Meet California maker, Erin Merriman. She and I have never stood face to face, but such an encounter was not needed for me to clearly see the light and love she exudes. The creator of the jewelry brand formerly known as Bearhead Factory, Erin recently transitioned her work into a new brand, Active Culture Family. ACF is a community of artists made limited edition collaborations made by Erin and friends. We love what she is doing and wanted to know more!
Tell me a bit about who you are. What is your own background?
I am a lucid dreaming - half Puerto Rican - youngest child - quadruple Aries artist and mamma. A chronic illness lead me to herbalism, where I fell completely in love with the ancient ways, with women, and the earth.
How did Active Culture Family come to be? Tell me about the name too!
The name is a play on words, referring both to beneficial intestinal bacteria and to a communal ownership of ideas and approach to art-making. I had been making jewelry under the name Bearhead Factory for almost 10 years, but am someone who is always changing and growing. There came a point where I felt limited by the fashion/ jewelry industry, and I realized that I needed to have a fresh start in order to really honor where I was coming from with my current projects. I am always checking in with my motivation for doing things, and would ask myself when I was up until 6 am, alone in my studio grinding metal, "why are you doing this?" The answer that came is that I wanted to be an active part of the culture, to be a participant and not a spectator in the conversation that is this moment on planet earth. The people I was meeting were all reminding me that this was supposed to be fun - that I didn't come to the west coast from New York to continue working within a competitive, isolating myth of what it means to be a woman or a designer. I realized that my heart wasn't in the process of catching the next big idea or making a new collection twice a year; that it was in the relationships forming with like-minded artists through the process of collaboration, and I asked myself, "why can't I just do that?"
Where do you draw inspiration? How does this play into your process of carving your wax, etc.
I am always thinking about answers to the question of how to be on this planet - how to be happy and make the best possible use of our time here, and where we exist in relation to the cosmos, to plant and mineral kingdoms, and to each other. Images or themes in my work tend to be more an expression of what I think is needed at this time, rather than an expression of “me” or my feelings. Lately I have been very inspired by mycelium- the clear, thread like part of fungi that forms a web, allowing plants to communicate and share nutrients along hidden channels and facilitating the cycle of life-death-life. Until recently, few people even acknowledged their existence, but we are discovering Mycelium to be one of the largest organisms on the planet.
Where do you source your materials?
We buy all of our casting grain from a local refinery that harvests waste from many different industries. Moving beyond only making jewelry has allowed me to explore the beauty of non-precious materials, like wood scraps and cotton. I was trained as an herbalist in the wise woman tradition, which emphasizes using common plants that grow in abundance, and it feels good to take this attitude towards art as well, using common and readily available natural materials whenever possible.
How many are involved in ACF?
Our numbers have always waxed and waned because I have up until recently lead a fairly nomadic life. In the past, it has been me and one or two assistants. We have recently radically simplified our vision to ‘limited edition collaborations only” and it’s back to just me.
What can we expect from ACF in 2014?
Lots and Lots more collaboration!
Next month we will be releasing a limited edition collection of pendants we made with the artist Bruno Borges of Penabranca. We also have a collection from an exciting new group of collaborators coming in the spring, as well as some really interesting workshops we scheduled for mid-year.