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Check Out Zoe Bernhardt’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zoe Bernhardt.

Hi Zoe, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was really young, but I started making micro crochet jewelry in 2020. I had just moved from a small town in Oregon to Long Beach with the intention of being a ceramic major. CSULB has the best ceramics facilities in the states, so I felt really drawn to come here, and what a better place to become an artist than LA? What I was doing with ceramics was really similar to what themes I follow now with nature. I had a wonderful art teacher in high school (shout out to Ms. Tuttle) who really encouraged me to get into earthen clay and pushed me to get out in the world to do more with it. But, the pandemic soon after hit, and for a while I had to stop attending university and leave my job at a pharmacy. My whole world was turned upside down, I was far from home and it seemed like my whole life plan was up in the air, so I turned to crochet. It was something calm, happy and familiar that I could do in my own home. I started making tons, meadows worth, of little tiny flowers pretty aimlessly but made some into earrings, which my friends adored and encouraged me to sell. I moved here to be a working artist, so this thought really excited me. My whole first stimulus check went straight to buying an absolute ton of eco-friendly yarn, doing this sustainably was really important to me. I learned how to open an Etsy shop and soon after had a full-on business online and selling at a few local shops like Songbird Boutique.

Over the last two years, I’ve gotten really close with the artist and maker communities here in Long Beach. I’ve helped organize for-the-people markets for struggling creators in the city and briefly worked for the Arts Council for Long Beach to help nurture our community. My favorite part of being an artist in Long Beach is the community, I love going to weekly events to meet new creators and seeing my regulars. I’ve been really successful and happy here despite the rocky start. After all this, I was able to go back to University just in this last year. I was venturing around the ceramic department, attempting to rekindle my relationship with clay. I wondered what was upstairs, nobody ever seems to go upstairs in that department, and to my surprise, there was a whole fiber arts department up there! Apparently, CSULB is one of the only schools that offers fine arts degrees that have to do with fiber arts, like weaving, quilting, basketry, etc. It was really this point when everything felt like it connected for me, this wasn’t a coincidence, this is what I was drawn here to do. I’ve felt so inspired to learn and create more since.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It hasn’t exactly been a smooth road, but I’ve had a lot of help and support from maker friends and local businesses. When I arrived in California, it was a really chaotic and transitional time for everyone. We were all trying to figure out how to navigate this new reality together. So while there has been a lot of struggle, there’s also always been people who understood exactly what I was going through and willing to support. It’s so important to be involved in your community and to have an equal give and take with it. You’d be surprised how many people want you to succeed when you just show up and be genuine. The community of creators here are absolutely phenomenal.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
In my textile art business, Ceramwitch Textiles, I primarily make fiber pieces inspired by the natural world that simultaneously celebrate femininity. My pieces are playful and bright with an element of softness that kind of comes with the medium. Most of what I make are micro-crochet earrings in the form of all sorts of flowers, rainbows, fruits, etc. My favorites to make are still the daisies. Being the thing to start it all, they have a special place in my heart. I’ve always drawn inspiration from nature, my family was really supportive of both my art-making and connection to plants and animals when I was little. From drawing little flower fairies on all my school supplies to crocheting a whole pod of whales for my first big project, I always knew I’d either be an artist or a marine biologist! I adore our planet and am an advocate for environmental conservation and sustainability. I’ll often use organic, recycled, and repurposed materials in my practice to advocate for waste reduction and the fall of fast fashion. All the yarn I use for earrings is GOTS and OEKO-TEX certified very intentionally, and I collect all the scraps from projects to use as stuffing and end-of-year scrap yarn ornaments. For shipping online orders and customs, I use environmentally friendly packaging and offset the carbon emissions. I try to stay as true as I can to my muse, and what’s a better way to show gratitude to our earth than taking care of her? I’m an eco-feminist, which is a modern branch of feminism that sees a correlation between the mistreatment and repression of women, marginalized peoples, and the earth as rooted in patriarchal structures.

Being a fiber artist means engaging in an art form traditionally dismissed as ‘women’s work’. By sustaining myself through the feminine labor of textile and nurturing the earth by working within sustainable means, I feel it takes back a certain power taken away from women. I constantly hope that this example leads others to do the same, it makes my heart so full to see femmes creating and nurturing their best selves.

All in all, I make what makes me happy and feels right. Sometimes I’ll make something that has no intention besides bringing me joy, like tiny cherry pies or mini ugly holiday sweaters. I hope to do some exhibition work in the near future on a larger scale. I’ve had a piece that brings awareness to PCOS and endometriosis in the works for a while now. But for the time being, I’m so grateful to be able to create wearable pieces that bring others joy!

How do you define success?
I would define success in happiness and fulfillment. There’s some months where I certainly don’t make as much as I would working full time in an office, but I wouldn’t be happy there. I wouldn’t have met all the wonderful friends and interesting creatives that I have now if I wasn’t following my heart. Everything in me wants to create, explore, and grow, I have to have a lifestyle that allows for that. Allowing yourself a life that’s exciting and full of joy, community, and possibilities, for me that’s success.

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Image Credits

Karen Reyes

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