by steven biller & deborah ross
When Mayme Kratz works, that could mean a number of things. The mixed-media artist, who has resided in Arizona since 1986, likes to walk the trails in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and Superstition Mountains, which are visible from her studio just south of downtown. But on any hike, her eyes always wander to weeds, seeds, feathers, insect wings and other remnants that others might consider detritus. She scoops them into her sun hat or another container and, back in her studio, will examine her collection under a microscope to study colors, textures, forms and patterns. Quickly she envisions the reshaping of the materials into cast-resin wall pieces or columns. In a days-long process, she manipulates these revered objects from nature into precise patterns. Then she suits up with protective clothing and eyewear to apply at least a few coats of resin. Detail work with saws and sanders follows, until the pieces radiate an unexpected, ethereal beauty. Even the tiniest of objects reemerge as part of spirals, circles, crescents, ripples and more. As far as Kratz is concerned, desert flora and fauna hold limitless possibilities for reinterpretation in her works. The desert climate is key, as the dryness helps preserve objects, while the wide-open spaces offer more possibilities. Some of the more unusual items that have made their way into her studio include a bobcat's spine, wasp's gall, the mold of a brown pelican skull, rattlesnake ribs, and cactus blooms. It's possible to stare at her work and not grasp the materials she's used, as in a wall plaque bearing unrecognizable Mexican bird of paradise seeds, carefully compacted into a brown wreath, or when long shafts of wild grass turn into a thick mandala.
Part of Kratz's aesthetic comes from her training and residencies, which include an apprenticeship with James Hubbell and stints at the Pilchuck Glass School and The Museum of Glass, both in Washington. She has participated in solo and group exhibitions at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the Tucson Museum of Art, and the Phoenix Art Museum. The latter recently gave her a mid-career award and show.
Work is inseparable from her life, Kratz says, noting how ideas spring to life at unexpected times and in unexpected places. From a young age, she says, she felt "a sense of destiny" about pursuing the kind of art that she does, and the way in which she brings value to the infinite debris of the natural world can't help but convey a spiritual resonance.