Today’s clue in the “Everywhere in Your Day” contest at the Herman Miller Store takes flight thanks to Fredericks & Mae, the art/design team of Jolie Mae Signorile and Gabriel Fredericks Cohen. Based in Brooklyn, the duo met after forming a “materials crush” on each other as students at Oberlin College. When they moved to New York City in 2008, they began collaborating on projects and soon found success with a series of decorative arrows hand-crafted from wood, feathers, thread, and gold or silver. “We became interested in the idea of making objects that had a muddled heritage,” explains Gabe. “We started looking at things that popped up in different places around the world, seemingly at the same time, and how those objects would then appear in other places and change over time and space.” The result is the studio’s current collection of objects for the home, garden, and sky — board games, kites, bocce balls, and a skim board included — whose ancestry can be traced throughout history and in several spots across the earth.
“The first real collection we did as a company was War Games, which started when Jolie came back from a trip to Greece and had played a ton of Backgammon,” says Gabe. The two started researching — a critical component in their creative process — and found out that Backgammon is the oldest known board game, with excavations in Iran showing a similar game existing there around 3000 BC. “The way games like these adapt to suit cultures as they move through the world — via colonialism, missionary work, or just as a natural extension of exploration — is exciting to us,” he says.
Their research also revealed the inspiration for the collection’s name: the Buddha games list, the earliest known listing of games. Dating back to the 6th or 5th century BC, it is reputed to be a naming of games Gautama Buddha would not play. “War activities are lumped in on that list,” says Gabe. “We started noting that most games take warfare as a format — capturing land, killing your opponent, etc.” The concept resonated, especially in conjunction with the idea that games are a communal activity in which family and friends gather to play together and feel close. “But games almost always produce a winner and a loser, so these communal activities differentiate and separate people. That became interesting to us as we were figuring out what to create,” says Gabe.
The studio’s focus on research also produced a collection of kites that mix new materials with traditional shapes. “We started with kite heritage in the UK and traced it back to India and to China. They appeared all over the place,” says Gabe. He says the diversity of kite applications beyond recreation was surprising. “Kites are used in fishing, to get lures past waves in the ocean. They have agricultural applications for spreading seeds. There was the famous electricity experiment. And kites were the real precursor to aeronautics; the Wright Brothers were incredible kite makers,” he explains. “I read once that kites are ‘tethered aircraft.’ It’s a beautiful way to describe how peculiar they are.”
Some of Fredericks & Mae’s current kite offerings combine silk-screened Indian kite paper in the shape of a British diamond kite. “The form is nostalgic, but in a new material vocabulary that hopefully creates a little confusion around what the heritage of this particular object could be,” says Gabe.
A love for summer and time spent on the beaches in the Rockaways in Queens inspired the duo’s Endless Summer collection. “It’s mostly about Jolie and me feeling enthusiastic about summer. A lot of these products — Skim Board, Beach Tennis — have been brewing for a long time,” says Gabe. The objects also reflect Fredericks and Mae’s “muddled origins” theme. “Beach life and beach culture has a funny consistency all over the place, but it obviously looks different in different countries,” he explains. “That’s what we’re tapping into.”
Learn more about Fredericks & Mae at fredericksandmae.com. To find the clue inspired by the art/design team in our Everywhere in Your Day contest, visit the Herman Miller Store and enter for a chance to win several prizes, including an Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman.
Photos: Darroch Putnam