Maker Works Artist-in-Residence: Monica Wilson

Periodically, Maker Works has hosted artists in residence. After a long break from the program, this is our latest one.

Maker Works’ goal in hosting artists like Monica is to promote people who are using the tools in creative ways, provide them with opportunities to learn new skills and use the shop’s tools, and also expose Maker Works members to the artists’ ideas and work.


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Monica in the Maker Works wood shop.

As a child growing up in the scenic Rocky Mountain landscape of Colorado, Monica Wilson was often inspired by the natural materials that surrounded her. Early memories of lichen-covered granite and streams flecked with mica laid the foundation for what would become a lifelong passion for creating art out of earth.

Monica went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ceramic Art and Sculpture from Eastern Michigan University. Her earlier works included creative expression with mixed media in sculpture, such as a thought-provoking montage of 1980’s cartoons and commercials to depict the transformative effect of popular culture. Her postgraduate work has included travel to many countries, including India, Jordan, and Morocco, where she has studied art and culture through pottery while also working as a photographer and videographer for a team of paleontologists.

In places like the ancient carved city of Petra and the sandstone Hindu temples in India, Monica spent time appreciating the decorative structures that were crafted out of natural materials, and her interest in creating art out of earth was solidified.

During her travels, she sought out potters who used clay from their own land to make food storage containers, chai teacups, ritual pieces, and other functional, everyday dishware. The clay contained vegetative debris as a result of being dug directly from the ground; when fired, the ceramic pieces were left with pores where the organic material burned away. The honesty and lightness in this natural material, paired with the monumental beauty of temples carved from stone, inspired Monica and left a lasting impression on the art she creates.

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A test run of her design using the ShopBot and insulation foam.

Fast forward a few years, past her return to the US and past many ceramics and sculpture exhibitions, presentations, and awards, to six months ago when her interests came together in this current sculpture project: a brick-like decorative wall made from gas-infused clay. She knew that in order to make this piece, she would need large-scale machining tools.

Monica connected with Bob Stack, long-time Maker Works member and organizer of the shop’s monthly Go-Tech meetings. They worked together on creating a digital design based on vintage wallpaper images. In the process, Monica learned to use MeshCAM, a software program that imports computer-aided design (CAD) files and also creates 3D files using only a bitmap image. Furthermore, MeshCAM uses G-Code, a numerical language, to communicate the specifics of the files to many of the machine tools at Maker Works, including the ShopBot CNC Router. Monica has been using the ShopBot to carve out the physical product.

“I have learned how to use design software and a CNC router, and the use of these tools has made it possible to produce my art piece on a grander scale,” says Monica.

Right now, Monica is working on the second iteration, and is about a quarter of the way through the whole project. The finished porous ceramic wall will be comprised of a Victorian wallpaper pattern in an exaggerated three-dimensional relief. She has created all of the 3D models using MeshCAM software and the ShopBot.

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A prototype done on insulation foam.

While the overarching design for the sculpture has stayed consistent throughout the phases of her project, she is considering incorporating additional materials into it, like resin, embedded glass, or even solar-powered LEDs.

“The community at Maker Works has been really important for bouncing ideas off of,” Monica adds.

In the future, Monica plans to teach a workshop at Maker Works on using MeshCAM for organic 3D modeling.

Once her project is finished, Monica’s goal is to enter it as a venue into Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize competition.

To learn more about Monica’s work, visit her website here: mo-wilson.com.