Artist, Painter, New York City
Hanging out in Ms. Maggie Simonelli’s studio is such a calming experience. Wax is boiling in multiple pots, colour samples and larger pieces are resting in various stages of completion, beads and travel momentos are scattered for inspiration and nostalgia. Maggie likes to listen to podcasts, audio books or music as she works, making her space one of the most meditative places I have entered in recent memory. The intricate process of carving each groove is mesmerizing, so is the care with which Maggie layers the surfaces, treating each tier lovingly and with devotion. The detailed variables of the process reveal a meticulous labour of love: oxidation of metals, liquefying wax, gold leafs, extraction of pigment from cosmetics, meditating on results and even starting over. It all leaves you transfixed.
Here is a snapshot of the artist’s studio, her current state of being, as well as her works from the various exhibits (pulled directly from her website). Maggie was nominated by Ms. Caroline Simonelli making this mother-daughter feature a first in WOW Woman history.
2. Where is your hometown?
Born in Manhattan (lived until age seven), grew up in South Salem, NY USA.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)?
I came from a family of artists, my parents Don & Caroline Simonelli are fashion designers. So having my sister and I both being creative was absolutely normal in our household. We grew up in a glass house where the outside trees and grass felt like it was inside. Many writers and fashion designers and spiritual teachers came to visit our home including Hilda and Maggie Carter. I first thought I’d become a fashion designer but my parents, both graduates of Parsons School of Design, wanted me to get a few years of liberal arts education. I graduated from Connecticut College where I fell in love with art-making with a special teacher Maureen McCabe.
Upon graduation my father asked me what I wanted to do and I said “Be a Painter” and he said “Go for It !” I got an internship with the abstract expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart at his home studio in Suffern, New York. I then moved to New York City and worked for a short time with sculptor Joel Otterson. I really wanted to be in a community of artists and decided to take classes at the Art Students League with Richard Pousette-Dart as well as William Scharf. All the while I worked part-time jobs in the restaurants and for fabric textile designer Thomas Isabell. I then decided to go to a graduate school as I thought that I would teach and would need a Masters degree. At the Pratt Institute I received two Masters degrees (in Fine Art Painting and Art History). I worked many jobs during this time: I was a teacher’s assistant in the art history office, I also waited tables.
Within the year of graduating I got a studio in TriBeCa, which was a dream come true, and started making art. I sold some pieces right away and people seemed to just want to buy my art off the walls. My parents also put my artwork up in their offices on 57th Street, seeing the artwork there and having to talk about it helped my self-confidence.
What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
I am most proud of making beautiful paintings and continuing continuing continuing.
First inkling of when I was to set off on a current path came when I worked for eight hours straight on a small 12" painting for my art class. I had never felt so focused. I never had this joy and concentration at the same time - time flew by.
More pathways opened when I took risks. Life changing moment for me was my sister encouraging me to devote all my time to painting. She gave me the courage to quit my part-time jobs including my teaching jobs. Support and encouragement also came from my mentor, artist Manuel Pardo who encouraged me to take over my art studio solo. It was special because my sister was there for the transition.
5. What did you study in school?
I took Studio Art in undergrad. Fine Art - painting and Art History (HIghlights: Materials & Techniques and Conservation at the Brooklyn Art Museum and Beginnings of Abstraction at the beginning of the 20th century into Abstract Expressionism.)
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
I always thought I would have a creative life and that I would be making artwork. I did think I would be married with two kids that just seemed like what people did. It was like a society's program to have two kids, an animal like a dog and/cat, a couple of cars and live in a house. I was married for 10 years, yet somehow never got around to having kids. During my marriage, I raced sailboats with my husband quite competitively for amateurs (all over America, and internationally including The Worlds in Sweden and Nationals in Denmark). This was a unique situation because I was not a great swimmer nor was I particularly sporty. I also did not like to be out in windy weather and I had never sailed in my life until he taught me at 28 years old. I discovered that practice is everything and committing, even just a few days a week consistently, would result in progress. I am naturally competitive and turned out to be very good tactician - strategist. We sailed a lot starting in March through October on 2-3 days a week, racing on weekends and I worked at my studio in TriBeCa on weekdays.
7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?
Yes a few times. My father’s death, he died in a coma after a heart attack brought on by an asthma attack. I was in graduate school at the time. I was able to continue to paint. And that is what I did. A lot changed because of his passing so I learned to let go of a lot of things.
Losing my art studio in TriBeCa was pretty traumatic as that was really my home-base sanctuary. I was there for 14 years. I learned that my studio goes with me wherever I go. It looks the same wherever it pops up. I am at a great studio now at The Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts building with a great community of very talented artists whom I would never mett had I not lost my studio. Life changes and leads us to where it is good for us.
The death of my Mentor Manuel Pardo was really really hard. He was a great artist and always so supportive of me. He helped advise me on my art and my career as an artist. I miss him and his kindness every day. I used to run a lot of errands for him and we would joke that I was D.O. Director of Operations for him - Maggie do this Maggie do that. It was always my pleasure to help him. He helped me immensely in every way. I had a hard time getting back to painting after he died but managed to after a few months.
8. Advice for other women?
Be very supportive of one another. Having many female artist friends has helped me enormously in sharing our life journeys. Take the opportunity to help people and to share. Understand that life is short so cherish the moments with people in your life. Get outside and travel. Give up comparing our self to others and make the artwork you would like to see in the world. Dare to be a great artist. Dare to Love and to Live.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values”?
