoods, and I am lucky enough to get all their scraps and cut-offs. The shapes of the exteriors are informed by the interiors. I try to not be heavy handed in the exterior shapes, and abstract parts of the the interior stories act as launchpads for the exteriors. An example would be a piece I made called Terminal that houses an airport waiting area. The exterior was informed by a combination of a jetway, an airplane window, and the Denver International Airport. 

I love that the viewers can appreciate the pieces from afar, but also have to view them so intimately to experience and appreciate them fully. What do you think the participatory aspect adds to your work? 

My hope is that the viewer has an opportunity to experience a few things. That shift in perspective, from the outside view to the inside, like ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. I also like the element of surprise that it offers. I was always taught early on in life to try to understand things from multiple aspects in order to gain better perspective. I think that life lesson shows up in the work. 

People are drawn to art for many reasons. Realism, abstraction, narrative work, humor, mundane, fantasy, macabre, etc. I hope to provide many aspects from myself in the work in order to relate to whomever is viewing it.

Where do you find your biggest sources of inspiration – books? music? other artists?

I’m drawn to the everyday, the banal. It’s a subject we all have experience with and can relate to. Lessons learned growing up, family childhood vacations, dreams, 1960’s thru 1980’s music, architecture, architectural models, math, musical instruments, old laboratory equipment, outer space, the Twilight Zone.

What are you currently working on? How do you see your art progressing over the next few years?

I just finished installing an exhibition at the Red Arrow Gallery in Nashville which is up until July 3rd. After that, I am building work for a show at A+C Architects in Skokie, Illinois and Gallery 13 in Minneapolis. All of these shows have sculptures with interiors related to the everyday - traffic, waiting in line, commuting, etc. Some interiors are more metaphorical, like people navigating through a maze.

I see my work getting larger, with multiple stories inside, multiple viewing portals, perhaps public installations. I have some museum opportunities brewing, but nothing I can go into detail about yet. Coming soon!

Want to see more work? Visit her website or take an in-depth look at one of the sculptures in this video