Big Impact

Artist Erica Moody has forged a reputation with her fine-quality architectural metalwork and handcrafted tableware

Erica Moody has been working with metal since the 1990s. While she’s tried her hand at printmaking and photography, those mediums didn’t speak to her as much as metal. “I love the process,” she says.
“I see so many people plugging along in their lives, doing things they’re not really passionate about. I haven’t had patience for that,” Moody says. “We’re only here for so long. I want to pay attention to what moves me.”
She believes in the power of craft. “Just one piece, bringing it into your home, or gifting it to someone else—it can be contagious. It’s the butterfly effect. You can warm somebody’s heart in one little connection.” It is, she says, “so much deeper than a spoon on a table.”

In 1994, Erica Moody attended a party that changed her life. She was living in Boston at the time, on a break from her undergraduate studies. She’d always thought she would become an artist, but learning art in an academic setting wasn’t quite what she had imagined. She had begun to realize that she was the kind of student who enjoyed developing film more than looking at a finished picture. She liked the process, often even more than the product. “I wanted to do something more connected to the world and people,” Moody says. “So I moved to Boston to have life experiences.” She was on the verge of leaving the famously academic city when she met a couple of carpenters, friends of friends, at a house party. She found herself drawn into conversation. They invited her to visit the shop. She accepted.

The workshop was a revelation, as was the carpenters’ craft-focused lifestyle. “They were master carpenters, and seeing their world opened my eyes,” she says. Being in the shop, filled with “these beautiful big old machines,” Moody caught a glimpse of what kind of work she could do. This work was less conceptual than making fine art, and more grounded, but it still involved artistry and aesthetics.

She also sensed that these small business owners had more independence than someone tied to a larger institution, like a university, or someone beholden to a gallery. “All the machines they had and these skills they were developing weren’t just for their clients,” Moody explains. “It was a living space. They were also restoring boats and furniture for themselves. I was fascinated with that. The utilitarian aspect, what they were making, was becoming part of daily life, part of the rituals of living. Something about that spoke to me.”

Inspired, she began to work with—and learn from—an architectural metalworker. There, she was asked to create things out of steel and brass that would go into people’s homes, to be seen and touched and used daily. Often, she would receive assignments that she didn’t know how to complete. She learned by doing, and she learned to enjoy the process of constructing something “impossible.” After several years, Moody left to start her own business. She built a clientele of architects and designers. Again, she pushed herself, sometimes quite hard. “I look back now and I can’t believe I took on some of those jobs,” she says. “It was a lot. There was emotional sacrifice.”

But it was worth it, because Moody was growing as a craftsperson. One particularly difficult job took her to Martha’s Vineyard, where she was tasked with engineering and fabricating a stainless steel staircase in a minimalist contemporary house. She didn’t want to weld on the island, so Moody needed to figure out how to break the design into pieces that could be manufactured in her Boston studio and assembled on-site. “Trying to figure out how to do all that

successfully without too much heartache was quite the challenge,” she says of the build. The final piece came together “like a puzzle,” she says, adding, “It was also a thrill to be asked to do that, trusted to do that. To pull it off. That was typical of what I loved.”

In 2014, after spending several decades building a reputation in Boston, Moody decided to leave the expensive rents and the congested highways and move to Waldoboro, Maine, where she currently works. “I was able to keep a lot of my Boston clients,” she says, “but I’ve been able to achieve the lifestyle I wanted, with a better work–life balance.” Although she didn’t know anyone when she first moved to the area, she’s delighted in discovering the local craft scene. “The longer I stay here, I meet people tucked away in the woods, hunkered down and following their heart,” Moody says. “Gardeners and flower farmers and antiques dealers and artists and jewelers. There are people who are passionate about what they do, and who dive in to do it.” Up here, she’s found a world of craft that isn’t as concerned with acclaim or prestige. Just making, and making things well.

Having her own studio has also allowed Moody to experiment with new projects and products. In addition to her architectural and custom work, Moody also sells a line of tableware off her website. Each piece is designed simply and executed beautifully, yet with a rustic finish. You can tell it wasn’t mass produced. “I like the directness of it,” she says. “Hammer hits metal.” These markings, she explains, make visible her labor and forge an emotional connection between maker and user. “It directs people to a person behind the making. Even if people don’t consciously realize it, there’s an intimate connection that a lot of people long for.”

This has come to feel increasingly important to Moody. She has filled her house and her life with items that were crafted by people she knows, objects that she made, and things created by makers she respects. In this way, craft is a part of her life at all times. Work doesn’t threaten to consume her, because she can still step away from her workbench, her email, her money-making brain. Craft remains, and the people remain, while the business element fades into the background. “Our world is so increasingly high-tech,” she adds. “Push button, press play. You’re so removed from the mechanics of the building. You’re completely removed from the people who are behind it. It’s very isolating. It affects people in a pretty severe way.” Crafted objects can help bridge this gap in a small, but meaningful, way.

Yet technology does have its place. Moody keeps a document of her work online at Instagram, revealing little bits and pieces of her process. She also sends out a monthly newsletter for anyone interested in the metalworker’s process and wares. Soon, she hopes to begin offering unique one-of-a-kind pieces of tableware. “I want to explore being more creative with my pieces,” she says. She considers herself lucky to have been able to make a living doing something she enjoys, but she also recognizes that she’s “such a practical person. I want to loosen up a bit.” Financial considerations have always driven her designs, which has been frustrating, but she feels like she’s in a place where she can stop thinking so much about how cost-effective her work is, and start “creating wildly.” This feels exciting, and a bit scary, but it sounds like the opening of a new chapter, she says. “We’ll see what happens. I’ll update my newsletter.”

Click here to check out other designer profiles!