Molly Findlay

Molly Findlay Hero

On working together to level the field; learning how to “gently subvert the day to day”; leaning toward curiosity, community, and encouragement — a conversation with prop stylist Molly Findlay at her home in Nyack, NY. Read on for a glimpse at her beautiful home and for an inspiring conversation about what it means to embrace the challenging, messy — but no less beautiful — present. 

Photos by Tim Hout / Text by Leigh Patterson / Styling by Monique Wool

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Can you share more about your upbringing — where you are from, what your childhood was like? 
We lived up and down California...Berkeley, the Mojave Desert, the Eastern Sierras, Santa Cruz...I can paint you a little picture of our desert life: 
Age 7 - My brother K.C. (short for Kingman Cruxent) and I are in the back of a green Chevy van - it's November in the Mojave, jostling along a washboarded dirt road. Beside me, K.C. lies stretched out upon a filled-up waterbed mattress. Little guysers spout up from pinprick holes, miniature mobile fountains from which we are both drinking. We are en route to our house, miles from anything - no phone, no TV, chickens, cats, and sand. The water in the mattress is to fill the tank buried in the back yard - a misnomer, since the "yard" is really the expanse of desert. Suddenly, our parents shout out, "Quick, there's a biker, moon him, moon him!!!" 
For entertainment, KC and I would spend hours in the several abandoned houses dotting the landscape; nothing decomposes in the desert - it was our personal Pompeii - calcified meals on the table, doors banging open, sun-shredded curtains flapping. Dragging furniture and objects to make our own upside-down iterations of domesticity. 
I can never fully understand what it is like to put my toddler on a boat alone praying for her safe passage, or to fear for my son’s life every time he steps out the door; my experience as a teen was sweet-talking police when I got pulled over, not worrying I’d get caught in the crosshairs. But I can understand some things…and I can use my advantages to share access, pass connections forward, and speak out for human rights. This is a beautiful time to be alive and come together.
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What are some of the current themes or projects that are holding your main focus right now?
As a white woman with a Trinidadian husband and two interracial children, I’ve been grappling with the role of white women in the election and what it says about us. The bare fact that I’ve also benefitted from white privilege just as the air I breathe is painful to recognize. How do we work together to level the field? 
Are there any ideas, strategies, or “next steps” you’ve found helpful? How are you implementing these conversations about avoiding political burnout and channeling energy in productive ways?
We’ve been hosting many gatherings … writing postcards to representatives, fundraising for hands-on science in our schools. I made a piece in pink neon which was displayed in an empty storefront in Nyack and will soon move to Carriage House Birth in Brooklyn — it’s an excerpt from the Emma Lazarus Poem, “The New Colossus,” [which reads]: 
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command 
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she 
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

[My husband] Everard and I have been working since August to create and app called MKR City, to build a community of makers across race and class, beginning in Detroit. It is a powerful platform for connection - allowing people to be seen and heard and to bring their goods and skills to market - and an alternative to apps which own the images we post. It’s just gone live here.
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Are there any core feelings you have been experiencing or ideas that have held most value recently?
The burden of the self-image - and a culture that trades on youth and beauty as currency, has made us fearful of time, disparaging of those we should honor. No matter how fetching we may be, physical beauty is a fleeting and unreliable ally. But work! And colleagues! and neighbors! Family! Friends! Jokes! Those are solid ground. 
I've gone back to expanding my personal sculptural work and have created a collective, Mother of Thousands, to support artists and designers whose work also "gently subverts the day to day.” It’s a free-form gallery focused on happenings, building community, and helping one another navigate the art and design landscape. 
I’m interested in how environments and objects can inform our behavior. IE: can a sofa be an equalizer? can a giant tit pendant remind us of our basic humanity, our beginnings at the breast? Can a table made from the floor keep us grounded and anchored to the earth? In work, is it possible to build a supportive community and encourage one another?
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How do you instill these ideas — the importance of community, conversation, connection — to your daughters? How are you navigating these conversations about the current political/social climate with them? 
From the start, Isa and Eleanor were tiny radicals. They came to work with me at around one month of age - with Isa it was maybe three weeks (there is nothing like becoming a mother that opens your eyes to the way our world is not designed with mothers in mind. Just try taking a cab or a subway with a baby carriage!)They kept coming with me until they started to crawl. Then, chaos! It seems insane to me now - and I’m sure a few clients dropped me, but I was so lucky to be able to buck the system and be with them, and so grateful to all of the photographers, creative directors, and clients who let this slide. What a great kindness! 
Parenting and marriage for me are impossible  - in that it is impossible to master either. Any time I get into a good stride, the sands shift. But being a mother to them and a partner is the biggest gift. I can’t believe my good fortune to be able to be with them for this time.
Eleanor has her sights on the presidency - she has been composing speeches and asking which books specifically she would need to read to make it there. I have to confess that we use this to our advantage, eg: “Eleanor, the President must have a healthy microbiome so she must eat her broccoli." She is six.
Isa has shown me how to question constructs - in her case, the school system does not work. We have had to craft our own way to a productive educational field for her. She was empowered enough to enroll herself in a homeschool program online at age eight unbeknownst to me - they called to welcome us and I was completely blindsided. She really advocated for herself, and the whole experience has been revelatory. The luxury to be able to ask these questions - why is our school system the way it is? Why are children grouped by age? How can visual/spatial learners be better served? How can we invent our own system to help her thrive? 
Read Ta-Nehesi Coates’ great article in the Atlantic, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” Nobody is more eloquent then Coates about the school system and the connection to the prison system. Beyond that, Everard  and I try to travel with the girls as much as we can. We are lucky in that our work takes us to interesting places - as Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” When we are home, we have as many gatherings as possible with as many kinds of people as possible.
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What changes are on the horizon for you?
In light of the current climate out there, and the idea that change begins within, I’ve been coming to terms with my own inner workings. I’ve started really looking at my hiring practices, to look at my circle of friends, to recognize when I utilize sinister politeness to turn away from someone's difficult time or hide my own difficulties to look good. I'm looking for more ways to move out of this walled habit of thinking and into the collective.
"Moving into the collective" — that’s such a great way to put the feeling of it being easy to “sympathize” and so, so hard and often painful to “understand.” 
We all have prejudices and fears, we are tribal, and it’s primal to cleave to our own…when Everard and I got married, both of our families had to expand comfort zones and see beyond our defining biases. We struggle at times with cultural differences in our marriage…but that is also what makes it beautiful and interesting and exciting. Moving into the collective means expanding our familial borders to include others. 

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You choose to live outside of NYC. Can you talk about this decision, the daily implications of it…perhaps something unexpected that has come from it? 
It took us a long time to choose a town, maybe a year. Nyack has a magical quality - it has long been a haunt for the intelligencia - was an important stop on the underground railroad - Cynthia Hesdra operated from here - and is super diverse, full of creatives. We have the most beautiful community. It is physically beautiful too, so close to NYC but with the feeling of a remote country hamlet- creatures, trees, the Hudson…a wide variety of houses and people, I love it. It’s the perfect place to be at this stage of life. I didn’t expect the social activity - people hang out across race, class and age….and profession - we’ve met really interesting scientists and writers especially. 
What are some of the biggest and/or most valuable lessons you’ve learned? 
The fun is to continue to learn always. Every set, object, space, parenting challenge, has its own set of problems to solve. I get to learn every day. Right now I’m learning that change is ok - trying to keep my center. Remember a couple of months ago when the Pioneer Cabin tree-the giant redwood fell down? It had no center! So that was a good reminder. I’m naturally not very patient, so every project is a chance to slow down and practice patience.