Meet the Maker: Naomi Parker

Meet the Maker is a series of interviews with local designers and makers featured in the Frye Art Museum Store.

Naomi Parker (Chippewa Cree, Yakama and an enrolled member of the Makah tribe) is a graphic designer and visual artist based in Tacoma, WA. She attended the graphic design program at the Seattle Central Creative Academy and received her degree in ‘Interdisciplinary Visual Arts’ from the University of Washington. 

Photo of artist Naomi Parker sitting at a table and holding beading in her hands

Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you to become an artist? 

I grew up in the PNW, but come from larger families in different parts of the NW region, so we travelled a lot to visit them. It feels like we were always at different celebrations, dances, powwows and other events where we were surrounded by constant beauty, significant family designs with intentional color choices and a lot of outward expression in general. Where the majority make their own outfits, beadwork, button blankets, wood carvings, drums, jewelry, accessories etc., all using varying techniques. Ranging from beginner to advanced, some are imperfect and some are masterful, but nonetheless, all still stunning and special. Up close, parts can be worn out, pieced together, repaired and taped, which has always intrigued me the most. I've seen hand drums painted with pens and sharpie markers, whatever medium was available at the time, so it has shown me that not everything has to be polished or permanent and that one can be extremely resourceful and creative. With the help of a mentor, I designed, sewed and created an entire jingle dress from start to finish when I was 12 years old. I think a lot of that has carried over into how and why I create things now.  

I've been fortunate enough to pick up skills along the way and am endlessly inspired and moved to tears by art that I come across, so in my early 20's I went to school for art/design and started experimenting more myself. I really feel like it's in my blood to want to make things. 

Photo of three beaded pieces with the words "Seattle" "Nirvana" and "Tacoma" by artist Naomi Parker
Photo of a quilt made with naturally dyed fabric by artist Naomi Parker

What is your process for making work. Do you have any daily routines? 

I probably have a pretty conventional process for making things. First and foremost, I love to be inspired. Seeing paintings, materials, handmade objects or being inside someone's studio always makes me want to create immediately. I get bursts of motivation and ideas and usually think of something I want to make when I'm driving or busy doing something else and it always makes me wish I could drop what I was doing that second to make it happen. I wish I had all the time and space in the world to make things! 

My approach is different depending on the medium or project. For quilting, there's the design of the quilt, which is loose, fun and experimental and then there is the construction/execution which is precise and careful. I love the balance between the two. Recently, I created quilts using thicker upholstery fabric that needed to wrap around square columns, so the dimensions had to be exact or it wouldn't work. I had to perform many tests/prototypes of the binding, the material thickness, the hanging sleeves and the enclosures to ensure everything would go smoothly on installation day. It was a super fun project. It's also a craft that requires a lot of physical space! I've used our living/dining rooms, studio spaces, office buildings and banquet rooms creating some of my larger quilt compositions.  

When oil painting, I'll usually have an idea of how I want the final piece to look when I start. I have a tendency to make things look too realistic or clean, so I'm always trying to embrace the opposite. I also believe a painting can't be seen up close. I squint or stand back after every few brushes to see how it's coming along and after every session, I bring it into our living room to study it from across the room, so I know what to change or work on for next time. I try not to be too precious about anything, I'm not afraid of erasing something I've worked really hard on if I notice the proportions are all off.  

As far as routines go, nothing too out of the ordinary. I read every night before falling asleep, I run the dishwasher and program my coffee machine before bed, so that everything is ready to go in the morning. I wake up at 6:40am during the week to prepare my son's breakfast and lunch boxes and then we drive to his tribal school listening to a trivia game on the radio. Lately, I've been going to the gym 3–4 days a week after drop–off and it's been a game changer. When I'm making art, I occasionally listen to music, but mostly prefer podcasts and audiobooks.  

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We stock (and love!) your Pacific Northwest pins and a quilt made with natural dyes. What inspired you to make pieces so connected to your surroundings? 

A lovely friend asked if I would contribute something (small in scale) to a pop–up shop she was working on. I mentioned beaded pins and we ended up collaborating on what names to use for them. We just thought they'd be fun and unique pieces that everyone could enjoy. As for the natural dyes, they produce such gorgeous colors with tiny imperfections and quilt–making is a slow craft that takes many hours to do, so it made sense to take the quilting one step further by dyeing the fabric as well.  

Your pieces span across several different mediums. Is there one medium you are particularly drawn to right now?  

Lately, I've been wanting to bead more earrings and paint a series of small–scale paintings. 

What's next for your practice? 

During the pandemic, I created several large–scale quilts and my biggest oil painting to date for a few local organizations (including the Frye Art Museum). They have been my favorite projects yet, so I'm hoping to do more commissions in the future. I also had my first ever art show on Bainbridge Island and would love to have more of those or participate in other group shows. I'm someone who thrives under structure and deadlines, so adding some more commissions, projects or collaborations would be amazing! 

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Shop Naomi Parker

Images: Andrew Balmer, Naomi Parker, and Rachael Lang