Nurturing Nature

Mayme Kratz, 48, is the type of person you just want to hug when you meet her. With a nest of curly auburn hair and a calming smile, she owns a natural beauty that ignites intuition and openness. Her serenity boldly invades her luminescent sculpture of embedded natural objects in layers of resin. Having grown up in a small mountain town near San Diego County in Southern California, Kratz has collected bits of nature throughout her entire life and now includes anything from plant seeds to animal carcasses in her gorgeous works, mapping the evidence of life, death and physical decay. Her studio, located near Seventh Avenue and Buchanan Street in downtown Phoenix, is a safe haven in an area teeming with crackheads and shady characters. One to embrace her environment, Kratz has become a part of her community and discovers daily inspiration among her homeless neighbors, as seen in her collaborative video installation with Helen Raleigh, "Urban Garden," included as part of ASU Art Museum's "New American City" exhibition.

Smell the roses in the “Urban Garden.” If they had stayed long enough to really watch it, I think they would’ve realized it was just about the conversation with the garden and barriers that were dropped when it happened. Everybody had something to talk about, and it was really interesting how there was a lack of fear when the flowers were blooming. On both parts — on my part and everyone else’s.

Love thy neighbor. And he’ll say, “You’re being careful today, aren’t you?” Which is his way of telling me there’s some people on the street that I need to look out for. And so he’ll keep an eye on the building and he picks up trash for me, and in turn I give him money or I’ll buy him something to eat, and we’ll have a friendship for a while and then he’ll disappear somewhere else. That’s always a sad day.

My apologies. I don’t feel unsafe. I have seen some things you wouldn’t believe. Kind of amazed what people will do out in the open sometimes. All kinds of drug deals, and there’s always a lot of sexual activity under the bridge. That sort of thing, I won’t go into details. Sometimes people will know that you’ve seen them doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and the next time you see them they’ll apologize. So there’s an awareness, too, on their part, which is a surprise. But it’s lively; it’s never dull down here at all, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else . . . in the city, anyway.

Bring out your dead. I go out a lot backpacking into the Superstitions — that’s one of my favorite spots, but not only there, other areas as well. And sometimes people will give me things. There’ll be a gift on my door, and I’ll open the box and there’s a snake in there. I tell people I don’t like to know where things came from necessarily unless I found them. So I’ll hide them from myself for a little while and then find them somewhere in the studio and use them.

What about Bob. There’s a body of work I’ve been working on for about five years called “Reconstructing Bob,” and I was out in the Superstitions hiking and I found a bobcat that had been shot, and someone had taken its head and it was really upsetting to me because I knew it was just a trophy kill. I had a residency with the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, and I dried him out and cleaned him up and I took his spine with me. And while we were working, we kept thinking, “What would Bob want to do now?” It became kind of this celebration about this bobcat, so they made me a little drinking glass with one of Bob’s vertebrae in the bottom, and so I get to have a glass of wine with Bob every night.

Bone collector. So I spent my childhood burying things and digging them back up and dissecting them, and in a way I’m still doing that same thing. It’s just that I’m not using dirt, I’m using resin, but still there’s that burial process and then that reinvestigation and rearrangement.

Head games. I always like things once I use them to not look like what they are. Oftentimes I’ll cast seedpods and bird heads together, and when you sand them back, they look the same. You can’t tell the difference between the inside of a walnut shell and the inside of a bird’s head. I like playing games like that. It’s kind of fun.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi