The Lives of a Mayfly: In Studio with Maggie Kundtz Joseph


Submitted 5 months ago
Created by
Tom Haushalter

Just through the door of one of AVA’s private artist studios, I find Maggie Kundtz Joseph in front of an oversize canvas adding brisk strokes of a watercolor pencil to a painting.

The studio is flooded with natural light through large windows, overlooking rooftops of historic downtown Lebanon. The high ceiling opens up dimensional possibilities for large works. And the wood floors are as creaky and pliable—as steeped in the history and character of the building—as you would hope. Simple and spacious, the studio naturally inspires.

Occupying this space since 2013, Kundtz Joseph has made it her own—an apparent reflection of the artist’s restless, diversiform vision. The large canvases lean three or four deep against the easel. The walls, too, are nearly floor-to-ceiling in painted works that she has decided, for now, are complete.

Kundtz Joseph’s interests are far from canvas-bound. She shows me a smattering of small sculpture objects placed throughout the studio. “They’re like my inner children,” she says.

The sculptures, a form called assemblage, are composed of various found objects—several include the eerily expressionless heads of miniature ceramic dolls—that Kundtz Joseph has gathered over time. “I know where all these objects come from. I have boxes full of random stuff,” she says. “My kids know it’s not beneath me to show up at the dump to search for interesting things.”

These assemblage, among painted canvases as well as clay-formed vessels and metal sculptures, begin to describe Kundtz Joseph’s resourcefulness and versatility as an artist.

She studied painting and photography at the University of Michigan, but it was for field hockey, in fact, that she was recruited and received a four-year scholarship. Athletics may have competed for her time and attention then, but, she says, “I knew pretty clearly that I was passionate about two things. Athletics and art.”

After college, Kundtz Joseph traveled a bit before landing in Maine at the Maine Media Workshops and focusing more fully on photography. “Being immersed with the people there was just so great. And I ended up staying in Maine after I got my master’s, which somehow made my parents worry that I was off joining a commune.”

A hunger for more dynamic subject matter led her—and her camera—to New York City, where she was soon navigating the vibrant gallery culture down in SoHo, working as a freelance photographer, and brushing elbows with many of the idols of the art world. 

“Ironically, I didn’t make much art in those years,” she says, reflecting on her typically 15-hour work days. “But I really learned the value of hard work, and it was so full of rich, visual experiences and fueled who I was.”

The art happened nevertheless, and something of an artist’s persona also took shape during Kundtz Joseph’s years making photographs in New York.

The alter ego mayfly was born. She explains: “A mayfly lives for two days. It emerges, it doesn’t eat, it reproduces, then it dies. And the life cycle continues. As an artist, I love the idea of impermanence. In a way similar to French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who sought to capture ‘the decisive moment,’ I try to capture those ephemeral moments that dissolve into time.”

She adds, “So much of my art is about transformation and transition, about the circle and completion. And mayfly encompasses all of it.”

Her prevailing themes followed mayfly into motherhood, all the way through her family’s transition, in 2009, to the Upper Valley. But as many artists come to know too well, the demands of raising children can quickly displace any chance at making art. For a period of a few years, her output slowed considerably.

“It wasn’t until my kids were toddlers that I realized, if I don’t make art now, I’ll no longer be me,” she says. “And if I’m not making art, how will they see me? I decided I have to honor and live into my persona, into my art.”

She remembers setting up a little room in her house with an easel. “And I just painted. I started small because I knew time was finite, so I could finish it. I felt like I’d accomplished something.”

Mayfly’s renaissance, let’s call it, has come with a fresh notion of what propels her art. “Now I’m more fed by the process than I am by finishing—or showing—something,” she says. 

A studio at AVA has afforded her that luxury of time and space, and pieces need not be complete for mayfly to know progress. Each canvas, each little assemblage is a practice, and it’s done when it’s done. 

Being at AVA has even inspired her to branch out beyond the studio. Every week now, mayfly leads toddlers and their caretakers in Community Arts Open Studio (CAOS), and she co-facilitates classes in the Senior Art Program. The great pleasure in teaching, she says, is “providing and nurturing that safe space where you can unfurl the authentic artist within.”

This year, too, she tried welding for the first time. Taking a class in the Sculptural Studies building, she says the new metalworking skills “have opened the possibilities for a number of pieces, which weren’t possible before.”

Taking her journey into account, having “cell-divided a billion times,” several iterations beyond even that restless New Yorker snapping photographs, mayfly feels like she’s just getting started. 

“I’m so grateful to be in this space, practicing my art, which has been building up in me for years.”

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