By Lee Havens
Mia Fonssagrives Solow is a practicing artist who has shown her sculpture, paintings, collages and fine jewelry from California to New York, and back, for decades. But what do you really know about this artist? Although you might have read about her in W, Elle, In style, The Herald Tribune and many world renown publications, you could only have scratched the surface by doing so.
While Mia may have hit a small bump here and there early in her life, her life reads much like a contemporary fairy tale. But then, what truly believable fairy tale doesn't involve an interesting bump or two? If you read any of the biographical content in the publications in which Mia was featured, you already know that Mia was born into a world of art, design, fashion and culture. You would already know that her mother, Lisa. was a celebrated and legendary Swedish beauty who dominated the pages of fashion magazines. and who modeled for the most celebrated photographers and fashion designers of the early twentieth century. You would already know that her tall, dark and handsome. bon vivant natural father, Fernand, hailed from a long line of accomplished French artists and sculptors.
Lisa and Fernand first met at dance class in Paris. They studied ballet and eventually modem dance. Mia muses and envisions them seeing themselves together in the dance hall mirror, and falling in love with the image of their own coupling. It was after Fernand broke his back while dancing that Lisa handed him a camera and suggested that he take photographs. The photos he took of the beautiful Lisa, in extraordinary situations, were hugely popular and provided an income to the young couple. It was purportedly Elle, which suggested that Fernand photograph Lisa in fashion, which ultimately launched her into fashion model stardom, and what some refer to as the first "super model." During this time, Fernand would take Mia, the child, to restaurants, parties and jazz clubs where Mia remembers they would laugh and sing for hours.
While you probably wouldn't have read it, Mia's biggest childhood bump occurred when her mother divorced her beloved father, for questionably, a less vivacious, but more stable lifestyle. Mia had contracted rheumatic fever and Lisa apparently felt that rest and calm was called for. They bought a farm in Huntington and resided there. Nine-year-old Mia was in her Davie Crockett phase when her mother formed a relationship with famed Vogue fashion photographer, Irving Penn. Mia says, nostalgically, that Irving proved irresistible, even to her Ultimately, Mia considered Irving to be her second father. Without considering it, Mia was still immersed in a swirl of art, design and fashion, dashing back and forth to the fashion capital of the world of that time, Paris.
The farm was a working farm. Mia was taught to plant trees, shear sheep and perform the chores characteristic of farm life. She brushed and fed the horses that she \earned to ride early, as her mother also rode. They would rise at 5:00 a.m. to go riding. When chores and homework were done, everyone took to a studio to engage is some form of creative work. Mia recalls forming and buffing brass into shiny bangles in the farm workshop, never anticipating the extent of her eventual endeavors in jewelry making. She wrapped sea-glass in wire to be worn and was fascinated with Indian jewelry. Mia learned to sew, which she did prodigiously. She learned to parallel park by practicing in an old war jeep, long before she was sixteen. They were also athletic, and would routinely go skiing during the winters. Without having friends nearby, Mia and her younger brother Tom, the son of Irving and Lisa, had to exercise their imaginations to produce entertainments. Lisa gave Mia yards of brightly colored tuiles that she swirled about herself as she performed saber dances for her parents.
Having matriculated from an exclusive little girl's school, to New York's progressive and coed Dalton school, Mia was struggling with the changes in her life. In sixth grade, her teacher was very disturbed with Mia's macabre drawings of black houses and such, and refused her from class. Retrospectively, Mia was expressing visually that which she was sublimating emotionally. Mia opted to fill the time slot with woodshop, which hitherto was reserved exclusively for the boys. Mia became enamored with the processes of working with wood, the odors of freshly cut wood, the glues, and the resinous finishes applied to the wood, and it created an impression that would direct her future artistry.
Mia adjusted to her situation and finished her lower education as any normal child would. She later enrolled in Parson's School of Design in New York City and studied fashion as part of her curriculum. At Parsons, she and her friend Vicki Tiel decided that they would like to create a collection of clothing. Wealthy Americans of the time preferred to buy French labels, and it was very difficult to sell clothing that wasn't French. Immediately after graduating, and even before they received their diplomas, they decided to move to Paris and create their collection which would enable them to label them as French, which they would in turn sell back to the Americans. It would appear that Parsons was able to teach good business practices, or, maybe these two were just very precocious girls.
Mia, however, was able to claim citizenship, since her father was native French, which was a blessing, because one could not do anything in France at that time, unless one was French. In Paris, life unfolded for the girls like a beautiful dream. Mia characterizes that experience as though it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. It was a new fantasy everyday, she recalls. On their second day in town, they were able to obtain a conveniently located cafe apartment. After that, they were asked to write a monthly newsletter on Paris fashion, for Sears, which earned them $200 per month. It just so happened that their rent was $200 per month.
