American Design Stories: Inês Schertel
Inspired by her bucolic, Brazilian environment, this designer champions the power and beauty of slow design
In the American Design Stories series, we ask designers from across the Americas to share their insights on American design today, along with three images that represent their vision of American design.
For this installment, we spoke with Inês Schertel. Living and working on a farm in São Francisco de Paula, in southern Brazil, Schertel crafts lyrical, woolen works—furniture, accessories, even lighting—using material she gathers from the farm’s 300 sheep. Schertel’s pastoral surroundings inform her slow design approach; inspired by the landscape and animals, she creates her forms by hand, felting wool and dying it with vegetable pigments, a centuries-old technique, mindful throughout the process of her connection to—and impact on—the natural world around her.
What makes your American story unique?
Life has given me the opportunity to live and work in the countryside, where I raise sheep and work with the wool that is left as waste after shearing the sheep. The shearing is necessary for the animals’ welfare. The pieces are felted by hand, which I do myself, one by one. I explore the sheep wool in its roughest form, and my inspiration is a mixture of intuition and the possibilities that the wool fibers present to me.
I call my process slow design—not so much because of how long it takes for the pieces to be finished, but because of the way I relate to the time that is necessary for each step to be naturally completed. I respect the natural order of events. Each thing at its time, and each stage with its own story. That is how I keep prolonging the existence of such a unique material.
How have current crises figured into or impacted your studio’s experience and approach?
The current moment may actually have had a positive impact on my studio. So many people had to stay home for a prolonged period of time, which, I think, made a lot of them long for things that could emanate comfort or even have a dreamlike quality to them.
Where do you look for joy or optimism?
My work. The mere act of my hands touching the wool gives me joy. That magical moment when the fibers come together and the handmade felt appears really fascinates me. The more I work, the more I discover new ways to interact with the wool, which I love so much.
Where do you look for strength?
Observing the native Araucaria forests from where I live. This gives me the ability to interpret and experiment—always with great awe and care—with the raw materials that surround me.
To whom or what should the design community be paying attention right now?
Natural fibers and their haptic quality. Besides the aesthetic and functional aspects, the tactile aspect and the sensations that touching the wool provokes and provides are very important to me. I believe that this can be improved with the increasing use of natural fibers, such as wool.
What gives you the most joy in your work?
To be able to combine technique with lifestyle. My raw material and I share the same habitat. I watch and participate in all steps of the process that needs to happen so my pieces can come to life, from obtaining the raw material to creating and finishing the pieces. This allows me to control the environmental aspects of the process. The work with a natural, renewable, biodegradable, and completely sustainable material—as long as I have pasture so the herd can keep growing and supplying me wool—gives me the joy to keep moving forward.
What are you most proud of in your work to date?
To be able to reuse a noble material that is no longer needed by the sheep after shearing, while, at the same time, paying homage to the ancient tradition of working with wool—by creating pieces, in an emotionally connected and honest manner, that are limited in number yet full of meaning.
Thank you, Inês! ⬥
Schertel’s work is available through Mercado Moderno, on view now at Design Miami/ Podium: America(s).
Born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Inês Schertel spent much of her adult life in the city of São Paulo. In 2012, she moved to a farm surrounded by mountains in São Francisco de Paula. Here, she and her husband Neco Schertel take care of the 300 sheep that supply her with wool for her design objects.
Schertel graduated from Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) with a degree in architecture. She has worked as an artist for years, focusing on plastic arts, lithography, watercolor painting and more prior to her focus in wool. Her wool felting technique—a 6,000-year old, hand-pressing process—was learned during her travels in Central Asia and Europe.
Inspired by the 2020 Design Miami/ Podium theme America(s)—and all the complexities that go along with it, especially in this moment—Anna Carnick and Wava Carpenter of Anava Projects connected with a selection of outstanding designers with personal ties to the Americas to get their take on “American” design today. Their responses were insightful, inspiring, and diverse: From thoughts on the most pressing issues and challenges facing designers now, to hopes and suggestions for a more equitable future, and reflections on their own American design journeys to date. Each story is accompanied by images provided by the designer that embody what America(s) or American design means to them.