Sometimes we preface these interviews with longer introductions and sometimes we let our subjects speak for themselves. We'll mostly let Margaret Bakke do the latter, but let it be known that we're thrilled to feature details + artwork from the home of this native Washingtonian, and that we dig the various ways she contributes to, supports, and takes advantage of her creative D.C.
"My neighborhood is called Kingman Park. I grew up in D.C. in the same neighborhood I live in now, and I work in the same hospital complex where I was born. In between then and now I have lived in New York City, Arlington, and Charlottesville. I am a nurse at Children's Hospital in the Hematology/Oncology unit. My favorite and primary pastimes are making things and walking."
I like making anything and everything - I don't discriminate! I love to paint, weld, draw, knit, cut, glue, print, braid, photograph. I also like to cook and entertain because it combines my loves of staying home, being with people, and making things all at once. Plus, baking and cooking provide very immediate and readily appreciated outcomes.
I've always wanted to be super specialized and expert but I have reconciled myself to the fact that I'm a generalist. If I did not have a full time job, I would probably do doing more of everything all at once, but with time limitations I've mostly been making etchings. This printmaking process is long, laborious, technically precise, and it can be frustrating. But in the end, it's so satisfying. From filing the edges of the metal plate to painting with acid, to seeing the final print emerge, it satisfies all my visual and tactile loves.
I also am constantly photographing – this is something that requires fairly little energy, allows me to hone my observation, and hoard things without actually HAVING them. The iPhone is handy, but I still prefer film and shoot with a Mamiya 6. It's a rangefinder, which many SLR-lovers find frustrating, but I think it's the perfect camera.
I majored in visual arts at Columbia in New York and stayed to work at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies after I graduated. It was extremely formative to meet and work with so many brilliant artists. But through a series of life events I decided that I had a responsibility to do something concrete for people, so I got a Masters in nursing. I am inspired now by what I see happening in D.C., New York and Baltimore in terms of art as activism. Maybe I was naive to think that healthcare workers can do any more for social justice than artists. Right now (and probably forever) I'm in the middle of figuring out my place in it all – I'm working as a pediatric nurse full time but leaning hard back into the arts!
For the most part you really are creating for yourself, and for the sake of creating. I don't want to say that's rare, but I do know a lot of artists for whom an impending show or a deadline is an infinite HELP in taking things across the finish line. Can you talk about your process?
Oh, I thrive on a good deadline as much as the next procrastinator! But I’ve realized that the little things I do in my in-between times are what make up my life. That limitless time that we dream of and wait for to start projects never actually comes, so we have to build something now. One of the things that inspires me to carve out time to create is going to the Torpedo Factory in Old Town. I do all my printmaking in the studio there and just being in a communal creative space makes me make! Plus it helps to have genius, generous artists around to problem solve with me. Penny Barringer and Nancy Aldrich-Wolf are my gurus; anyone interested in printmaking should take their classes!
Also, since I don't always have the time to make as much as I'd like, recently I have begun collecting other people's art. As you know from your A Creative DC endeavor, there are so many ridiculously talented people, and with social media it's easier than ever to find them. I've been buying work from young female artists in D.C. and NYC and it's so fun (and a slippery slope to bankruptcy, eek!) Being an artist is usually not very glamorous, but being a patron of the arts certainly sounds like it could be!
You did recently have a show, though, at Homme in Anacostia...
My dear friend Jessica Speckhard is an amazing jeweler and was selling her work at Homme, a boutique in the Anacostia Arts Center. I met Amir Browder, [the owner], at one of her trunk shows and we hit it off. He sells men's fashion, and is also creating a cool space for music and visual art events. He invited me to show my recent work. We had a fantastic opening event in mid-March and the show ran for six weeks.
Walking is my other main hobby. If time allowed, I would walk everywhere! It is my favorite way to see the world, and especially the people. I walk to think, I walk to get places and I walk just to exert my evolutionary gift to be bipedal! I usually find myself walking towards The Mall because I will never get over the fact that all our museums are FREE (or, paid for in April). The summer before last my brother Peter and I decided we needed to see new parts of D.C. by foot, so we walked the entire D.C. diamond, going to each of the 40 boundary stones that made up the city’s original parameter. During our four-day walk, we met some interesting and generous city dwellers, learned some D.C. history, and overall had a grand adventure.
Also transportation-related: YOUR BIKE SCULPTURES! So obsessed with these – they're so elegant, which I feel like you don't necessarily expect upon description. What's the process and what was the impetus behind the first one?
Haha thank you! I just call them bike tables, although sculpture is very generous. I came up with the design for these out of necessity. One summer I found some cool old racing bikes in a dumpster under 395. They were completely rusted over but of course I had to keep them. I had to make something useful out of them to justify keeping obsolete bikes, so I welded them into tables.
You grew up just off of H Street NE, and the difference between it now and when you were a kid...what are your thoughts?
I don't want to sound flippant about this because with development comes good change but also loss of affordable housing and displacement of people. But empirically, I actually don't know how exactly the city has changed since I was just mostly riding my big-wheel around the block over and over again for all those early years.
I still do pretty much all the things I did when I was little, I go to the Arboretum and Lincoln Park in the summer and the National Gallery and Natural History museums are my winter playground. Now I just walk instead of being pushed in a stroller. The neighborhood has always been vibrant and family oriented and now there is much better food (like Maketto!)
What do you LOVE about DC – and having lived elsewhere, is there anything you wish there was more of?
Being a teenager in DC was magical: having a first kiss at the Lincoln Memorial, watching the sunrise at Hain's Point, seeing punk rock and Go-Go shows at the Black Cat, doing homework in the Sculpture Garden, speeding through Rock Creek with the headlights off. Then you grow up and realize that these places are not only a part of your dimension, but belong to other people too and are important beyond their personal significance.
Since high school I've mostly lived in NYC so now I usually defer to other people and blogs like yours for cool D.C. goings-on. I always knew I'd be back because D.C. is full of memory and meaning and almost all the people I love. What I'd like to see more of: more Metro stops and more public art that isn't temporary!
Anything else you'd love to include??
Oh my goodness, you must be so sick of me.