By that October, Dick Sylbert offered Mia and Vicki a commission to design clothes for an upcoming Woody Allen movie titled, What's New Pussycat? Afterwards, Paramount offered the two a sum of $50.000 for the rights to make a movie of their life story. The moxy Mia quipped, “Only if we can have our names in big red letters against a blue sky.” Paramount decided that would be perfectly plausible. French themes were selling well, even in Hollywood. Another movie stUdio released a film paralleling the one that Paramount intended to make of Mia and Vicki's story, and their story was therefore shelved. But the earnings they received for selling their story enabled them to launch their clothing line in full force. They soon counted among their clientele many celebrities and Hollywood stars, and went on to design clothes for yet other Hollywood movies including James Bond's "Thunderball" and Elizabeth Taylor's "The Only Game In Town."
After ten years of unbridled success in the young lady's fashion business, Mia became sated with the experience. The creative building phase of the business was over; and Mia considers herself foremost a builder, and she decided that the business only needed one executive to continue running it. She chose to redirect her attentions to other art forms. After finishing a commission from the movie industry in California, Mia aligned herself with a California based family of fine wood craftsmen. She set up shop. so to speak, with this family enterprise and rekindled her passions for working in wood. She was painting again by this time and was exhibiting, beginning with a show at Feingarten Gallery in Los Angeles, featuring canvasses covered in shiny motorcycle paint in bright and vivid colors.
Missing New York, however, and after she had sufficiently refined her own craft and woodworking skills, she relocated back to Manhattan.
She took a Manhattan studio where she could create her art and resumed working. Over time she created works in wood, stone, bronze, collage and paintings. In East Hampton, Mia was introduced to a tall, handsome Russian man who, in due course, became her husband. It was he that encouraged Mia to work in larger, more monumental scale. While the larger pieces were exciting and popular, they were heavy and cumbersome to move and transport. So she continued working in smaller scales as well. Characteristic of her success track record, Mia's sculptures have graced Asprey and the windows of Cartier and Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan. Judith Price, of the National Jewelry Institute, has invited Mia to exhibit a collection of work in Paris, on this coming October 8th, during Fashion Week. She is working on new constructions and mythological images for that exhibition.
While exhibiting at Elaine Benson's in Bridgehampton, Elaine suggested to Mia that she create some sculpture that people can wear. This one suggestion apparently catalyzed the launching of a vast collection of sculptural and artisanal jewelry, because Mia rarely does things in small measures. And now, her jewelry is also shown and sold on both coasts. Mia create her jewelry in various precious and semi precious metals and gemstones. She can combine silver, bronze and gold in one piece.
When not designing in amorphic and abstract forms, she draws upon images from nature, particularly animals, for her jewelry designs. [n addition to her interpretations of wild animals, she has interpreted a vast number of popular dog breeds into brooches. They possess whimsical and sometimes even comical charm. Her sense of whimsy reveals itself in her chains of puzzle pieces, to be worn as a necklace or bracelet. Her sense of abstraction shows up in her sets of worry pieces: referred to as beads in other shapes, that co-conforms to one another and produces the appearance of a single unit. Often, her jewelry designs will parallel or be derivative of her larger sculptural art.
Mia spends most of her time between Greenwich, East Hampton and Manhattan. In Greenwich, she primarily works on jewelry. Her accommodations there are too civilized to be banging, sawing and constructing her large-scale pieces. With time, she has developed sensitivity to saw dust and now only works in wood in the out of doors, which restricts when and where she can do so. So, she has rechanneled much of her energies into the other mediums, with just as much enthusiasm and success.
Mia and her husband have two sons, with one still living at home. She does not spend all of her time in the studio, because she loves mothering her children. They also have numerous grandchildren, with one set of quadruplets. Mia is determined that the "grands," as she refers to them, have a significant grandmotherly experience. It is because Mia works so instinctively and confidently that she is able to produce the amount of work that she does, in the time that she allots for the studio. She still loves fashion and has a personal aesthetic that can be described as fashion forward. She is known for her long and sleek style of dressing, often wearing skinny pants with three quarter tops. Ed Hardy pants appeal to her sense of color and whimsy. Mia will be showing her classic jewelry designs, along with some of her very latest ones, and appear at Lee Havens Fine Jewelry, on Worth Avenue, April 3rd & 4th. It will be the first time that she has shown and made an appearance at Lee Havens, and an exception, because Lee Havens rarely profiles artist collections.
Copyright © 2009 Mia Fonssagrives - Solow / All rights reserved.