Feb 5, 2018 – Artist Features
Five Things You Should Know About Louisa Podlich
Story by Morgan Mercer // Photos by Bobby Rogers
Nearly five years ago on the heels of a budding professional photography career, Louisa Podlich launched A MANO, an online site that sold curated collections of handmade work from artists across the county. Week after week, boxes of weavings and delicately carved porcelain spoons arrived at her house. Louisa photographed each piece, and then put them up for sale in her online shop. “I was super jealous of all these people who made things,” Louisa says. “Then I pulled my head out of the sand and realized I could totally be doing that. There’s nothing stopping me.” That winter, when the photography season slowed down, she joined a community ceramics studio. From there, she bought a small kiln to fire her work, and then another. Today, A MANO exclusively sells her work—small bowls, spirit rocks, planters and cups. She still splits her time between photography, too. “I don’t have idle hands ever.” Here are five things you should know about Louisa Podlich.
SHE WAS A KID ENTREPRENEUR
Louisa made lanyards at summer camp, braided friendship bracelets out of every color of embroidery floss and made cards with rubber stamps and an embossing gun. Whatever she made, she sold. The now 34-year-old grew up in a quiet lakeside community in White Bear Lake, and would pedal her bike down the mile-long road that looped through her neighborhood, knocking on neighbors’ doors as she went. By the time she reached middle school, Louisa started making and selling beaded jewelry. A store in town consigned pieces from her, and a local hairdresser kept a stand of her jewelry to sell to customers.
A CAMERA BROUGHT HER BACK TO MAKING
After college, Louisa worked at an immigration law firm, sold auditing systems for a tuition aid database company, catered for a restaurant and sold high-end jewelry at a Minneapolis store. With little free time to spare, she had all but stopped her creative pastimes once she graduated high school. “I was just feeling really empty,” she says. “I felt like something was missing.” Louisa liked to take photos, but only had a low-grade point and shoot camera. At the time she was dating a videographer who encouraged her to get better equipment. She did, and started shooting on the side. “The idea of art as a possibility came back into my life.” Louisa posted her photos online, where her former high school theater director saw her work and asked if Louisa could photograph her family. She earned about $75. “I didn’t go into it with the intention to sell my work, but because I’m a salesperson first and a maker second, that’s just always how it goes. Whatever I buy, I end up monetizing. If I have the tool, then in my mind it can’t be a hobby because I need to find a way to justify the cost of the purchase.” Not long after, the jewelry store she worked at went out of business. “I was forced to find a way to make money,” she said. Louisa decided to try professional photography. It worked.
“I WAS SUPER JEALOUS OF ALL THESE PEOPLE WHO MADE THINGS. THEN I PULLED MY HEAD OUT OF THE SAND AND REALIZED I COULD TOTALLY BE DOING THAT. THERE’S NOTHING STOPPING ME.”
LOUISA SEES WHAT OTHERS CAN’T
When you look in the mirror, what do you see? “You’re basically just seeing the front of yourself,” says Louisa. However, you’re not seeing yourself as everyone else sees you; you’re only seeing a reflection, or a reverse image. Several years ago, Louisa was on her way home from Wisconsin when she heard a podcast that nearly made her drive off the road. It was an episode from Radiolab called “Mirror, Mirror.” The show dug into the idea of chirality, the scientific property of asymmetry, and how the face we see in the mirror isn’t the one the people around us see—it’s flipped. One of the only ways you can see your true face—the one everyone else sees—is in a photograph. “When you’re laughing or looking off to the side talking, you can never see that in the mirror. That doesn’t exist,” says Louisa, who loves to capture the moments people can’t see on their own “I love the idea that what I see of myself is only 1 percent of how I am in the world.”
SHE DOESN’T HAVE IDLE HANDS
You’ll never catch Louisa sitting at home on the couch in the front of the TV without a project in hand. She carves spirit rocks and makes pinch pots for A Mano; occasionally she’ll crochet, embroider or sew a quilt. “I have to make things,” says Louisa. It doesn’t have to be art, either. Kneading flour and eggs together into homemade pasta counts, too. “I would compare it to people who need to exercise every day, or people who feel like they’re supposed to have kids. If I go a day or two without creating something, I start to feel emotionally constipated. I get tense. I get stressed. I feel tight in the chest.” The 34-year-old spent years ignoring that side of her personality before jumping into photography and ceramics full-time. “It was like a dam broke and everything spilled out. I’m a much happier person now. It’s just a part of my chemistry, like making sure I get enough sleep or eat enough vegetables. If I don’t, I feel tired and crabby.”
PEOPLE GO WILD OVER HER SPIRIT ROCKS
It started as an accident. A few years ago Louisa had a small, leftover piece of clay from a project. Instead of throwing it out, she turned the gray blob into a mini sculpture, no more than an inch or two high. She fired it, glazed it and liked it so much that she decided to make a few more and post the spirit rocks on Instagram. “They took off in a way I could have never expected,” she says. Nearly three years—and about 4,000 spirit rocks—later, and they’re still selling. Her pocket-sized sculptures even caught the eye of West Elm, a national design store and website that sells furniture and home décor. The company started selling her work in December 2017. “When we were kids, all of us were treasure hunters. As adults we don’t get to be treasure hunters anymore,” says Louisa. “Having a physical object that you can touch, put in your pocket and bring with you—it’s the same idea of picking up a shiny rock on the side of the road when you were seven.” Intuition and good vibes guide Louisa’s tiny treasures. She doesn’t plan collections or sketch out ideas ahead of time. She just sits down and does what feels right in the moment; and somehow, people can feel it. “The work I’m creating is super personal and intimate, and it’s used that way. I make small speckled cups that people use in the bathroom to take their pills, or as their whiskey cup when they get home from work. It’s not art you have to think about. It’s art that makes you feel good.”