BY NICOLE KIEFERT | PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Melissa Scherrer Paré of Moraye
After spending some time in New York City creating art, Melissa Scherrer Paré relocated to New Mexico with her husband before deciding to raise their daughter where Paré grew up — in Milwaukee.
To settle her wanderlust and keep her grounded, Paré created Moraye, an online shop that sells beautifully hand-painted silk scarves and homemade wood jewelry, lamps, jewelry displays and more. Paré originally visited Milwaukee Makerspace to explore a ceramic studio, but instead found a laser cutter, and, as they say, the rest is history.
“I noticed the laser cutter machine when I was there, and I went home and just looked up all the things you could make with a laser cutting machine and my mind kind of exploded with the possibilities,” Paré says.
From there, she went on to create wood-paneled art pieces and jewelry. Moraye, which is named after a “woody and earthy” cousin living in Los Angeles, began as an Etsy shop with the same name. The shop became incredibly popular when Paré’s honeycomb jewelry display hit the front page of Etsy, as well as being promoted on the site’s Instagram page.
“I could’ve retired for a few years if I made that thing over and over again, (but) then you kind of become a manufacturer and that’s not what I wanted to do,” Paré explains. “I’m an artist. I like to come up with new things and explore new mediums, and (when you’re) making the same thing over and over again just to make money, you just get bored.”
While still creating art with the laser cutter, Paré also explores the medium of painting on silk scarves, an idea she stumbled upon when she found hand-painted silk scarves at the Milwaukee Art Museum’s gift shop.
“I’ve always loved painting, and when you paint on silk, it’s like painting with water colors. You can have an idea, but if you let it kind of be loose, the paint will mix together in its own way and create these gorgeous (designs) you aren’t necessarily going into it consciously wanting to make,” Paré says. “I like letting things happen and seeing what they’ll do, (which is) what drew me to that. Just messing around with this medium, where I could play with paint.”
Paré’s husband, who is also an artist, helped show her how to batik the silk scarves, a process that involves pouring wax onto the silk. The paint then resists, creating clean lines and shapes. From there, Paré boils the wax out of the scarf and is left with a beautiful, custom-painted silk scarf.
The mediums may be incredibly different, but both the laser cutting and the silk scarf painting call to her love for painting.
“I love working with paints,” Paré says. “That is the common thread though all this — that I utilize paint on my jewelry, I utilize it on the wood art panels, (and) I utilize it on the silk paintings.”
In addition to her love for painting, Paré also uses her interests in geometric shapes and vibrant, contrasting colors in her pieces, from the patterns on the silk scarves to the geometry of the wood cuttings and the colored string she chooses for her handcrafted lamps.
Paré is confident her work will expand and evolve as time goes on. In the future, she hopes to paint bigger silk scarves and continue to create stunning and unique pieces. And though Milwaukee is a much different place for artists than the bustle of New York City, Paré believes she found the perfect place for her to grow as an artist.
“I feel like Milwaukee likes me a lot more than New York. Ever since I moved back, people are more receptive to me. I don’t know if it’s the energy or what, but it’s easier for me to function as an artist here,” Paré says. “It feels like this is the right place for me to be an artist.”
Eric Crawford of Cream City Ribbon
Recently relocated to a warehouse in Glendale sits Cream City Ribbon, a close-knit workshop of about 10 employees working hard to bring customized, eco-friendly ribbons to satisfied customers.
The company, which was previously housed on West Vliet Street, has been around for more than 100 years, originally starting out as a leather business.
Owner Eric Crawford says Cream City Ribbon uses original equipment to make its beautiful and sustainable creations. The ribbons are made with the yarn strands all going in one direction, which makes for a stronger hold — an approach learned from the company’s days working with leather, in which it created this strong strapping solution.
“We’re sustaining this technique that goes back 100 years,” Crawford explains. “I’ve sustained and preserved these machines that are 100 years old, and that’s part of our story. Not only are our products sustainable, but we’re sustainability people doing work in a sustainable way.”
Crawford met the previous owner of Cream City Ribbon through his work on the board of the Urban Ecology Center. The owner asked Crawford to help find a new owner, but he was intrigued himself after hearing about the green methods the company uses.
“I found four buyers, and I threw my hat in the ring and said, ‘This is really cool.’ I believe in this idea of a sustainable career, (so when) this company presented itself to me, I said, ‘This is the next thing I could do.’ So I bought this crazy company,” Crawford says.
The ribbons are made with an environmentally safe, water-soluble adhesive that holds together biodegradable cotton yarn and fiber. The vibrant colors are created with a water- and soy-based dye. Not only are the ribbons beautiful, strong and functional, but after they’ve served their purpose of sprucing up gifts and packaging, they can further their use in compost bins.
