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Mary Brodbeck

What is your official title?

I am an Artist. I make woodblock prints in the Japanese tradition, I’ve specialized in that since 1998. Also, I made a documentary film, called ‘Becoming Made’ — so I’m a filmmaker as well. I was going to say “I’m the chief cook and bottle washer at Mary Brodbeck Productions, LLC”, because that is probably just as accurate.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

I normally get up and get out of the house by about 8 o’clock and I head to the YMCA to swim. Usually for 30-45 minutes. After that I come into my studio and I work until at least 8:00 at night. It’s different everyday and I put in some long hours.

When you’re a “solotreneur”, which is what an artist is, you have to put on a lot of hats. I do everything you have to do to run a business — plus spend time making. In the end I probably spend less than 50% of my time creating. The rest of the time I work on marketing, publicizing, website updates, packaging and delivery, customer service, etc.


What kind of projects are you currently working on?

My documentary film, ‘Becoming Made’, is my biggest priority right now and I am working on marketing it. I decided I wanted to make a film in 2011. It took me three years to complete it and it’s only 35 minutes long! It is about how a Japanese woodblock print is made and about how the artist evolves through the act of making. I do believe it is the kind of film you could watch over and over and get something different out of it each time. Some people have said that it is inspirational.

By the way, I had lots of help in making ‘Becoming Made’. A couple of people I’d like to mention are Christopher Wright, who helped in the beginning with technical support and filming in Japan, and Jacob Beavers, who provided phenomenal help with editing and foley. Working with all of the participants in the film and with everyone who helped me in the filmmaking process was really the most fun about making it.




What is your background?

I am a Michigan native. I grew up in central/mid-Michigan on a dairy farm. I have always been a creative person and thought that I was going to be an artist when I grew up, probably since I was four years old; it was just something internal. I went to college and majored in industrial design because it was something that I could get a job with. Out of college, I worked in the West Michigan office furniture industry for many years. I was pretty successful with that and have several U.S. patents from that experience.

Maybe it’s because I grew up on a farm, but at some point the corporation wasn’t filling my soul; what it lacked was a connection with the land. So I left the corporation and decided to become a landscape artist. My work has been primarily focused on scenes of Michigan and the Great Lakes from the start.

In the mid 90’s, I moved to Kalamazoo when I met my husband, John Schmitt, and subsequently had the opportunity to work on my Masters degree at Western Michigan University. By this point I had already experimented with color woodblock printing and Professor Curtis Rhodes made the suggestion that I study woodblock printmaking in Japan. So, that became the focus of my Masters program.

I started taking Japanese language classes in preparation for the trip and ended up going to Japan on a fellowship from the Japanese government in 1998. I was there initially for five months and studied with Yoshisuke Funasaka. Color woodblock printmaking has a lot of parts and pieces. You print one color at a time from different carved blocks and it’s very design oriented. I think the fact that my original training was in design helped, and I enjoy that kind of problem solving.

After 13 years of focus on woodblock printmaking, I needed to learn something new, which lead me to making the documentary film. Though I knew nothing about how to make a film when I started, it was going to be about a subject that I knew really well and I felt compelled to tell a story about it.


Where do you get your inspiration?

My inspiration comes from whatever I did last. You make something, you learn from it, and grow from what you have made. Inspiration comes from the process of actually making. Also, I tend to think a lot and sometimes I get inspired when I stop thinking. That is one thing I love about swimming, I put my head in the water and I don’t have to think; just kick and go back and forth. I love swimming and most anything to do with water.


Were there any surprises that came along with owning your own business?

It’s really hard, but if you take it on as a challenge, you can be very creative with it and tailor it to make it your own; it’s a creation.


Tell us about the upcoming showings of your film.

‘Becoming Made’ will have two screenings on Friday, April 10th — at 6:00 and 7:30pm — at Wellspring Theater during Art Hop! After the screenings I will be there to talk to audiences and answer questions. A selection of original woodblock prints will also be on display.

Admission is free. I will have DVDs ($18) and art cards (single art cards – $3, boxed set of art cards – $18) for sale. I am hopeful that people will learn a lot and be inspired by the film enough to support my artwork.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I love the grit. I love that not everyone is the same. And I love the proximity to Lake Michigan. I love the name. I love Bell’s beer, Two-Hearted. And the latest and greatest about thing I love most about Kalamazoo is the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail.


What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?

I wish there was a viable art gallery where people could sell their art. This is really selfish, but I wish there were more art buyers. There are some, but I wish there were more.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

I like it with cream. How can I not when I was raised on a dairy farm?


Do you have a go-to spot in Kalamazoo?

Alamo Drafthouse. My husband and I go there and sip a beer while we watch; we love it.


What have you been jammin’ to recently?

I’m not a big music listener. I use to hate Taylor Swift, until she came out with her new album. I bought it and I like it, I was so shocked with myself. Now I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan.


What is next up on your reading list?

Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I found it on the shelf at the Michigan News Agency and I’m currently reading it for the fourth time. I recommend it to all artists.

It is a little bit dated because we are in the social media era now and things are really different, but this book offers a nice perspective none-the-less. It’s art minus the celebrity of it. It’s about why we make art and why it’s hard, and also why it’s hard not to make it. This book really inspires me.


If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

I probably wouldn’t listen, but I would tell myself to not be so serious.


Who would you want to play you?

Julia Roberts, of course!


What is the next thing for you to tackle?

I will be working on marketing my film and building relationships through my art. I will also be making new woodblock prints and I’m really excited about that!


What is your dream for your film, Becoming Made?

I’d like it to be in libraries — public and museum libraries. I want it to be shown in classrooms where they can learn about this type of art form. I also have a dream for it to be shown on television someday.


Mary, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Mary on instagram and facebook. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.