Artist in the House
Meet three highly skilled artisans who are giving new meaning to working with their hands.
- Written byAnne M. Russell
- Photographed byMichael Becker
Although Felipe Lopez’s father is no longer living, he left his son an invaluable gift. “I discovered I inherited his ability to transform things with my hands,” says Felipe. His dad was a machinist, but his own spiritual bond is with fine woods, which include Peruvian walnut, European beech, silver leaf maple or even reclaimed exotics like centuries-old Douglas fir or ancient redwood burls.
The Studio City resident was born in Mexico City and moved to LA when he was 18. He graduated from the highly regarded woodworking program at Cerritos College in Norwalk, where he learned the precision cutting, joining and finishing that characterize his beautiful constructions. Even Felipe’s largest pieces, which include headboards, dining tables and benches, don’t rely on nails or screws. Instead, they are held together securely with old-world-style hand cut joinery, such as dovetails and mortise and tenon. The exquisite pieces are then polished exclusively with natural oils and beeswax finishes.
These heirloom creations have a strong Hollywood following, gracing the homes of actors Aaron Paul and Nina Dobrev and Hamilton orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Felipe works entirely by commissions won “mostly from word of mouth,” he says. “Each piece is a collaborative effort with the client. I show my clients the woods—what they look like and feel like and how they will serve them.” After he and the client choose the combination of woods, Felipe presents a sketch and begins work.
His workshop, housed in his garage, is a miracle of meticulous orderliness and safety awareness; it’s the antithesis of a home hobbyist’s rat’s nest, where you expect to find a severed finger amongst the wood shavings. Felipe even has an intelligent table saw with “flesh sensing” technology that stops the blade if the user is about to feed their hand in with a board.
Of his exquisitely equipped work space, Felipe says, “When I buy a tool that I know I’m going to use, I only buy once,” meaning that he seeks out top quality, even if it means purchasing an antique. One of his favorite tools is a Stanley seven-angle plane from the late 1800s, which works as perfectly as it did when it was new, well over a century ago.
Although he usually works alone, Felipe says he loves sharing his knowledge. “Every time I have an apprentice, it’s one of the joys of my life.” He is currently developing a woodworking curriculum for three schools in Guatemala that he and his wife, brand consultant Jess Weiner, help fund. The schools are for indigenous Mayan girls who otherwise would have little opportunity for education.
Felipe hopes that some of the girls will find the same joy in woodworking that he does. “I’m constantly learning,” he says. “It makes me very happy.”
Check out more of Felipe’s work on Instagram @flopez_woodworker.
Starting out with a degree in haute couture from the renowned Parsons School of Design in New York City, Joseph Porro took a strange and meandering route to his current job as top costumer for Fox’s hit sci-fi dramedy, The Orville.
Joseph’s early professional diversions included working in an LA sweatshop sewing pants, constructing character costumes for Ice Capades and working in Shanghai, designing fancy jeans for the Chinese internet brand Vancl. Thanks to that last gig, completed after costuming Tom Dey’s Shanghai Noon (2000), Joseph speaks rudimentary Mandarin, a skill that still comes in handy when he needs speedy garment production from Chinese manufacturers.
But it was a stint as unofficial bartender to legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, to whom he was introduced by his mentor designer, Renié Conley, that launched Joseph’s career in feature film costuming.
“On my early stuff I was just shopping, not doing a lot of building,” he says. He acknowledges that his first nonunion features, including a gangster karate flick, are best forgotten but were “great learning grounds.” His first “real” movie was Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire pic Near Dark in 1987. One of his most ambitious was Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi feature Stargate (1994), which required 2,700 background costumes and included a single outfit that cost over $100,000 to create. Joseph also worked with Emmerich on Independence Day (1996) and Godzilla (1998).
Those days—and budgets—are long gone, with the consolidation of the movie industry. Today the big jobs are in TV, which means lower budgets and a much faster pace. Joseph prides himself on producing all original costumes and not depending on rentals for his extraterrestrial and historical series like 2014’s Salem (which required over 1,000 outfits), 2015’s Lizzie Borden Chronicles and his current endeavor, The Orville. But that can mean putting in 110-hour weeks. With a 24-hour turnaround on costumes, “You have to have a plan B,” he says. “That plan B might be a hot-glue gun.”
Although Joseph says he hates Halloween—“I feel like that should be a designer’s day off”—he loves dressing himself and boasts that he never wears the same thing twice. And he’s just as creative about his home décor: He recently bought a new house in Studio City, which he plans to decorate with an eclectic African theme. His previous property, which won numerous neighborhood awards, drew its inspiration from China.
“I have a wall of jewelry in my house,” Joseph says. “Jewelry is an obsession of mine.” You might catch him wearing a necklace of his own making that includes dozens of silver thimbles or perhaps one made of bottle caps or ancient bordello tokens from Pompeii. “I draw inspiration from the most bizarre things,” he notes quite accurately.
It isn’t every little girl who begs for a toy potter’s wheel for Christmas, but Moye Thompson had been enchanted by clay ever since she happened on potters at work during a third-grade field trip in her hometown of Atlanta. “It was like magic to me,” she says.
She got her toy wheel that holiday and “made a lot of clumpy things,” she recalls. But it wasn’t until after graduating from Harvard, spending a year in Cairo, and then starting work as a magazine editor in New York that Moye rediscovered her vocation. In 1988, a then-boyfriend gifted her a 10-week class at the Upper East Side studio, Earthworks Pottery. “I see that as my life’s turning point,” she says.
In 1996, Moye met her husband-to-be, architect Doug Suisman, which led to a move to the West Coast the following year and a pottery studio of her own in Santa Monica Canyon.
Her latest works are deceptively simple spheres, some about the size of a human head, others the size of coconuts. “I was inspired by a thing called a ‘spirit orb,’ but I just call them ‘word balls,’” says Moye.
The orbs begin as tall vases that close in on themselves under Moye’s hands, but not before she drops two small, solid balls of clay inside, which after firing, can be heard rattling around. The walnut-sized balls may have a name or secret message on them that—as long as the sphere doesn’t break—won’t ever be seen but is known to the owner.
The orbs, which Moye painstakingly stamps with individual letters to form words and sentences, have been a big hit. Jamie Lee Curtis is one of her repeat customers, ordering custom orbs with messages for friends and family. Nonprofit Heal the Bay is a regular client too, using the word balls (redubbed “beach balls”) as awards.
Moye’s current orb-making efforts are focused on the United States Constitution and she recently inscribed the entirety of the First Amendment on a large sphere. She works in a brightly painted studio, but her own creations tend to be glazed in subdued monochromes or black and white. The orbs are exclusively bisque colored with a crackled-glaze effect that Moye developed through experimentation.
The artist is meditative about her work, both the process and the result. “I feel that it contributes to joy in the world,” she says. “There are these little moments of joy.”
Her next show opens February 10 at the interior design studio Rumba in Santa Monica. You can also see her work at moyeceramics.com.
For when meds aren’t working.