“We’re saying, ‘Don’t throw it out; don’t buy all this packaging or give gifts and throw it all in the garbage,’” Crawford explains. “Here is a product that’s strong enough to tie up your tomato plant, leave in the compost bin, or leave outside and let the birds take it. ... Eventually the adhesive dissolves away because it’s water-based, and you’re left with a cotton yarn.”
On top of working with eco-friendly materials and the small, family-like staff, Crawford adds that he enjoys collaborating with local companies that truly appreciate the personalized product Cream City Ribbon works so hard to make.
“Here’s this local, sustainable company that we’re making ribbon for, (which) they put on their retail products, and (the ribbon) has their name on it.
That’s really satisfying,” he says. “I know it sounds strange, but I don’t want to be everywhere. I don’t want to go crazy for that super large retailer. I would rather have a thousand beautiful little stores that care about what they put in the box, and (have) my ribbon match the artistry of what goes in the box and (focus on) how my product shows off their product and speaks to their customers and brand.”
Crawford is also incredibly proud of the company’s environmentally safe methods. “I call it the ‘Holy Trinity’ of being green,” he says. “I’m kind of a green person, doing a green job, in a green way.” He practices sustainability in all aspects of his life, from the materials the company uses to biking to work on nice Wisconsin days.
“You see young people in Milwaukee moving to an urban area, and we love that. To me, as a sustainability guy, I love being downtown, where you can walk and live your life and save so much time,” Crawford enthuses. “I love Milwaukee. It’s grown and changed. It’s a really sophisticated city.”
Shelby Page of Shelby Page Ceramics
Piles of clay, a 1970s kiln and shelves of homemade plates, bowls and mugs decorate Shelby Page Ceramics’ Milwaukee studio. The web-based shop was started by Shelby Page, a UW-Milwaukee (UWM) graduate with a passion for creating original and functional 3-D pieces.
Page originally hails from a suburb in the northwest Chicago area, but moved to Milwaukee for UWM’s ceramics program after a teacher convinced her to follow her passions.
“I was going to community college (in Chicago), and I was going to go for an art education degree and then my teacher said, ‘No, you should do what you want,’ which is ceramics. So I moved up to Milwaukee to finish up my last two years at UWM because they have a really great ceramics program,” Page says.
Though she tried other mediums, such as painting and drawing, Page was most drawn to the practicality of ceramics and being able to hold a fully functional object at the end of the creative process.
“I’ve tried other things, and I have a very hard time thinking of things not in a three-dimensional way,” Page explains. “I think I also get less satisfaction out of it because part of the reason I like ceramics so much is because I like making things that people can use. It’s a really nice feeling when you’re starting something and there’s a definite end point to it and a reason for it.”
All pieces are dishwasher and microwave safe. Page says she focuses on creating sturdy, functional objects that customers can use — and without fear of them breaking.
“All of my making is based on how someone is going to use something,” she continues. “Instead of making something to be looked at, my entire process is based around how someone is going to use it. I’m really focused on making things that, while they’re interesting and visually appealing, will also be a really comfortable object for someone to use.”
After almost six years of working with ceramics, Page says she has the process down to a routine, but always makes extra plates or mugs when making a set in case something goes wrong in the firing process.
“There’s a weird thing with doing ceramic stuff, where you have to expect that things aren’t going to work, that things are going to crack, or (that) something’s going to go wrong in the kiln, so if I’m making eight plates for somebody, I’ll make at least 10 of them,” she notes.
Though the sets all look incredibly similar, the pieces are never exactly identical. But those subtle nuances give the items from Shelby Page Ceramics a unique touch.
“There’s obviously a little variation, but I think that’s the thing people appreciate,” Page says. “It’s nice because then you can tell somebody did make it — it’s not just from a mold, and they’re not exactly the same.”
Page works from a shared workshop space, where she throws the clay, glazes the items, and then fires them in her kiln. She also experiments with glazes of raw cobalt or copper, which change colors as they’re fired in the kiln based on chemical reactions.
In addition to her website, Page sells her pieces at Form Fine Goods, Orange and Blue Co. and The Waxwing. Select Boston Store locations throughout the area also stock her products. She fulfills custom orders for clients looking for a specific piece they can’t find anywhere else too.
Having grown up in Illinois, where “the city” meant the fast-paced city of Chicago, Page says moving to Milwaukee took some getting used to, but was well worth the relocation.
“I think (Milwaukee) is a really good place to get started,” she adds. “I plan on moving back to Chicago at some point, but I don’t think I could’ve done what I’ve done here anywhere else.”