From left: Nana Spears, Naomi Clark, Noah James Spencer and Elizabeth Whitcomb. Images by Kate Owen.
Sure, sure: John, Paul, George and Ringo made some pretty great music in their time. But did they also craft candlesticks? Quilt blankets? Design clothing? Mount roving art installations? Host readings? Engineer retail events? I think not.
Meet Nana, Naomi, Noah and Elizabeth. Better known as Fort Makers (or, as I like to call them, the New Fab Four). This artistically inclined quartet resides in Brooklyn (naturally) and specialize in primitive, nature-inspired interdisciplinary pieces that you may have seen without even realizing it.
Since May of this year, Fort Makers has (deep breath): 1) designed bedding for Anthroplogie 2) created Line Lights wooden light sculptures for the Modern Craft Show at New York City’s 19th century Merchant House 3) mounted their outdoor Action Painting series throughout Richmond, Virginia (including an 80-foot canvas hung on a cliff face) 4) hosted a poetry reading by Dominique Townsend at their Clinton Hill studio 5) unveiled Free Space, a floor-to-ceiling abstract psychedelic mural in a former Victoria’s Secret store at South Street Seaport, where they also 6) collaborated with Baggu on limited-edition, site-specific scarves, totes and pouches at a two-week pop-up shop) 7) designed a stage set for the MoMA PS1 Warm Up series 8) are set to debut a new Lawn Quilt series for the Dumbo Arts Festival later this week and 9) are launching their first e-com shop in October, featuring their fashion, accessories and home creations. And…exhale.
Nine projects in four months? It’s enough to make James Franco feel like a slacker.
“We think that four brains are better than one brain,” said Fort Makers creative director Nana Spears this past summer when I stopped by their sprawling workspace, located on an industrial block in the shadow of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway. Nana, a Hopewell, New Jersey native, met painter Naomi Clark and her artist husband Noah James Spencer (both Boulder, Colorado transplants) at a wine bar near her apartment, where Noah’s best friend was the bartender. “He introduced me to all these great people from Boulder, including Naomi, and we very quickly started talking about collaborating.”
The year was 2008. Naomi was graduating from Pratt Institute and wanted an extra set of eyes for her thesis show. Nana, who had just left her job as an assistant buyer at Barneys New York, stepped in as curator and—voila!—an art collective (or “artists collaborative,” as they prefer to call it) was born.
“Naomi used to collect a lot of stuff off the street for her art and paint everything,” interjected Noah with a laugh. “We were just talking about how she doesn’t do that anymore.”
“That’s part of why I asked Nana to help me out,” replied Naomi, who sat between her co-conspirators on a small metal stool in front of one of her abstract, wildly colorful creations. “In school I made a lot of stuff and not all of it was successful. It’s not like I want to show all of it but to go through the artistic process, I have to do it physically. To bring something in and make something [out of it] is like the sketch; it’s not necessarily the final piece. I had this closet in the Pratt studio that [was used for] storage. You’d open the door and it was like these crazy bars and a tree limb that had nails on it that was super dangerous. Just too much stuff.” She shook her head ruefully.
“It was like clowns coming out of the car,” recalled Nana. “It was like more, more, more!”
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