Sandoval Signpost
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  Featured Artist
 

 

Featured artist: Molly Mendenhall

Intricately beaded wearable art, by Molly Mendenhall
Photo credit: —Oli Robbins

The jewels of a farmer

—Oli Robbins

Molly Mendenhall isn’t your typical 24-year old. Rather than slaving away at an entry-level job and staying up until the wee hours of the morning with partying twenty-somethings, she’s talking shop with farmers—some of them well into their seventies—and waking up at the crack of dawn to go out and weed her garden. Molly is working harder than she ever has, building a life for herself that she never envisioned having. In addition to being a skilled beader and jewelry designer, Molly is a full-time farmer in Los Lunas. Her weekends are chock full of farmers markets and art fairs, where she sells her edible and wearable creations.

Molly always assumed that she would follow a traditional education and career trajectory. “Because I had gone to a prep school,” she explains, “I had this idea in my mind that what you do is graduate, go to college, and get a job.” But in the year following her graduation from high school, a series of events unfolded that set her life on a different, and less certain, path. Molly enrolled at UNM, where she was pressured to declare a major straightaway. Her love of animals and interest in primatology led her to choose anthropology. While her courses were interesting, she simply wasn’t inspired. “I liked what I was studying, but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do,” Molly remembers. Fueling her sense of ennui was her job as a barista at a local coffee shop. She knew she was more attracted to an off-the-mainstream way of life, but was cautious to venture away from the well-trodden course she was on. Says Molly, “I had an inkling, but I was terrified.” One day, on a whim, she set up an Etsy page to display and sell her jewelry. At the time, Etsy—now the leading online marketplace for hand-crafted and vintage goods—was small and just beginning to develop a global following. Molly’s first week on Etsy was so successful that she, in good faith and with a daring spirit, quit both school and her job.

Molly began exercising her love for art at an early age. She took classes in painting and busied herself with whatever craft projects she could get her hands on. But she never thought that she could make a living as an artist. As a kid, Molly dreamed of becoming a vet or a marine biologist. But an artist and farmer? Says Molly, “neither of those were in the plan! All of it was an accident.”

During her senior year at Sandia Prep, Molly attended Winter Count, a week-long camp in Arizona, which Molly credits for opening up her mind to a new way of life. Winter Count exposes its campers to various skills—from tanning a deer hide to weaving baskets to beading. The experience was pivotal for Molly, who began to seriously consider sustainable living and the idea that you could make or grow nearly everything you need for yourself. “It was important for my psyche,” Molly recalls. Several of Molly’s favorite beading stitches were learned at Winter Count.

Etsy provided the platform Molly needed to promote her jewelry, and her revenue from the website supported her entirely for a couple of months. She began supplementing her income by selling her work at the Albuquerque flea market, and eventually by participating in art shows in Corrales. Molly satisfied her artistic drive through jewelry-making, but she hadn’t yet found gardening which, coupled with beading, would prove to make her happy. “With the farming, it’s all come full circle,” says Molly. “I always knew I wanted to work with animals, but I didn’t know it would be through farming.”

Molly’s segue into farming was fortuitous. Personal circumstances forced her to move out of Albuquerque to Bosque Farms. Her new property was on an acre and close to the river, so she decided to start a big garden with tons of vegetables. Says Molly, “I started getting into gardening because with jewelry-making, I was sitting behind a desk hunched over all day. The gardening is a great juxtaposition to the jewelry because I can go outside, stretch, get some sunlight.” Her jewelry is beginning to reflect and incorporate her gardening; several recent pieces contain ornamental corn, which she grew last year. When Molly began gardening, she was also showing her jewelry at the Corrales Bosque Gallery. One day, during a winter gallery meeting, she announced to her fellow gallery members that she would be offering a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) box in the spring. “I prayed that it would all turn out okay, and it did!”

In the next couple of years, Molly hopes to expand her garden and farm by introducing tilapia and engaging in aquaponics. “You take the waste from the fish and run it through your plants. It’s a system that completely takes care of itself. You grow feed for the fish, the plants clean out the water, and return the water back to the fish clean.” Molly’s goal is “to bring the farms together… If you have the garden and the animals and everything right there, it’s a system that will continue itself.” In addition to chickens, she also has ducks and bunnies—the manure of which makes great compost and encourages the red worms to make castings.

Molly largely feeds herself with the food she grows. This summer, she cooked two big batches of tomato soup, which will provide her with one meal per day of the winter.

Making Molly even more of a rockstar—with loads of gumption and pluck—is the fact that she slaughters her own chickens. Says Molly, who was a vegetarian for three years, “I couldn’t eat meat until I knew I could do it all the way.” The killing isn’t easy for Molly, who mentally prepares herself for days beforehand. Says Molly, “I often get approached as though I’m a barbarian for killing my own chickens, but how is that more barbaric than not knowing where your meat comes from?”

Visit Molly and her jewelry at the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Fair, from November 29 to December 1, at Expo NM. Her work is also on view on her Etsy site: etsy.com/shop/AniccaJewelry, and at the Worrell Gallery in Santa Fe, and the Corrales Bosque Gallery in Corrales. To purchase her produce, take a ride out to the Belen farmers market every Friday from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m., or the Los Lunas market on Tuesdays from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. To learn more about Molly’s jewelry, her farm, and upcoming Community Supported Agriculture boxes, contact her at aniccajewelrydesign@gmail.com.

 
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