Plastic Fantastic

Rachelle Matherne is a Renaissance woman –– an artist, a businesswoman, a mafioso … well, she is the founder of the New Orleans Craft Mafia. (“We’re nice and sweet and harmless,” she says reassuringly. “Unless we’re holding our glue guns.”)
Matherne crafts and sells jewelry online and at local markets through her business, greenKangaroo, and her Web site, greenkangaroo.com. She started greenKangaroo, named after the Judy Blume book The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, about five years ago. She chose the name in honor of her favorite crafting partner, her 8-year-old sister, whose birth made Matherne the middle child.

“From a pretty early age, I knew I wanted to have my own business,” she says. “I just wasn’t sure what exactly it would be. I tried a couple of ideas, and they never stuck. I love the freedom. I love that I make a living off of my creativity. I love that I don’t sit in a gray cubicle 40-plus hours a week in some poorly lit office looking at the same people every day.”

The trade-off, she continues, is security. “One of the drawbacks of having your own business, and the downside to all of this freedom, is not getting a steady paycheck,” she says.

Matherne graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor’s degree in media arts, an education she believes prepared her well for life as a businesswoman/artist.

“[The major]’s a combo of public relations, journalism, graphic design and Web site design,” she says. “It helps me in both of my businesses.”

As for her work in the malleable arts, she’s self-taught, having learned her trade the old-fashioned way: books, study and practice.

“In the beginning, I dabbled with a few different craft media,” she says. “I did a lot of stuff out of duct tape –– wallets, purses, roses –– and with old records –– bowls and notebooks. I did a little sewing. I made soaps.”

She continues: “I don’t even remember why I started playing with the resin. It was probably just a fluke because I’ll try any art medium at least once. Once I started fooling with it, it was so addictive! It’s amazing what you can create out of this liquid plastic. There are so many options to color it or embed things in it. Once you start making your own molds, as I do now, it opens up even more possibilities.”

Resin, Matherne explains, is a liquid plastic of a consistency akin to thick maple syrup. It must be mixed with a small amount of a catalyst, which spurs an endothermic (heat-producing) reaction and also adds a chemical that allows the medium to cure, or harden, about 24 hours after completion. The liquid is then poured into a mold and, depending on layering, size and other factors, left to dry. The formula is delicate, and the compound is highly toxic and therefore very dangerous to work with.

“I’m still learning!” Matherne says.

As for her design aesthetic, she takes her ideas from many sources. “Anything can inspire me, from something an actress is wearing in a movie, a model is wearing in a magazine or just a person on the street,” she says. “I also love to go to the thrift store, the dollar store or the clearance aisle at Michaels and see what I can find to work with. It’s fun sometimes to challenge myself to use things within those limits.”

If only all limitations were optional. Unfortunately, running a small business can result in serious financial tension. For this reason, some artists choose to team up to get their creations out into the world. This is how the New Orleans Craft Mafia came into being.

 “We’re just a small collective of local artists who came together to share resources in promoting ourselves,” Matherne says. “We buy ads together and split the costs, we split the cost of promotional materials like stickers and buttons, we do markets together whenever we can to split the booth and travel fees and the labor. Another reason we do this is because it’s much easier to get noticed as a group than as an individual. We started in June 2005, and we’re based on the craft mafia that started in Austin. There are numerous craft mafias across the world now.”

Now that the brutal heat of summer is cooling, Matherne plans to return to market at the end of this month and hopes to eventually expand the list of stores selling her wares.

“I really want to write a book on working with resin since there is so little information out there,” Matherne says. “One day soon, I hope to take some metal-smithing and other jewelry-making classes to learn more techniques.” 

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