Jerry Maloney walks us through his makerspace garage and home, a continual work in progress. His backyard shed is handmade and resembles a teahouse with scavenged sliding doors. He spoke of his recent projects, Mingei Masters workshop and 20-plus-year history with Mingei.

There are so many projects in play here. We know you're an exhibition designer and maker, but also a builder?

I grew up in a handy family. Dad was always making or repairing things for the house and my uncle was a professional handyman. If my grandma needed a new roof, we’d have a work party. Or if an aunt needed to build a retaining wall, we’d go to their house and do the same. I learned all that from them. I don’t like hiring others to build, if I can avoid it. It’s not healthy, but I prefer to do things myself.

Was sculpture your focus when you were a student at San Diego State?

Mostly painting. It’s become more 3D and sculptural after working at the Museum for many years. (I was heavily influenced by the Museum in embracing folk art, too.)

What is the role of materiality in your current work?

Sometimes a project starts there. I’m a generalist and a skill collector. If I see something interesting, I want to try it out, like metalworking or casting. Woodwork is what I’m mostly set up for. This will be a bowl (pointing to a stump of wood). My parents brought this maple back from Illinois. They drove it out. They have a farm back there and go a couple times a year. I’ll cut the ends off for the project. I don’t have a lathe so will use the bandsaw. This is the bandsaw (gestures to a tool). I got it a couple years ago when Reuben H. Fleet was giving things away. The motor was missing, so I took one from another tool I had. I found these (points to scrap metal). They’re the insides of humidifiers. I used them to make a lamp that Shop Mingei carried. Over 20 years, I’ve collected items. Especially with the Museum renovation, I was scavenging things that were to be thrown away.

I didn’t know you ride. What model is this?

The engine is from a ’73 Honda CB750. I built it into a custom chopper. It’s registered as a ‘78 “special construction.” The motorcycle is the most hybrid piece. I had it working, then let it sit for a while. I plan to rebuild it soon so it has a more cohesive style.

Are you interested in the whole or the assemblage?

I try to get things to feel whole.

Tell us what brought you to Mingei over 20 years ago.

I took a gallery design class at San Diego State as an undergrad and met Martha after graduating when I was trying to figure out what to do. Museums seemed like they might work.

Have you always been interested in the mingei aesthetic before Mingei?

I’m not sure I know. It wasn’t conscious. I had never heard the term before and didn’t pay much attention to it until working at the museum when I started thinking of daily use as art. Separately, I didn’t feel that folk art was encouraged in art school.

"I’m a generalist skill collector. If I see something I like, I want to try it out..."

What was the first exhibition you designed for Mingei?

The John Dirks show. David Rinehart designed the Nomads of Kazakhstan exhibition that was next to it but didn’t want to do the Dirks exhibit himself. It was after Martha Longenecker retired.

And you curated an exhibition of tools at Mingei?

It was (Mingei Executive Director & CEO) Rob Sidner's idea. He let me organize it. He was going to do utensils, and I do tools. So it was organized around use and basic movements, like cutting and clamping, then titled with two words for each section. (Rob said they were gerunds.)

What was a favorite exhibition you designed?

When people ask, I say the Arline Fisch show. Fisch Out of Water was installed in the rotunda in a 30-foot 3-D cube with all her jellyfish. It was interesting to design it to look like a fish tank.

Which was the “pulling teeth” show?

There were a few or a couple that were especially hard because of outside influences. During the Ackerman show, we were working with curators from LACMA. It was a traveling show. Abby was born then, very premature at 24 weeks gestation. She’ll be turning 10, this year. She spent from January 23 until May of that year in ICU, and the Ackerman show was in the middle. I couldn’t take four months off work, but of course my mind was somewhere else.

What impactful changes have you seen at Mingei over the years?

Expansion of the Education Department. Back in the day, we weren’t as big on education in relation to the exhibitions.

What will you be presenting at your Mingei Masters workshop?

I’m doing handcasting. I thought it was the easiest thing with no dangerous tools. We’ll use alginate to mold and plaster to cast our own hands.

Your handcast work outside your home, made with your daughter, appropriates words. Do you often pair your work with text?

I have, but not regularly. Depends on what it needs.

The work with her also addresses the challenges and opportunities of living with ADHD for you both. Can you share more about that?

With ADHD, I’m kind of getting to where I’m trying to push back against how the general public feels it’s a disorder. People don’t know too much about it, and it becomes counter-productive to be expected to do things the way everyone else does. I’m trying to promote it as an asset, rather than how society treats it.

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