The alumni relations team caught up with FIT alumni showcasing their work at Beacon Open Studios, a weekend-long art exposition that takes place every year in Beacon, New York. Amy C. Wilson (Toy Design ’08), Anna Bergin (Continuing Education ’04), and Martha P. Humphreys (Jewelry Design ’04) were among the talented artists participating in this year’s event. We were on site to get a close-up look at the workspaces and learn about their craft, their aspirations, and the incredible creative hub that is Beacon, New York.
Amy C. Wilson, BFA Toy Design ’08
Owner & Creator, Kokma Toys
I am a firm believer that the more you give your creativity to your community the more creative nourishment you will receive from it.
Beacon Open Studios weekend is a wonderful opportunity for individuals to showcase their work to the public. How many years have you been a participant?
This is my third year and I love it. I get to meet all sorts of amazing artists, photographers, and designers. Beacon is such an amazing and supportive community. People are so accepting of new and creative ideas!
Toy Design alumni have some of the most imaginative creations and storylines for products. Tell us about your business, Kokma Toys.
Kokma Toys is a mix of faux fur and rainbows in an imagination blender! My concepts come from various places, objects, fabrics, and even scents! I love to incorporate Japanese style, words and ideas into each design which I feel gives my toys a special feel. All the Kokma Toys are designed, patterned, and sewn by me. I give each character their own story and make them a little bit silly. The best for me is when people read the character’s story and laugh.
Which are your personal favorites? What inspired them?
Henry and Kuriketto are by far my favorite, so far. Henry Cupcake Superstar! happened by accident. I had a lot of leftover lime green fur from a previous project and decided to create a monster. But not just any monster… he had to be Japanese, hungry and love cake. So I gave him a bib and made him a vanilla scented cupcake for him to snack on. Now all the kids in Beacon know who Henry is and press their faces against the store window of Dream in Plastic just to see him.
That’s great that children in Beacon know your characters! What were your favorite toys growing up?
Surprisingly, I was really into Barbie dolls. I think I had more Barbies than any child should be allowed to own. I would always make clothes for them out of old fabric, paper, whatever I could find. That started my interest in making doll clothing and dolls. I also LOVED stuffed animals. I had so many they would cover my bed as a child. Cookie monster and my stuff bunny were my favorites. I still own both to this day.
What made you decide to launch your own business?
I had managed and helped launch a couple businesses and had always dreamt about working for myself. The response I got at the Custom Toy Show, which featured “Harriette & Henry Adopt a Puppy,” was the push I needed to move forward with my dream! Now I am working on world domination with my cute creations.
In addition to studying Toy Design, you also studied Fine Arts at FIT. Describe that transition/merging of majors.
Fine Arts was always a passion of mine. I lived and worked as a painter and sculptor for years before studying Toy Design. I had a roving art gallery, White Studio NYC, for a number of years before I decided a career change. I attended the Art Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, where I studied prosthetics design. I noticed they offered a class in toy design, which made me want to transfer back to FIT and attend the toy program there. For me, the transition was a natural one. And the Toy Design department at FIT is like no other!
What were your favorite classes at FIT?
So many to choose from! By far my favorite classes were Drawing for Toy Design, Soft Toy and Doll Design, Model Making, Hard Toy Design, Graphic Design, and Packaging Design. I really feel those courses helped me develop Kokma Toys to the point it is today.
I understand you created the graphics for Beacon Open Studios Postcard, Poster and artwork for the catalog. How did that come about?
When I participated in my first Beacon Open Studios in 2010, I noticed that they were looking for volunteer help. I offered to help with the graphics for the event. I have been creating the graphics since. I am a firm believer that the more you give your creativity to your community the more creative nourishment you will receive from it.
Anna Bergin, Continuing Education ’04
Beacon is alive, it wants to survive, it wants to thrive, and you can really feel that.
How long have you taken part in Beacon Open Studios weekend?
This was my first year participating.
How has the community of Beacon helped nurture your talent?
Beacon is great because I get to drop my son off at a creative arts preschool that is set right on the incomparable Hudson River, and when I talk to the other parents no one looks at me sideways when I tell them I’m an artist. It’s normal!
What makes this community unique from other creative hubs?
When one of the corner stones of your city is an amazing contemporary art museum [Dia: Beacon], it is hard not to feel that energy spread throughout town. Beacon is alive, it wants to survive, it wants to thrive, and you can really feel that.
You have a great work setup in the private space of your home. Tell us about your workspace.
When I was living in Manhattan, I was so worried about security deposits that I found myself mostly working on not spilling any paint. I could never fully let myself go in my work, which for me is one of the best parts about being an artist. It is truly free therapy. When I’m here in my own space, I am free to be the mess that I am. It’s a liberating feeling.
Tell us about your most recent work. What inspired it?
In my most recent work, I really wanted to blast people with color. I want the paintings to kind of attack you, but you are being attacked with flowers and shapes and not anything truly threatening. I have begun two larger paintings with abstracted birds as the main subject. Birds, flowers, and textiles are so beautiful, and at their core they are just shapes and color. I love the feeling of stepping back from a piece and seeing a color just simply being pretty, it’s so simple.
What music are you currently listening to and do you listen to anything in particular when painting?
Music is a huge influence on me in my paintings and life. One of my goals in life is to create a painting that can mean as much to someone as a song can. I have to listen to my headphones while I’m painting, and I usually shuffle through my songs (because isn’t your own iPod always the best DJ!). As I’m listening to the songs shuffle, I’ll get stuck on a song and put the album on. I feel like all of my paintings have soundtracks. The last few paintings have had their soundtracks become, Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and my favorite, Wilco’s The Whole Love. I name my paintings using lyrics from songs that I become obsessed with. I have been known to listen to a certain song fifteen times on repeat while I’m painting!
What artists have influenced you?
Some of my favorite painters are Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Francis Bacon. I recently saw an exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum of Eva Hesse’s early paintings that really inspired me to keep working, it was wonderfully moving for me. I also have to give a nod to an unknown graffiti artist because in my latest paintings I have outlined the original drawings using a bright red paint, a direct result of powerful bright graffiti I passed on a drive through NYC.
What is your favorite museum?
I feel so calm and at ease in the MoMA. I just feel surrounded by things I understand!
What were some of your most interesting courses at FIT?
I took a display design course at FIT at a really frustrating time of my life when I was an administrative assistant just trying to live in NYC. There was a total lack of creativity in the job, and it was just a bummer. The class was extremely motivating. It really showed you that creativity was valued and necessary. We also went on mini tours of the city to see displays in action, and I saw shops and places that I don’t think I would have ever known about without the class!
What plans do you have for the future?
I’m going to continue to be a Mom to my two boys and paint! I have been throwing the idea around in my head of possibly branching out and trying some installation pieces. I’m going to try and get as many people to see my work as possible!