by Athena Cocoves
I first met Maude on the sidelines of Field Hockey practice, immediately after starting High School at Maumee Valley Country Day School. We became friends after identifying that we had a mutual preference for sitting on the grass, talking about the bands we liked and the websites we clicked on, as opposed to playing the intensive Scottish sport. Maude was older, had very chic pink hair, and we shared a passion for the school’s art studio.
After graduating from MVCDS, Maude headed to Baltimore to study painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art. We kept in sparse touch throughout the years, showing each other our pet projects and passions, occasionally meeting for sushi or a drink during some of her frequent visits back to the Glass City.
A few months ago, my Instagram feed starting displaying some super-cute, soft pastel handbags and pouches with a specifically-Maude style, supplemented by an fiber-friendly approach I had yet to see her dabble in. Serendipitously, Maude got in touch with me to let me know the accoutrements of her “damn-this-looks-awesome” cross-country, collaborative project, Girl Group, were coming to town. They will set up shop at The Paula Brown Shop for a two-day, Girl Group Trunk Show on Friday and Saturday, October 23-24.
Hey Maude and Natalie, thanks for talking. When did Girl Group start?
Natalie Ebaugh: The beginnings of Girl Group started in 2012. We had originally proposed a collaborative project for a friend's art show, and when that didn't work out, we decided we wanted to continue. It took a while for us to actually get something going, but this year, Maude proposed we apply to sell at an art fair in Baltimore. It was a great opportunity to really buckle down and commit to doing this together.
Maude Kasperzak: We were friends all throughout college and had always admired one another's work. We came from different artistic backgrounds (I received my BFA in Painting, Natalie in Fibers), but our work had a lot of similarities, like they both could have come from the same world.
Where does the project’s name come from?
N: We were searching for a name while in the early planning stages of applying to our first art fair and I asked Maude if she liked the name Girl Group. I thought of it because I felt like it embodied everything we're about— creative women coming together, GIRL POWER!
What does Girl Group create? Can you explain your process?
M: Our primary focus is creating bags— primarily zip pouches, tote bags, and backpacks. Natalie and I hand sew all of our items and create all of the "outside" fabric on the bags. We use custom made digital printed fabric that features acrylic paint collages I made along with hand painted canvas, which we both paint.
Visual artists are often thought of as solo creatures, who work and produce alone. How do you successfully collaborate on a visual level— especially as cross-country partners?
M: I think our cross-country collaboration [I’m in Baltimore and Natalie is in Oakland] has it's strengths and weaknesses. On the upside, we can create at our own pace, during our own time. We don't plan too much how we want to approach each others' painting, but we'll choose zippers, labels and other materials together. There's also a really exciting element of surprise working so far away from one another. She's a color scheming wiz. I'm locked into a more specific palate that I always use, but we add a lot of life into one another's creative processes since we each bring something different to the table. Also, the internet has a huge part of making this collab possible! And FedEx.
N: Collaborating is all about flexibility. I think that many people think of it as being about compromising, but to me, that sounds like you aren't getting everything that you want. I think of collaboration as being about flexibility because it means that if you go into a project with one idea, you are allowing the outcome to change and become more than you expected.
How does collaboration help spark your creativity?
M: GG has been such a light in my life! There was always something that seemed so far away and intangible about creating paintings in a studio alone forever and hanging them up in big galleries that didn't connect.
N: One of the most beneficial aspects of collaborating with Maude has been the sense of accountability that comes with a joint effort. Before we started GG, I was having trouble getting started on projects in the studio, especially after long days at work.. When someone else is counting on you to complete a project, you are more likely to do so.
Do you ever have any stylistic disagreements? If so, how do you compromise?
M: I have this little bell that I ring whenever Natalie does something I don't like. That way, we don't [need] to have an argument that she would eventually lose, anyway. We both take criticism well and don't take it to heart. It's also important to know that you're working with someone who you can voice concerns or criticism to.
N: We don't often disagree since we're both so open to the outcome of what we're making.
What have you learned from each other while working together as Girl Group?
N: Oh my goodness! Where to start? We've both learned about painting and sewing, [and] also lots about running a business, collaborating and balancing our day jobs and GG.
M:We both surprised ourselves by how much we could make happen together and we don't even live in the same time zones.
What’s next for Girl Group?
M: We'd love to branch out beyond accessories and into wearable items like coats, vests or even kimonos!
N: I have been itching to do a clothing line, but we've also talked about home decor. The possibility are endless!
Maude: What do you do outside of this collaboration?
M: I'm working at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore as their Creative Director. I get to work with clients to help them design their cakes, work directly on the vast majority of cakes, and just make sure that everything is looking as great and perfect as possible.
Maude, You are a trained painter. What skills do you bring to Girl Group?
M: Well, my painting skills, my sense of composition, fun color schemes, and design. I was never a big 'conceptual' artist. I like things that look nice, are made well, are nicely composed, yet have a humorous, carefree edge. I'd like to think that these attributes are all present in our collaboration.
When did you move away from Toledo? How often to you come back to visit?
I moved to Baltimore for school back in 2007 and have been here ever since. I don't consider myself to be from Baltimore though, I'll always feel like I'm from Toledo. I come back as often as I can! My boss can vouch for that.
What big changes have you noticed since being a resident?
It seems like there's a wave of DIY and homemade that's sweeping post industrial abandoned cities in the midwest, is that just me? I think Toledo is catching onto that and it's so cool to see! A city starts getting big once the artists and good restaurants set up shop. We have a freaking charcuterie in downtown Perrysburg [Swig] and it's delicious!
What have you learned from Natalie about fiber?
M: The art of working with fabric feels almost as old as painting. Working in fibers is so much more technical – it's not really about sewing a line because you want to sew it, you have to sew a certain set of stitches if you want to make a pouch, and you have to be consistent. This idea is pretty in line with what I do at the bakery, and I've found that there's a part of my creative nature that connects with this technical way of working and thinking.
What draws you to Natalie’s work?
M: I remember seeing Natalie's senior thesis show like it was yesterday… The colors! The patterns! She made an incredible wearables collection called Tude Krew and I was so blown away by the silhouettes. It was just the perfect amount of wearable art and actually wearable clothing. We did a trade after school, I gave her a painting and I am the incredibly proud owner of a coat from the collection. I just had never seen someone make clothes like that. Also a side note- Anna Friemoth documented Natalie's Tude Krew collection and has also shown/sold her work at the Paula Brown shop! Toledo strong!
Natalie, what do you do outside of this accessory collaboration?
N: For work, I am a fabric buyer and director of social media for Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley, CA. The store is family-owned and has been open for 34 years. It's a great place to work for someone who loves sewing and fabric and it's such a great community to be a part of. I always try to have a variety of projects going on outside of my day job. At the moment, I am also collaborating on an underwear line with a friend who is just learning to sew, which has been so rewarding for both of us. I also love to quilt, design clothing and I've recently been planning pop-up events in Oakland to bring local artists and makers together. If it's sewing related I'm there! It's very hard for me to say no to creative opportunities, so I'm staying busy.
What draws you to Maude’s work?
N: I love the way Maude uses color and how playful her paintings feel. A good sense of humor is important to me. [Her paintings have] just the right amount of irreverence and good taste— which is not an easy balance to strike. There are a number of her paintings that come to mind that you could stare at for a while before you realize the joke. I appreciate that kind of subtle humor.
Grab something fabulous from the Paula Brown Pub and join Girl Group during the Paula Brown Trunk Show
3-7pm on Friday, October 23 and 10am-3pm on Saturday, October