An eclectic ark of winsome animals and cheerful feathered friends, Tamar Mogendorff’s New York studio is a delightful world unto itself.
Flocks of fabric birds nest and perch throughout Tamar Mogendorff’s Brooklyn, New York, studio. Birdcages and fishbowls mingle with surprised starfish and a family of penguins. Teeming with a colorful array of sequins, buttons, spools, and carefully chosen fabrics from all over the world, the rooms are full of life and movement.
“The way I grew up was very earthy,” Tamar says of her childhood spent on a kibbutz in Israel. “We all shared everything, so all my life, I never bought gifts. I was always making things. We were very handy, and there was always a needle and thread around.” Tamar’s early interest in painting and photography led to a degree in graphic design, followed by a scholarship to study in New York, which launched her love affair with the city. The artist’s practice of crafting gifts for her friends expanded from a hobby into a métier when she gave a small sewn animal to the owner of the flower shop where she worked. Her wondrous creations were soon sold there and quickly migrated to the far corners of the globe.
As her pieces found homes in distinctive shops, the demand for them skyrocketed, allowing Tamar an opportunity to work for herself and to focus solely on putting together a magnificent studio of her own. Although intimately involved in the production of each item, she employs several assistants who help bring her ideas to life.
Tamar’s artistic vision, fairy-tale imagination, and nimble fingers enable her to transform such disparate materials as old linen, antique embroidery, tweed, and even newspaper into fanciful polar bears, owls, octopuses, and buffaloes. The squinting eyes of a mushroom, the ancient wrinkles of a narwhal, and the dreamy countenance of a unicorn exhibit the elaborate handiwork of someone who delights in the details. “No piece looks like the others, because I enjoy each one,” says Tamar. “I want every customer to feel, ‘This was made for me.’”
The individuality and loving care with which each item is made—from the initial choice of fabric to the final hand-stitched seam—are apparent. Eschewing perfection, the artist finds a greater beauty in her homespun, handcrafted aesthetic. “My pieces are not straight, not even. They are freehand,” she notes. It is these deliberate imperfections—coupled with a meticulous attention to construction—that captivate and enchant her customers. At once delicate and sturdy, Tamar’s treasure trove of offerings transcends the rich and rare materials. “I want the pieces to look effortless so that they do not lose their magic,” she says.
“I go with my own stories … they might come from a fabric or an idea,” Tamar smiles as she reveals the source of inspiration for her animals. “It is so much about the gesture. I will make a whole head just to add the eyelashes—that gesture gives it feeling and personality. How do you find the little things that make the whole sense of a creature? I am improvising all the time, and I am always editing, trying to figure out what is necessary and what is not.”
From “All Creatures Great and Small” in the January/February 2013 issue of Victoria magazine.