Through compassion, peace and acceptance I feel that we can become our truest, open and expansive selves. This is always with us. Be thankful and appreciate each moment. I really believe in the power of women and in the Grace of Nature and it is up to each of us to come more into alignment with that power, and be in harmony with ourselves and with Nature. I speak about this and the challenges regularly with my female artist friends. With an eye on expanding not only the conversation but the language that we use. To see where we have just accepted “social” norms that are not too normal and not compassionate and how can we see it a different way with empathy and respect for our selves and all the inhabitants on this planet. And as challenging as the today’s world is - it has many times been this way. My question is how do we get more in touch with Peace, Love and spiritual understanding. This is my path.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
At my sanctuary, my art studio.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of?
Seeing and experiencing many art, dance cultural events in the city. Doing yoga. Taking walks long the Hudson River. Why? For enrichment of the spirit.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up?
I am an artist already so I would say a world traveller and a philanthropist. I want to travel more, do more yoga, learn Arabic and Italian and be able to converse fluently.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
Writing intelligently about my artwork.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
Stop thinking that I had to get married to have a full life. Gone to Venice when I got the scholarship. Gone to my friends wedding in Tuscany. Gone to London when my friend Invited me. Took more chance/risks with invitations, especially those that involve travel.
15. What inspires you?
Love and kindness.
16. What are you hopeful about?
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Acceptance, enjoying life in the moment, taking walks in nature, being at the ocean, spending time with loved ones, family and friends.
18. What is a quality you most love about yourself and why?
19. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Let me tell you honey - everyone, and I mean everyone you know, young or grown-up, has no idea what they are doing. So just go for it!
Be comfortable to make mistakes and look silly. Life is filled with surprises. Be thankful for every moment with people you love. Be thankful for the hard times to because they clear the way for things to come. Take time to do and learn things, practice is the way. Listen to your intuition.
20. What are you reading now?
Rumi & Eckhart Tolle, always. For research: Aphrodite by Monica S. Cyrino. Love & Devotion from Persia and Beyond by Susan Scollay, Goddesses compilation of essays by Joseph Campbell.
What books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads? Some life changing books:
Eckhart Tolle: Power of Now, Art of Presence, any lecture Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yoganada.
My sister told me about Anita Moorjani TED Talk, and I read both of her books Dying to be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing and Deep Meditation for Healing.
lOther books: Thich Nhat Hahn’s mediations and sayings There is no way to Peace Peace is the Way < No Mud No Lotus; Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Gary Zukav’s Seat of the Soul; Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization; Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes; The Mastery of Love and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and I just finished The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer.
A must see: AMAZING GRACE documentary of Aretha Franklin singing her gospel album Amazing Grace at the Missionary Baptist Church in Watts Los Angeles with Reverend James Cleveland filmed by Sydney Pollack in January 1972.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and with the help of co-author Elizabeth Weil. I finished this in two days.
As young person maybe I read Life After Life by Raymond Moody
Lots of Edgar Cayce, books about intuition and psychic readings of Edgar Cayce.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
21. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why?
My Mom Caroline Simonelli because she lives from the heart. Love is always her guide. She has dedicated her life to helping others. She has had many different career paths in fashion design and she still continues to work and teach. She said yes to an adventure that ended up with her starting a free school for Fashion Design called Creative Space Beirut with her former student Sara Hermez in Lebanon. She travels there every summer to mentor and inspire.
Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? My Mom, Caroline Simonelli, a fashion designer, teacher and co-founder of Creative Space Beirut; Samira Abbassy, an artist, mother, and co-founder of The Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts - an artist residency in Manhattan for over 75 artists; Daphne McWilliams, a mom, film director, In a Perfect World, Documentary maker and producer of “MAYNARD” - the documentary movie on the life of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, and many other films; Nousha Salimi, a photographer and a lover of life; Caggie Simonelli, my sister, mother and a VP in a fashion industry, Nisa Geller Tannebaum, a mother, writer who continues her involvement in charities; Lisa Blas, an artist, and a thinker. I’ll also have to add Ahmina Ahmed - great artist and a great spirit.
What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them? My Mom, Caroline Simonelli, because she has dedicated her life to helping others. I have told her this many times. Samira: You have a brilliant mind, you are a great artist, beautiful, fun and engaging woman. I always learn something new from you. You are a lover of community and sharing ideas. Daphne McWilliams: I learn things from you all the time. You taught me to slow down and see things on nature walks and be free to take photographs. You inspired me to meditate on the water. I love your generous spirit. You are a beautiful woman! Nousha Salimi - Artist, photographer, a lover and champion of women, I lovea that you think way outside the box, I love that you are a traveller, a yogi, and an entrepreneur. Caggie: You go from 1 to 100 and fast! I love how you can process many things at once, and have the ability to cut through things with laser focus yet remaining objective, sensitive, powerful and vulnerable at the same time. You are so fun to hang out with, and discover new things on the spiritual path. Thank you for your kind and generous heart. Lisa: You have a great intellect, you are a wonderful artist. You are a strong woman with a new kind of feminism, always investigating. You are beautiful, thoughtful and kind-hearted. Thank you for being a great listener and for being so accepting. Ahmina Ahmed: You are an artist of compassion and beauty, with great acceptance, presence and beauty.
22. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?