Mary Hettmansperger—Mary Hetts, more commonly and for short—is a multimedia artist comfortable working in fiber, metal, and beadwork, but perhaps most comfortable combining these media in ever-evolving intelligent, intuitive, and spontaneous ways. She’s taught at craft schools like Arrowmont and category-specific shows like the Bead & Button Show, had her work showcased in a glittering array of publications, and authored three well-received jewelry books: the new Mixed Metal Jewely Workshop, as well as Wrap, Stitch, Fold & Rivet and Fabulous Woven Jewelry. Always joyfully busy with her artwork and family, Mary paused just long enough to answer a few questions about her career and life.
What does a great day for you look like, Mary?
I wake up early and well rested, and I have a good cup of coffee and some time on the computer to write. Then I head for the studio.
My husband and son are out on the golf course or fishing, and I’m free from cooking or considering their schedule. I work until mid-afternoon in the studio, and then I head out in the sun for some mowing and gardening for the rest of the day.
I take a cool shower, eat something like ice cream or cereal for dinner, and then—with several great movies in hand—go back to the studio to work late into the night.
The day ends with me crawling into clean sheets and falling asleep to the sound of rain.
On a winter day, the studio time would be all day, the boys would be skiing, and it would be snowing out.
I was born and raised in Colorado. I always wanted to be an artist. But somewhere in my teens I decided that I should be more practical and decided to become a nurse.
I was in my first year of college when it hit me that I really needed to follow my passion. I quit nursing. I married my husband. We moved to Indiana. And then I went back to school for my artwork.
What do you think it was that helped form that dream of being an artist, and what helped you achieve it?
My father was an artist who really never got the opportunity to work in art. He seemed to lack the confidence to pursue his dreams. I could tell it was hard for him. And it was hard to watch.
This memory has always made me determined to continue to pursue my dreams. When I moved to Indiana, my husband was very supportive of my artwork. He encouraged me to continue my education, which gave me confidence in myself.
Teaching art has allowed me to travel all over the world and given me many opportunities. I’ve also been surprised how much I love to write books and what great doors have opened for me since I first was published.
I’m always thrilled with every step forward that I take both artistically and professionally. I feel very lucky to make a living at what I love to do.
The people are the greatest part about it. I’ve been fortunate to meet many amazing people over the years and to develop life-long friendships.
Your work is so varied that I’m wondering: How do you describe yourself in terms of your art …
I’m most satisfied personally when I work. I love to be busy and working all the time. Because I have so many interests, materials, and directions in art, I’m able to wake up and follow whatever direction I want to go.
I can’t see myself doing anything else but what I do now. My creativity and I seem to be one. Not a day goes by that I’m not thinking about my artwork.
… and how do you describe yourself as a person?
I’m very positive. I rarely have a down day.
I’m very spontaneous. Just today I woke up and decided to paint my bathroom—no notice, no big plan. I just thought about it and did it.
I think my work is also that way. I’m a bit scattered when it comes to creativity, in that I have endless ideas and no particular focus. I tend to wake up and follow wherever my creativity wants to takes me that day.
There’s never a big plan in the studio, either. Often I’ll start preparing a class or trying to complete a project, and then I get derailed and end up sewing or creating jewelry.
Several years ago I had a friend tell me to focus on one direction in my art and eliminate the other areas of art that I like to do. I tried it, and it worked. I was very successful in focusing on my basketry and taking it further, leaving the jewelry behind for a while. But what I discovered was that it wasn’t me. I became bored, uninspired, and basically unhappy.
I’m very multifaceted. I have many sides to my personality. I love people, yet I love to be alone. I can be totally disorganized when I cook a meal, but I’ve taught classes for 28 years and can be extremely organized. I love to use my hands to create, but by writing books I found that I yearn to write and document my thoughts more and more.
The way I go through life—free spirited and open to what comes my way—really works for me.
Are there challenges in working so prolifically in different media and in mixing media in your artwork?
For me, it’s the only way I can work. Like I said, when I focus on just one thing, I become stagnant and bored.
The only challenge for me is paperwork and sorting dates and deadlines. I always tell my family that if it all ever gets to be more than I can handle alone, I won’t hire anyone. I’ll just cut back.
So far, I’ve been able to keep up, and I feel good about the balance in my life.
Does the variety in your artwork make it harder—for better or worse—to be categorized, and harder to be “found”?
If I understand the question right—“found” meaning people finding me and my art, because I do so many things—well, I actually try to hide! I have plenty to keep me busy already.
When were your drawn to making jewelry?
I’ve always loved jewelry, even as a kid. When I started my career as a fiber artist, I was making baskets. Even then, I would use the weaving materials and miniaturize the baskets to make them into jewelry.
In time I discovered wire and copper and began using the metals in place of the natural and soft materials. So from the beginning I was drawn to the idea of making jewelry.
Do you have any jewelry-specific guiding or aesthetic principles?
I remember in eighth grade, my classmate Patty told me I could not wear my silver bracelet with my gold ring and that I would have to pick one metal to wear. I went home and asked my mom if Patty was right, and to my surprise my mom said yes.
I liked the look of mixing the two metals, and I was very determined that I’d wear what I wanted. I’ve always mixed my metals since then.
This one stand that I took determined my style of wearing mixed metals over the course of my whole life and also how I design jewelry now. Rustic-looking jewelry, mixed materials and metals, and unique designs really appeal to me, along with a look demonstrating that a piece is handmade.
It’s hard to choose because I really like them all. They each have a unique look and quality.
Probably Wrap, Stitch, Fold & Rivet is my favorite, though. All the projects are really successful, and they are a great starting place for people who’ve never done any metalsmithing.
What do you do to refresh yourself creatively?
I clean and organize the studio. My studio space has always had a huge influence on me and my creativity.
Do you ever get “stuck”?
Rarely. I do try to kick-start myself when I’m headed into the studio to do some major work. I find a comfort in repetition, so I often start myself off by doing some production work or packaging. It just gives me time to be in my workspace and to think about the things I want to do.
There are many more than five, though!
Mary, what do you do for fun—other than your artwork?
Hanging with my kids—I could follow them around doing anything. I love being with them. I enjoy time with family and friends and traveling with my husband. And I love to garden!
How did “Mary Hetts” become a common nickname for you? With a last name like Hemachandra, I wonder if I could become “Ray Hem” in the same way?
Exactly! Mine was shortened just because people found it easier to remember and say. I think it works to do the “Ray Hem”!
What’s the Mary Hetts mission statement?
My mission statement is to continue on just as I am now: exploring my creativity every day, seeing the world, experiencing art and people, and living life to the fullest.
I could not want anything more than I have right now.
Jamie Cloud Eakin (with bonus project)
Laura McCabe (with free project)