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Duluth artists use crafts as political statements

While Emily Moe is sitting in her living room cluttered with buttons, feathers, felt, and sequence, she reminisces about how she got the idea to start selling her hats.

Emily Moe, 40, is not your average mail room temp from St. Scholastica. She is a piano teacher and milliner (hat maker) who likes to live a alternative lifestyle by making things herself.

Emily and her husband Adam originally came up with the idea of making hats, ties, wall art and various other things at the first Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago in 2003. This is a nationwide craft fair that features contemporary indie-craft artists.

“Our minds were just blown away by what craft had become. We were both just stunned and at that point we both vowed not to ever buy another Christmas present,” Emily said.

Emily Moe

Emily Moe showing off one of her custom hats. Photo credit: Shannon Kinley

Shortly after the Renegade Craft Fair, Emily had made so many hats, and Adam so many ties, that they didn’t have enough lampshades to hang them on.

“How many ties does a man need? I made him start selling them and shortly after he put his foot down and made me start selling my hats,” Emily said.

Emily currently has a website, moesewco.com, where she sells her hats. She also sets up appointments for her customers to describe the hat they want her to make.

“I want people to be happy with what they get, and if they aren’t I will make it again,” Emily said.

Emily recently posted on Perfect Duluth Day, trying to see if there was an interest in Duluth for a millinery (hat making) class. She said that there was definitely enough interest; now she is just trying to find a place to conduct the class.

“We will start from the beginning of making a hat and make our way to the end,” Emily said.

Emily and Adam both live a lifestyle in which they try to make everything they can by themselves instead of buying things from large corporations.

“Craft is a political statement,” Emily said. “It is how we best express our anti-corporate ideals. We believe in making things ourselves and not giving our money to Wal-Mart. By making things yourself the workers only exploit themselves.”

In addition to hat making, she really enjoys cooking, reading Jane Austin novels, knitting, and playing board games.

“I don’t have time for hobbies. When you’re an artist everything is a hobby or work depending on how you look at it,” Emily said.

Emily has been a piano teacher for 17 years and considers it the best job in the world. She currently has five students, but she is always looking for more.

“I get to help raise a lot of kids at a time and I get to send them home after an hour,” Emily said. She then went on to say “I’m the strongest adult role model in most of these kids lives. I see them from when they are tiny children until they hopefully graduate high school. I get to see them grow and develop.”

Emily will be performing on the piano at the Victorian Gala Concert in St. Peter, Minn. on April 28 and 29.

“I would much rather not speak, I like to be behind my keys,” Emily said.

Emily and her husband moved to Duluth last June from Chicago in hopes of restarting their lives. They both agreed it was time to move back home. Emily is originally from St. Peter, Minn., and Adam is from Grand Marais, Minn.

“I am finding my way,” Emily said. “I have not been here long enough to make a judgment on if I like it here or not. The economy has hit us very hard, and we are still trying to get back on our feet.”

Emily and her husband Adam met in college, but did not start dating until after college.

“It just happened, and I decided I wasn’t going to run away from a relationship,” Emily said.

Emily and Adam have been married 17 years this July.

“The thing that makes our marriage strong is we are an unstoppable creative force,” Emily said. “Together we are unstoppable.”

Adam Moe describes his wife as a strong, creative, patient, empathetic woman with a great smile.

“She is not afraid to do it the hard way,” Adam said. “She looks at life as a deconstructionist. She likes to know how things are made, and then learn to make them herself.”

He said she has always been a creative person and interested in hats.

“There are all kinds of pictures with her wearing various hats throughout her childhood and teenage years,” Adam said.

“Most of what I make is less on the useful side and more on the decorative side,” Adam said. “Emily makes stuff more on the useful side.”

Adam said it is more rewarding for them to make gifts instead of purchasing them. If they do have to purchase something, “we get somebody we can make eye contact with to make it for us and that’s more rewarding,” Adam said.

Tim Kaiser is a long time friend of Emily who met her when she was living in Grand Marais with Adam. Emily is the co-founder of Flying Leap Theatre, which is a theatre company in Grand Marais whose core was to recreate live radio drama from 1940s and put it on the stage.

Kaiser did some video work for the company and described an event in which he still remembers to this day.

“Emily booked the band Savage Aural Hotbed to do a show in Grand Marais,” Kaiser said. “There was this high school nearby that had a really old beat up piano they were trying to replace. It was in really rough condition and nobody would buy it.”

Emily ended up buying the piano for about $25. She played it piano while Savage Aural Hotbed sawed it apart. “She put on some goggles and played it as long as she could until it tipped over,” Kaiser said.


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