Josette Menassa or the passion for art

Inhabited (and even “tortured” as she says), by an all-consuming passion, Josette Menassa is a versatile artist and a gentle rebel. Already since her childhood, she loved to scribble very pretty drawings on the austere wooden desk of her class, to the great displeasure of the nuns of the establishment who had absolutely not perceived the immense gift of the little girl. Today in the United States, she is a renowned and celebrated artist, dividing her time between jewelry design with her husband Mark Patterson, sculpture, ceramics and painting. She recounts her journey to the Cultural Agenda.

Are you a multiple artist who is always eager to learn?

Absolutely! I studied gemology and drawing in California, and when my parents ordered me to return to Lebanon, it was heartbreaking for me. I felt that I still had a lot to learn. I am in a permanent and perpetual process of training and learning. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I learned how to crochet on YouTube! The more we learn, the more we have to learn!

But you ended up going back to New York?

Yes, and I started working (illegally!) while waiting for a residence visa. Things happened in a very strange way: I meet a lady in an elevator who asks me what I do and who, when she learns that I design jewelry, gives me the “tip” of the freelancer, so only names of companies that are likely to order work from me. And that’s exactly how things started! I was asked for very simple drawings and it was very well paid. It got me started.

Then you marry Mark Patterson, himself a jewelry designer…

We met during our studies and we started creating jewelry when we were not even 25 years old! Here too two meetings were decisive. First, a Saudi student to my husband who was our first customer and then a designer of Swiss/German origin who challenged us when ordering a necklace that was to be finished in a month. My husband collects the stones and fulfills the order on time, against all logic, which amazes this gentleman. He then suggested that we come and work in his studio (we didn’t have our own studio yet) and he became a dear person to us.

When did you decide to get into sculpture?

When I felt the famous “blockage” that inevitably happens in the life of an artist. A teacher warned me, but I didn’t believe him. “You are fantastic, he told me, but if you work too much, you will have a blockage.” But at 26 you think you’re invincible! So, this famous blockage happens, after the birth of my second child: no more inspiration, nothing! I then decided to enroll in a ceramics course. My husband, as always, encourages me, and I find myself, once again by chance, in one of the best sculpture centers. And there it is as if I had found the Grail! No more blocking and I never stopped again.

Do you mostly carve heads?

Yes, and there too, it was a friend, a black American, a professor of English literature and married to a very well-known activist, who found the heads superb and encouraged me: “Go for it, you’re good!” As for ceramics, I apply it to my daily life since it has been thirty years since I bought a plate, glass or dish. I make them all!

Zeina Saleh Kayali

This article was originally published on the Cultural Agenda website

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