Karolina Maszkiewicz stands in her bright, cozy studio near LA’s Miracle Mile, showing off her vast collection of dried seed pods. She is all smiles—sunny, warm and as graceful as the light and airy mobiles that have made her a go-to artist for interior designers and private collectors. Her delicate but sturdy mobiles are created with a colorful, earthy collection of dried seed pods, charred wood, brittle flowers and the hard hats of acorns.
“Whatever drops on the ground, I pick it up. I collect nature’s trash and make it into these guys,” she says, gesturing to her work.
What Karolina does with “nature’s trash”—along with a few man-made elements and metal wire—has made her sculptures the star of exhibits at Ochi Projects in LA, Ellsworth Gallery in Santa Fe and G/ART/EN in Como, Italy.
Her love of the outdoors and the calm and serenity she feels when working with natural materials is rooted in her childhood in northern Poland. Her father, a professor, is an artist, and her mother is a biologist and avid gardener. From a young age, Karolina and her sister, now a costume designer, learned to create things on their own.
“We were always super crafty. We’d sew our own clothes, sew toys. Also, this was part of post-Communism, so there wasn’t much around,” she says. “If you wanted something, you had to make it yourself.”
In 1995, Karolina moved to LA. She attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and started a career as a designer in the fashion industry. Although her endeavors focused on clothing design, she believes it helped her become the artist she is today. “What fashion taught me is to pay attention to details,” she says. “When I first started working, one of the biggest surprises I was not taught in school is that you have to pick a thread, the thread size, the colors, the buttons, the hem width, and just tiny little details. So I think my attention to detail comes from that.”
While Karolina had always pursued art as a side project, her second career as a full-time artist kicked off when she began studying with the modernist sculptor Brad Howe at his studio in Malibu. She was drawn to kinetic sculptures and uses them to tell the story of the environmental crisis currently enveloping the world. “I feel like kinetic form really suits the issue of the environmental conflicts that we’re in right now,” she says. “It’s like the passing of time and nature, how it moves.”
After the devastating Woolsey Fire in Ventura County in 2018, the artist turned her anguish into “Woolsey,” a series of mobiles made with charred wood left behind by the flames.
“Brad’s place was destroyed in the Woolsey Fire. I went there as soon as the streets opened, which I think was maybe a week or two after,” she says. “I wanted to express my personal feelings about the fire itself, this particular one, but also just what’s going on with the environment and how much we’re not paying any attention to it. It’s just so frustrating because there’s no future if there is no environment. So I wanted to turn it into something beautiful that would draw attention to it.”
Like her mother, Karolina is an avid gardener and a naturalist, often foraging for materials in Griffith Park, on sidewalks—anywhere she can. Her current series “Sepsates” (a word she made up) focuses on dried clippings from jacaranda, sapphire cypress and eucalyptus trees. The mobiles twist and curve elegantly, displaying their muted earth tones.
Karolina sees “Sepsates” as a meditation on the way we ignore the natural world. “It takes all this effort to spread the seeds, and they just go on the ground, on concrete, on the streets, not being able to really do the job that they’re meant to do,” she explains. “And we don’t really notice it.”
She hopes her work will help those around her become more attuned to the natural world, and she’s encouraged by the fact that her community has helped forage for natural specimens perfect for her sculptures. “Once I started doing it, a lot of people started helping because they felt like, ‘Oh my God, I see those everywhere. Can I bring you some?’” she says. “My boyfriend’s mom, who lives in Hawaii, sends me things now.”
For Karolina, her art is her message, and her practical attitude toward success keeps her pushing forward. “I just had to do it and did it, and somehow it’s working, thank God.”
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