One Proud Heiress
J.B Blunk was a sculptor who worked with the natural materials of both wood and clay in the North California area. He was tremendously appreciated for his work and artistic skills which acquired without any formal education on the subject. Most notably, he crafted his own little wooden cabin, which is now under the loving care and supervision of his daughter, Mariah Nielson, who is retouching the house to preserve her father’s legacy while simultaneously appreciating the emotional connection with it that she feels. Check out the story below and be sure to scroll through these photos. Incredible!
To start with the story of Mariah Nielson — an architect, curator, and design consultant — you have to start at the beginning. Raised in the hills of Inverness, CA, a quiet town just north of Point Reyes Station on Tomales Bay, Nielson grew up in a secluded craftsman cabin built by her father, the multidisciplinary artist J.B. Blunk. Nielson’s mother Christine, a weaver and textile artist, is the founder of the organic textile and bedding company Coyuchi. Raised to be curious, creative, and to forge her own path, Nielson has built a working practice that is both informed by and stands apart from her upbringing.
Can you share a little about your childhood? What kind of roles (consciously or not) did creativity, design, and artful play have?
Growing up in Inverness, in a house my father built by hand, seemed completely normal. In fact, I envied my friends who lived in the suburbs and thought their lives were exotic: television, sugar cereals and “normal” cars (my father drove a bright blue VW double-cab truck and my mother a dark green Karmann Ghia). My parents collected textiles, furniture, and ceramics from their various travels to South America and Asia and so our home was filled with art and design. I’m sure that growing up in a handcrafted house, surrounded by objects collected and made by my family influenced my work as a curator. Both my parents worked incredibly hard – my father was in his studio every day. He woke up early, took an afternoon tea break, and then worked until dinner.
On a more macro level, how do you manage living in two places that are so different in pace and in lifestyle?
When I first moved to London, my friend Martino told me that the only way to live here is to leave often. The weather here can be tough (especially for someone who grew up in California). When I travel abroad and return to London I truly appreciate this city and all it has to offer – I take advantage of what’s here rather than take it for granted. Because I spent the first 33 years of my life in the Bay Area I have a strong community that I have tried to keep in touch with and stay close to since moving to London. Thankfully, I still have opportunities to collaborate on projects and work in the Bay Area.
As a curator by profession, what is it like to curate the work of your own father? What are challenges that come from looking objectively at something so close to you in subject matter?
I didn’t begin working with my father’s material until after he died and I feel that that distance helped create some objectivity. Also, because I’ve studied design history and am able to now contextualize my father’s work historically, helps in understanding who he was as an artist and not just a father.
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