Finding beauty in the small things: Living with Intention Series
We’re happy to announce that we’re doing a series of interviews with some of our favorites makers and creatives centered on the meaning of “intention.” Kicking off our interview series is my very talented friend Mary Jo Hoffman, the genius behind the absolutely stunning STILL blog. Hoffman recently launched not one, but TWO collections with major retailers Target and West Elm focused on her collection of natural images, and somehow still found time to speak with us about her secret weapon for getting through a tough day (she is a woman after my own heart), the best advice she’s ever gotten, and why dinner is such an important time for her family to reconnect. Read on for more wisdom from this incredible artist.
If you could collaborate with anyone, with whom would it be and what would you make?
What a great question. Considering that I just launched two collaborations with two national retailers (Target and West Elm), one would assume I would have already asked myself this “What next?” question.
When you ask if I could collaborate with anyone, my first instinct is to think far away: "Is there someone in New York City, or Copenhagen, or Sydney I’d really like to work with?" But, honestly, my dream collaborator is my husband. That sounds, as my 17 year old daughter would say, just gross. Ewww. But it’s true. Part of what has made these last few years so satisfying has been building them, and then sharing them, with an engaged and equal partner, who happens to possess complementary skills to my own. I am a rebellious and self-willed art maker. He is a thoughtful, careful, and beautiful writer, and I would love to collaborate with him on a STILL Blog book to wrap up this era before I move on to whatever is next. I would equally love to collaborate with him in order to get his current book published at Knopf. Wait! Chip Kidd! I want to collaborate with Chip Kidd on the cover of my husband’s book! There you have it.
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What keeps you excited about your work?
Right now my “work" is being available for my kids (ages 17 and 12), and doing my daily STILL photo. Neither one of those requires psyching myself up, or digging deep for motivation because they are exactly what I want to be doing. The thing that keeps me excited about my work, in other words, is choosing over and over, against the temptations and distractions of nearly all of modern life, only to do work that excites me. It sounds simple, but it’s not.
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What’s your secret weapon for making it through a hard day?
A 3:00 PM medium skim latte extra hot usually does it. When that fails, I start thinking about my 8:00 PM glass of Côtes du Rhône by the fire in the winter, or my glass of Southern French rosé on the deck if it’s summer. Yes, I measure my days in beverages.
Where would you most like to get lost?
Anywhere along the Mediterranean coast! I love the climate, the history, the geography, the cultures, and the food. I could happily spend the rest of my life making my way slowly around the Mediterranean basin. My husband is fluent in French, and my kids speak French as well, so we have chosen the French Mediterranean as our home base for exploring the region. We have done three extended stays in southern France in the past five years. We are heading back there this fall for what will likely be a one-year stay. I am hoping to get lost repeatedly.
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How do you live with intention?
I feel I’ve lived an intentional life without calling it that since I was young. Maybe because I live with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome and my health could take a turn for the worse at any moment. But for whatever reason, I have always had this feeling that time possessed an almost monetary-like value. You had to work to earn it, and It wasn't something you wasted, or spent foolishly, or gave away, not even, quite often, to friends and family. About fifteen years ago, I read a simple little book about the power of rituals in families, and it had big impact on me. The book was called The Intentional Family by William J. Doherty. It made a really strong case for how the simplest little rituals, acts of intention if you will, can have a tremendous impact. In our family, we are probably most intentional about food, especially dinner. We make dinner at home probably six nights a week. When I put a jazz station on Spotify, and start chopping onion and garlic, the whole family knows we have switched gears for the day from doing to being. Sometimes dinner is at 5 pm, and sometimes it is at 9 pm, depending on everyone’s busy schedules, but there is always dinner, and I always light candles when we sit down to eat. It is hard to explain just how dependent we all are on this routine. If life intervenes, and we have to go two or three days without being able to do this nightly ritual, everyone single one of us gets edgy, restless, and distant. We crave it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Ha! Another great question. If I stop and think about this, I realize I have three quotes I tend to pass on more often than any others, because there just seem to be so many opportunities where they apply.
"Ask forgiveness, not permission.” I am a rebel by nature. I love to break rules, both for the sheer fun of breaking them, and because many of the biggest joys and accomplishments of my life have come about by ignoring what I was "supposed” to do. I don’t like “shoulds."
"Be careful what you’re good at.” My favorite boss of all time said this to me once, and I have never forgotten it. I had just written a winning grant proposal that no one had expected me to win. He was basically saying, “Be careful, or they will turn you into a grant writer,” which was both a highly prized position at the time, and right near the bottom of the list of things I wanted to spend my time doing, despite how good it felt to get accolades for my newly discovered grant writing skills. Now I say that same thing to my 17 year old daughter all the time…if you don’t want to be the de facto social planner for your friends, or the soccer team event coordinator, then don’t be good at it! Or don’t let anyone know you’re good at it. Otherwise you will be asked to do it over and over.
"Do good work and put it where people can see it.” This quote comes from Austin Kleon in his book Show your Work. It is the reason I started STILL blog. One of those "right message, right time” moments. When I read it, I realized I had all sorts of good work sitting in journals, on my bookshelves, and on the hard drive of my iMac, that no one could see but Mary Jo Hoffman. It was time to put it where people could see it. And all of the good that has come of STILL blog in the meantime is owed in part to that statement, and that decision.
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Thank you so much for speaking with us, Mary Jo! Amazing insight, right? I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit the beautifullly minimal home of Mary Jo and explore her natural collections. With these treasures I was inspired to make a few limited edition plates. Check out the results of our Nature Inspired line.
Shop our limited line of nature inspired wooden plates HERE.