Margaux Lange’s Plastic Body Series art jewelry collection utilizes salvaged Barbie doll parts in combination with sterling silver and pigmented resins. The series is a result of her desire to re-purpose mass produced materials into handmade, wearable art. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2001, where her Plastic Body Series was first conceived. Margaux has been creating work in this series and exhibiting extensively for nearly 15 years. Her jewelry has been published in numerous books and has garnered international press coverage in the world’s top Art, fashion and design magazines. For more information, please visit her website: margauxlange.com.
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What first inspired you to get into jewelry making?
My first introduction to silversmithing was in high school. I was hooked from my very first solder. College furthered my interest in jewelry making (The Maryland Institute College of Art, BFA 2001) and I decided it was the right career path for me to pursue. Jewelry was a way of getting Art off of the wall and on to the body to be more intimately experienced and shared with others. I love the dialog that wearing art jewelry invites.
You originally conceived the Plastic Body series in college at MICA — how did you initially come up with the idea? How has it evolved over the past 14 years?
I was interested in incorporating found objects into my jewelry while studying at MICA. I had made drawings and sculptures with Barbie previously, so it felt natural to try to incorporate the doll into my jewelry work. It was an original idea with a strong personal connection for me so it felt like the right path to explore. Fourteen years later, I’m still expanding the series.
In the beginning my work relied heavily upon multiples; the repetition of specific body parts, (many hands, mouths, busts, etc.) arranged to abstract the individual parts so that they became nearly unrecognizable. More recently, I’ve been looking at vintage Barbie coloring books and I’m fascinated with their stylistic line-work. My work has evolved away from repetitive body part abstraction and into more of a concentrated focus on line-work and color exploration through the use of hand-pigmented resins.
What do you do to keep inspired?
I try to allow myself playtime in my studio beyond filling orders to remain inspired. I sketch in my sketchbook and try to look at everything in my daily life as potential fuel for inspiration. I’m the kind of person who requires a great deal of alone time and head space to function properly. When I’m not working, I run, I hike and generally try to be in nature as much as possible. All of these things help clear up head space and keep me feeling creatively charged.
How do you go about finding customers and selling your jewelry?
I sell my work through art jewelry galleries, museum shops, boutiques and online. My jewelry is sought after by art jewelry collectors, Barbie nostalgics, and bold individuals who aren’t afraid to wear jewelry that sparks conversation. Some people respond to its humor and think it’s clever and fun, or it feeds a sense of nostalgia for them. Some wear it as a feminist statement and others simply appreciate it because it’s unique and well crafted.
Any creative business also involves a lot of non-creative work to keep it running, what are your favorite and most dreaded non-creative tasks?
My favorite non-creative task is packaging and shipping orders. My most dreaded non-creative task is preparing my taxes.
It seems like Barbie has become such a scapegoat for girls having bad body image — how has your perspective shifted since you started working on this project?
My personal perspective on Barbie hasn’t shifted all that much from when I began the series actually. Playing with Barbie dolls as a child furthered my creative impulses and helped develop my dexterity and attention to detail. Coincidentally, all skills imperative to the craft of jewelry making. I would lose myself for hours within the worlds I created for my Barbies, crafting many tiny details by hand. However polarizing she may be, I believe Barbie can be a source of creative empowerment. My experience with the doll was distinctly positive in this way.
I did not initially anticipate some of the very strong negative reactions to my work that I’ve received. I’ve heard every possible reaction you can imagine. So I suppose my perspective has shifted a bit simply because of that. For instance, I find it fascinating when someone refers to my work as “murderous.” The reality of Barbie as a toy (plastic and lifeless) is, for some, indistinguishable from her imagined role as a Woman.
Do you let your daughter play with Barbie?
Our daughter is 3.5 and already enjoys playing with Barbie dolls. It would be nearly impossible to keep them away from her even if I wanted to since I work from home and have bins upon bins of them in my studio. She likes to help me pick them out when we’re scouring the selection at our local weekend flea market.
How has your approach to your creativity changed since becoming a mom?
Before my daughter was born, my studio time was fluid and flexible. I could work whatever hours I wanted, often late into the night. As a mother, I’m much more aware of how important time management is to my artistic life. Without scheduling effectively, keeping a daily task list and prioritizing regular studio hours, creativity doesn’t have room to thrive and my work can easily become last on the never ending to-do list. It’s become even more obvious to me now as a mother that time is a precious, scarce resource not to be wasted.
Who is your favorite jewelry maker or artist?
I can’t pick just one! A few of my favorite jewelry artists include:
Kate Cusack: Kate makes art jewelry entirely out of zippers. Her distinctly elegant designs reinvent a commonplace material, in seemingly endless ways.
Julia Harrison: Beautiful carved wood body part jewelry. It’s sensual, alluring and provocative. Wearing the body on the body is a funny little contradiction I too enjoy exploring in my work.
Tone Vigeland: Her work is heavily reliant on the repetition of elements. When I look at her jewelry, I always imagine the way it must sound when it moves on the body which elevates the work beyond visual and into a multi-sensory experience.
What is your ultimate dream for your jewelry business?
To employ at least one other person to handle the administrative, business end of things so I can focus all of my attention on designing. Also, to eventually convert our three car garage into my dream studio.
What aspect of motherhood has been most surprising to you?
Oh wow, where do I start? SO many things about motherhood have surprised me! I suppose what has surprised me most are the simultaneous contradictory feelings that accompany motherhood daily. It’s exhausting, challenging and dreadful much of the time, and yet also immensely rewarding, fulfilling and enriching. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Are you currently working on any other creative projects?
I enjoy making art with my 3.5 year old daughter Hazel whenever possible. Using watercolors or drawing right alongside her helps keep me creatively loose. She reminds me to be playful and forgiving with my creations since I tend to have strong perfectionist tendencies. Hazel and I also have a fun weekly tradition we call “Face Paint Fridays.” She gets to choose what she wants painted on her face and I make it happen. It’s fun for her and a wonderful creative outlet for me. We both look forward to it every week.
What question do you wish I’d asked?
What’s one of the biggest lessons in business — and in life — that you’re still learning? Ask for what you want.
And now for fill in the blank…
If I were a superhero, my super power would be cloning myself so I could accomplish even more with my time.
When someone hands me keys to the time machine, I’m going straight to the future where we can all fly and travel effortlessly through the air simply by activating the flight microchip that’s been implanted in our arms.
The last book I read was: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.
If I were a color, I’d be: chartreuse green.
My daughter always makes me laugh.
If I weren’t an artist, I’d be more boring and a lot less happy.
Disclaimer: Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel, Inc. and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and elsewhere. The contents of this website represent the view of the artist, who is in no way affiliated with Mattel, Inc. This website and the artwork herein is neither sponsored nor authorized by Mattel, Inc.