Material Girl Maru Lopez | Mingei International Museum

Maru Lopez was born and raised in Puerto Rico and lived in Florence and New York City before setting up her workspace in San Diego. Eclectic signature pieces hang brightly in her Barrio Logan studio alongside artful illustrations.

One of her favorite mediums among many is resin. She recalls using it for the first time in New York and arbitrarily pouring it into a salvaged table to create a centerpiece for her living room, unsure of what might happen. It’s this pervasive spirit of joyful experimentation that fuels her design.

Tell us about the unique materials you use.

The way I use resin and materials is in in a looser way to experiment. I work with alternative materials. There is so much you can do with resin in molds. You can put anything in, even images. Coming to the U.S. definitely made me sit down and think about making pieces more marketable, but they remain fun and sculptural.

That work on the table is cardboard that I’m sending to Puerto Rico. No resin has been poured yet or paint added. It’s still at the ‘cardboard layer.’ The resin pieces with cardboard in the middle show how I like adding textures and layers, and I enjoy using recyclable materials.

The copper earrings use colors from multiple palettes. I was trained as a metalsmith; it’s my true interest though accidental. I was using a lot of brass for economic reasons. I was kind of broke. But I like silver, too.

Was jewelry design always your focus as a student?

Before I attended the Alchimia Scuola di Gioielleria Contemporanea, where I did four years of art jewelry and body adornment, my formal design education began in New York at Parsons School of Design, but I wasn’t feeling it. So I left it all behind--no more fashion. It was a re-creation of identity. I also have a degree in Latin American History from the University of Puerto Rico. The history connection informs and inspires each piece of jewelry. It’s there. I’m still a history buff. Everything meshes.

Did you make this conceptual piece?

It’s a necklace from my ‘meat series,’ schoolwork from the last year of jewelry school. Things done there were more politicized, and they taught everything as though it were sculpture with jewelry being the medium. The series was a year-long exploration that culminated in an exhibition at the school’s gallery. The jewelry I made was based on butcher meat. The titles are all catcalls in Spanish, like “We’ve got the rice; you have the meat.”

"I’m enjoying making jewelry a lot. I feel privileged I can do it, and hope it transmits the happiness I feel."

Who are your influences?

There are artists that have been fundamental to my practice that I always revisit. German jewelers Manfred Bischoff and Herman Junger have been super influential. Manfred Bischoff was actually my teacher before retiring. Also the work of Iris Bodemer and Lucia Massei, both jewelers. In terms of materiality, I look to the work of Eva Hesse, Karla Black and Richard Van Buren. Color-wise, I'd say a lot of the graphic work of Puerto Rican printmakers of the 1950s and ‘60s have been influential. The color combos of Rothko are always great to look at. And then a lot of my friends . . . Many are doing incredible work today in different disciplines, and they’re always a big inspiration.

All the drawings, objects and furniture in your studio complement your jewelry design so directly. How are they related?

I play a lot on paper. The drawings are like my jewelry sketches. The thumb protectors and molded lipsticks displayed are so much fun to mold, but there’s no use. And leftover bits of resin are beautiful on their own. This desk is functional and the only thing I brought from my time in Italy. It looks heavy but is collapsible. It was my roommate’s. She was moving home to Florence and didn’t want to take it, so I dismounted it, wrapped it up and brought it here. The tools attached are all used for my design work.

How has your time at Mingei shaped your work?

I worked at Mingei for five years in visitor experience. I liked it a lot. It’s not my career, but I enjoyed being in the museum. It influenced my work in design and color. I learned a lot seeing people interact with my jewelry in the store. People liked it so much, and I saw that I could make a living doing this. I had been selling at Lux Art Institute, and then Mingei, where it was more about modification. Visitors would say they liked a piece, but if only it were “shorter” or “further down.” Often the guests interacted with me, not knowing it was my jewelry. When they said, “I’ll take it.” I’d say: “Great, I’m the jewelry maker.”

What are your current and future projects?

I’m teaching two classes in January at the Art Academy of San Diego in North Park to see if it’s something I want to pursue. I thought I would teach history early on but ended up studying jewelry. I wondered how to complement my income . . . so I’ll jump over here for a while.

How would you describe your work?

It’s joyful. I’m enjoying making it a lot. I feel privileged I can do it, and hope it transmits the happiness I feel.

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